When Breath Becomes Air

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • This inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • People • NPR • The Washington Post • Slate • Harper’s Bazaar • Time Out New York • Publishers Weekly • BookPage

Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Books for a Better Life Award in Inspirational Memoir

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi Summary

When Breath Becomes Air is a non-fiction autobiographical book written by Paul Kalanithi. It is a memoir about his life and illness, battling stage IV metastatic lung cancer. It was posthumously published by Random House on January 12, 2016.In his last year of neurosurgical residency at Stanford University, Dr. Paul Kalanithi experiences negative changes in his health. Rapid weight loss, and severe back and chest pains begin to raise concern for him and his wife, Lucy. Paul worries that a possible cause for his symptoms is spinal cancer – unlikely for people in their thirties. However, when X-ray results in a routine medical check-up return looking just fine, his primary care physician and himself attribute the symptoms to aging and work overload. At thirty-six, Dr. Kalanithi had gained national prominence and become a respected member of the medical community.Determined to finish the last months of his residency, he ignores whatever symptoms have not subsided. A few weeks later, the symptoms come back, stronger than before. Around this time, Paul and Lucy experience a rocky moment in their relationship when Lucy feels that Paul is not communicating with her. Visiting friends in New York, Paul is almost certain that he has cancer and says it out loud for the first time to his friend Mike. Returning home, upon landing in San Francisco, Paul receives a call from his doctor telling him that his lungs “look blurry.” When he arrives home with Lucy, both of them know what is happening. The next day, Paul checks in to the hospital and the room where he examined his patients, delivering good and bad news, becomes his own. With this event, the future that Paul had worked so hard for these past years vanishes before his eyes...

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When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi Book Reviews (6,178)


Life and Death.5 star

This book is amazing, as a person not interested in epidemiology and getting past the details of surgery, Paul tells a compelling story and teaches an important lesson. He teaches readers to find purpose in your life and live a meaningful life, one that will be remembered. He gives new heights to the saying “Live everyday like it’s your last”. I feel very moved and privileged to have read this book and experienced (through words) a part of Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s life. Thank you Lucy. 55


Most touching book I’ve ever read5 star

It is a sad but beautiful story. Paul was an amazing human being. So much wisdom, such a generous spirit. 55


Beautiful Read5 star

I read this book in one sitting. It truly is captivating and so beautiful. I truly felt like I was there with Paul during his battle with cancer. Thank you Paul for making me think about my own life and relationship with death. 55


I am glad that I read it on iPad, but I nonetheless got a hardcopy.5 star

I started, and finished very soon, the book after spending some time myself in hospital. The book offers a calm and calming meditation of life by providing an account of death, narrated by the author Paul, a neurosurgeon and writer who is capable of operating with the finest precision both in brains and words. The prose in the book is poignant, emotions honest, and sentiments long-lasting. The author blended and balanced some right amounts of sorrow, wisdom, and humor. It is clear that many thoughts in the book had their origins in philosophy, but they were streamlined, by the authors’ able hands, into sentences that are clear, crisp, and comprehensible. However, the book requires emotional investments, which promise to return enormous benefits. Reading the book on my iPad, I became oblivious of progress bar that indicates both the completion of book, as well as the completion of the author’s life. It was therefore painful to find that the book stopped an abrupt stop. Paul announced his goal of writing this book only in the very end: to let the readers “walk in the shoes” of death, and realize it is the only finality. “Sooner or later”, he says. As a neurosurgeon, his goal was to help his patients to navigate through the vast uncertain area of death. This goal is equally achieved for his readers, in this book. 55

As if it needed another rating

Powerful5 star

Powerful and somehow delicate at times. 55


Heart-wrenching read5 star

Unbelievably satisfying and gripping. What a true warrior. 55

Bama YP

Inspiring & Challenging5 star

I could not put this book down! I appreciate the epilogue it brought great closure! 55


A profound calm5 star

i just finished this book and I am filled with a profound calm . Paul’s story moved me . I feel like I made a new friend and now mourn his passing. I am grateful for his example of courage and determination, his heart to learn and to understand, to ask questions and to stay present until his present shifted into eternity. Lucy thank you for being faithful to your promise to publish this book. Cady your daddy was an extraordinary man and from what I have read , you are the apple of his eye . Blessings to your family and thank you for blessing mine . 55

Lady Brooke

A nice read4 star

Nuff' said 45


Beautiful and moving5 star

Best book I have ever read. 55


A must read5 star

Completely out of my normal genre, but such an amazing book. Touchingly genuine emotion and beautiful prose that I couldn't put down. Absolutely recommend. 55


Standing Ovation!!!!5 star

An amazing book! So heartfelt; so real; and for some of us, so very close to home!!! 55


Touching5 star

What a wonderful read! I am writing this review with tears in my eyes!! 55

Mike Zazzali

When Breath Becomes Air5 star

This is truly the most inspirational and brave books I have ever read. My heart goes out to Lucy, Cady, and of course Paul who I have the utmost respect and admiration for his grace and strength. I cried a lot reading this book, but have grown a lot through Paul's teaching me the importance of embracing life while not fearing death. Thank you for having the courage and generosity to share your story! 55


When Breath Becomes Air5 star

The type of book you can't put down and can't wait to finish, but bittersweet when you reach the end. 55

Coco Vialpando

Amazing read!5 star

I completed this book one Saturday afternoon. I couldn't put it down. I however, did cry myself to sleep. 55


When Breath Becomes Air5 star

What a beautiful gift this book is. I'm so grateful to have come across it. It has been a long time since I've stayed up all night reading. 55


Invaluable reading experience as a medical student5 star

So thankful for Paul Kalanithi and his authenticity and great insights throughout this book. To stumble upon this in the midst of my medical training has really challenged and helped grow my outlook on life. Amazing. 55


5 Stars5 star

This book is a beautiful memory of an exceptional human being. I laughed, cried but most importantly it has such a strong powerful message. 55

So fresh they call my febreezy

When breath turns to air.. Kim5 star

Wow, what a beautiful piece of work/art. 55

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