Read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi Online

When Breath Becomes Air

For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?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 nave 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....

Title : When Breath Becomes Air
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Number of Pages : 208 pages
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When Breath Becomes Air Reviews

  • Jen

    Unforgettable is what Verghese says in his foreword. I agree and am fighting for my own breath to write my thoughts about this stunning memoir that has left me gasping for air. The writing. The emotion. The beauty in the darkness of dying.

    I mourn the death of this writer, a surgeon of great potential. A doctor of great compassion. But the message he has left us is quite eloquently simple: make life as meaningful as you can in the time you have. Be grateful.

    The touching epilogue his wife Lucy w
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  • Jill

    Sometimes you don’t go out and find a book; the book finds you. Facing an impending loss without a foundation of faith to fall back on, I find myself asking, “What is the meaning of life if we’re all just going to die?”

    Paul Kalanithi answers that question in the most meaningful way possible in his outstanding book. A 36-year- old neurosurgeon, Paul wrestled between medicine and literature as an eventual career. Medicine won out and he was just on the cusp of a stellar trajectory when he was diag
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  • Emily (Books with Emily Fox)

    Do yourself a favour and don't listened to the ending of this book while doing your makeup...

    Theres no way to review a book where the author died too young from cancer leaving his wife and 8 months old baby behind without feeling like an asshole for not giving it 5 stars.

    That’s why more often than not, I don’t give a rating to the autobiographies I read. I just don’t feel comfortable rating someone’s life.

    Cancer and the death of a close one is something most of us unfortunately can relate to and
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  • Aisling

    Oh dear. I was always told not to speak ill of the dead. It feels awful to give a three star rating to a nice guy (by all accounts) who is now dead. But I simply did not find this book compelling or insightful enough. It is mildly interesting to learn about neurosurgery as a specialty and to read the author's thoughts as he faced diagnosis, illness and then death. I always felt that the author was holding back; that it was too clinical, too calm, just not passionate enough. The first time I felt ...more

  • Amanda

    When Breath Becomes Air is one of the most beautifully written, heartbreaking, and affecting memoirs I have ever read. Even though the book is incredibly sad, it is ultimately life affirming and worth the emotional investment.

    At the age of thirty-six, Paul Kalanthi, a doctor nearing the completion of his neurosurgeon training, is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. This revelation becomes a dividing line in his life, something of a reversal of fortune. Paul goes from being a healthy physician w
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  • Linda

    "To begin with -- or, maybe, to end with --I got to know Paul only after his death. I came to know him most intimately when he'd ceased to be." (Abraham Verghese)

    And we, for the most part, can actually say the same thing about Paul Kalanithi. We've come to know of him only after he had left this world of ours. Ironically, I write this on March 9th, the one-year anniversary of his passing.

    Paul Kalanithi: son, husband, father, brilliant surgeon. He was a healer whose very existence gave hope to so
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  • Rebecca Foster

    Our shadow panel selection for the Wellcome Book Prize 2017. I first read this book a year and a half ago; when I picked it back up recently, I thought I’d give it just a quick skim to remind myself why I loved it. Before I knew it I’d read 50 pages, and I finished it the next night in the car on the way back from a family party, clutching my dinky phone as a flashlight, awash in tears once again. (To put this in perspective: I almost never reread books. My last rereading was of several Dickens

    Instead of being the pastoral figure aiding a life transition, I found myself the sheep, lost and confused.

    Openness to human relationality does not mean revealing grand truths from the apse; it means meeting patients where they are, in the narthex or nave, and bringing them as far as you can.


    When’s the last time you encountered the word “narthex”?! The vocabulary is striking throughout, as in another favorite passage: “A tureen of tragedy was best allotted by the spoonful. Only a few patients demanded the whole at once; most needed time to digest.”

    Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015. There’s a lovely epilogue from his wife – like Marion Coutts, the author of The Iceberg, she’s more than competent to carry on his story. ...more

  • Glenn Sumi

    By now I’m sure you’ve all heard about this book by the young Dr. Paul Kalanithi, who, in his mid-30s, was completing his training as a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. At the time, he and his wife Lucy, also a physician, were contemplating having children. Universities were wooing him. The future was all mapped out, years of hard work about to pay off.

    And then he got the news about his cancer. Suddenly, he had to reassess his life and think: How d

    How little do doctors understand the hells through which we put patients.

    You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

    Our relationship was still deep in meaning, a shared and evolving vocabulary about what mattered. If human relationality formed the bedrock of meaning, it seemed to us that rearing children added another dimension to that meaning.


    I had to look up “asymptote,” and I wish an editor had tweaked that awkward word “relationality.”

    The second half of the book is much richer, because it’s here that Kalanithi is forced to dig deep and ponder big questions. Here he is questioning his identity:

    Because I wasn’t working, I didn’t feel like myself, a neurosurgeon, a scientist – a young man, relatively speaking, with a bright future spread before him. Debilitated, at home, I feared I wasn’t much of a husband for Lucy. I had passed from the subject to the direct object of every sentence of my life. In fourteenth-century philosophy, the word patient simply meant “the object of an action,” and I felt like one. As a doctor, I was an agent, a cause; as a patient, I was merely something to which things happened.


    That last observation is simple yet profound.

    Witnessing his rapid maturation is inspiring and, in the end, makes you reflect on your own priorities. His final words, about his young daughter, are so wise and generous they'll make you tear up. And Lucy’s bittersweet epilogue puts her husband's writing in perspective. She knows the book feels unfinished, and that it doesn’t capture Kalanithi's sense of humour and other qualities.

    But sometimes, we can intuit, there’s not time for everything. Let’s be grateful for what we do have, not what we don’t. ...more