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When Breath Becomes Air

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  538,552 ratings  ·  41,205 reviews
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 wi
Kindle Edition, 208 pages
Published January 19th 2016 by Random House (first published January 12th 2016)
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Theresa Ward I'm about half-way through at this point and find myself re-reading passages as I'm going along. Beautiful yet simple use of language, very engaging a…moreI'm about half-way through at this point and find myself re-reading passages as I'm going along. Beautiful yet simple use of language, very engaging and touching narrative, wholly lacking in self-pity. (less)
Bruce Katz I'll throw my two cents in. Personally, I found it deeply moving and life-affirming. There were times I felt tears forming in my eyes, and other times…moreI'll throw my two cents in. Personally, I found it deeply moving and life-affirming. There were times I felt tears forming in my eyes, and other times I read a passage several times to ponder what the author was expressing. I can't think of another book that brought me so close to the soul of another person. Might some readers find it depressing? I'd have to say yes, depending on what life experiences and attitudes they bring to it. But I think most will find it rewarding and touching and well worth the risk of the emotions it might elicit.(less)

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Average rating 4.38  · 
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Petra going to Mexico to hospital again, so hiatus
I finished the book. I'm glad that I perservered with it. It's quite an odd book and an overall rating might be the sum of the parts, but is not going to reflect the writing or content of those parts. Ratings, part I, 1 star, part II, 3 stars and part III, 5 stars.

The first part, the foreword, by Abraham Verghese, was verbose, hagiographic and contradictory (view spoiler). He said he didn't know the author at all until after his death. Then he says well he did me
Diane S ☔
Jan 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
As I finished this book with tears running down my face I asked myself, "Why did you read this book? You know it was going to be sad, how could a man dying of lung cancer before the age of forty be anything but." Yet to just classify this memoir, to classify this novel as such is to devalue the man he was. He was a lover of literature, a neurosurgeon, a scientist, a son and brother, a husband and father. He tried to live each day to the best of his ability, he helped many and he acknowledged the ...more
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't think you should read this book because the story of an incredibly gifted man who had his life taken away at such a young age might give you the motivation to live life more fully. I think you should read this book because that talented, inspiring man has incredibly important things to say derived from his own experiences, and it's important to listen and learn from them.

Read this book with the knowledge that you might not always be able to understand everything someone goes through, bu
Maggie Stiefvater
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A gasping, desperate, powerful little book, bigger on the inside than outside.

It's a little bit about dying, but more about being alive.
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
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
Tharindu Dissanayake
"Death comes for all of us. For us, for our patients: it is our fate as living, breathing, metabolizing organisms."

Though 'When Breath Becomes Air' had been on my shelf for a while now, I've been going back and forth, unable to decide whether I should read this, as I was somewhat fearful of the impact this memoir might have on me. One must always brace himself/ herself when reading a book like this, for, you dive in knowing well about the inevitable heartbreaking ending. But, now that I'm finish
Iris P
Sharing this interesting New York Times interview with Dr. Lucy Kalanithi.
She sounds like a very special person too:
Upgrading this to 5 stars, not sure why I didn't before

After finishing this profound, emotional memoir I feel like I lost a good friend.
Thank you Paul Kalanithi for this beautiful gift you left for us, wherever you are...

 photo 556069_1280x720_zpsbfrek8oe.jpg
Paul Kalanithi & Baby Cad
Nov 09, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy memoirs, but this one didn't grip me as much as others have, which is a shame considering how beloved this book seems to be. I admire Paul's resilience and passion for the world and his relationships, and I felt most compelled by his wife's conclusion towards the end when he couldn't complete his book. I think what kept me from being emotionally engrossed in this book was the writing. I would have appreciated more descriptions and storytelling about his experiences and relationships, rat ...more
Elyse  Walters
1/12/16: Update: Just wanted to mention that this book goes on sale today. Its an amazing story!

Paul Kalanithi studied literature at Stanford University. For his thesis, he studied
the work of Walt Whitman, a poet , who a century before, was possessed by the same questions that haunted him. Kalanithi wanted to find a way to understand and describe what he termed "the Physiological-Spiritual Man."

Kalanithi had a passion for literature. He began to see language as an almost supernatural force, ex
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
alternative title: "How the upper class dies"

Autobiographical book by a guy who's trained and studied all his life, nearly became a writer, then chose to become a doctor instead (that's what happens when you come from a family of medical doctors), and is diagnosed with cancer at the end of his training. Torschlusspanik [1] sets in and he has to write that one book he always wanted to write. It's partially an autobiography of his training, a hymn to his wife, and a bit on patient-doctor relations
Aug 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this almost two months ago and realized I never reviewed it. When I finished the book, I just couldn't review it. It's a small book, but it's powerful. I didn't shed any tears at the end of it, but I remember sitting there physically shaking and feeling really numb and tingly. A book has never impacted me that way before, and I'm not even sure why I read the book in the first place since I knew what I was getting myself into.

Wait, I know why I wanted to read it. It was very therapeutic f
Sabaa Tahir
Jul 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Never has a book turned me into a sad sobbing mess so quickly. Philosophical, beautiful, moving, difficult, heartbreaking. Highly, HIGHLY recommend.
Jan 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Okay, I so wanted to like this very absorbing book more than I did. I am not going to recap it other than to say that Paul came from a privileged background, a very supportive family and an Indian (Asian Tiger) mom. He succumbed to an aggressive form of lung cancer. My own wife died of lung disease (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis). Outside of the hospital I was her caregiver for a year and a half. I was the one who made sure she had oxygen, got to her appointments, watched this once vital woman d ...more
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘even if im dying, until i actually die, i am still living.’

this memoir offers a very unique perspective on life and death, science and philosophy.

as someone who also studied both literature and neuropsychology, i appreciate and completely relate to pauls outlook on how both are connected forces which drive life.

his insights to what makes a life meaningful, the importance of purpose, and seeing humanity in people are good lessons to be taught. while not necessarily groundbreaking ideas at t
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing

This is the story of the perception and management of life and death (both separately and together) of a 36 year old doctor nearing the completion of his neurosurgery training when he got diagnosed with a stage 4 cancer.

Being a person on the path of being a surgeon, having a love for books, philosophy, literature, writing and a thirst to know deeper meaning for life, I felt I could understand the author very well, somehow!
The parts regarding a surgeon's hecti
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I can't express enough my admiration for this book, for Paul Kalanithi himself.

Thank you Paul, thank you for showing us what is life really about.

I hope you found the meaning of life and death, the one you searched endlessly.

Sir, you will be remembered.
Dr. Appu Sasidharan
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medicine, favorites

(Throwback Review) This is one of the best medical memoirs I have read. This book tells us about cancer both from a Doctor's perspective and a patient's perspective. Kalanithi's journey from a medical student into a Stanford Neurosurgeon will be an inspiring one for many. But it is the latter half of the book that tells you how to deal with a terminal illness that inspires you the most.
“There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of livi
Always Pouting
Jun 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Paul Kalanithi is thirty six and so close to finishing his training as a neurosurgeon when he finds out he has stage IV lung cancer. As an undergraduate Kalanithi studied English literature and his love of reading and writing had been a constant through out his life. He had always felt that when he was older he would like to write and had decided to focus on neurosurgery for now, where he could make a bigger difference by saving people's lives. All his hopes and dreams for the future were sudden ...more
Larry H
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wow. I had to wait a little bit to pull myself together before writing a review of this exquisite book, even though I am tremendously late to the party on this one.

"...See what it is to still live, to profoundly influence the lives of others after you are gone, by your words. In a world of asynchronous communication, where we are so often buried in our screens, our gaze rooted to the rectangular objects buzzing in our hands, our attention consumed by ephemera, stop and experience this dialogue w
“Thank you for loving me.”

My heart is full! I was not expecting for this book to have the impact on me that it did. What a beautiful account of a man who truly lived his life to the fullest, despite dying quite young. He gave an incredible and resilient narrative on dealing and living with lung cancer and it unexpectedly shortening your life, but fighting through it despite all odds. Creating a new life, a new dream in that present moment and not letting the prospect of death stop you from livin
Mar 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
“When Breath Becomes Air” is not only poignant, touching, and painful -- it is also full of love, insight, courage and humility. I’m thankful Paul Kalanithi found a way to share his love of writing and prodigious talents with the world, especially under such harrowing circumstances. The world is a richer place because of it… And at heart, this is a life-affirming book. It was for me, anyway.

Paul expresses, lived, and has shared how meaning can transform tragedy into a deep transcendence of being
Matthew Dinda
Feb 29, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm sorry Paul Kalanithi died. I'm sorry he had to struggle through something so horrible. I'm sorry that the world lost a clearly brilliant, passionate neurosurgeon. But just once, I'd like to read a cancer memoir from someone without privilege. Without education, without wealth, without the best treatment in the world at their fingertips. I want to hear of the person who is NOT going to leave a legacy behind, whose ego is not so ballooned that the foreword describes their mediocre prose as "sp ...more
Paul Bryant
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
Paul Kalanithi tells us about a 62 year old man with a brain tumor.

We strolled into his room on morning rounds and the resident asked him “Mr Michaels, how are you feeling?”
“Four six one eight nineteen!” he replied, somewhat affably.
The tumor had interrupted his speech circuitry, so he could speak only in streams of numbers, but he still had prosody, he could still emote : smile, scowl, sigh. He recited another series of numbers, this time with urgency. There was something he wanted to tell us,
Nov 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
A very high 4 stars. When Breath Becomes Air is so good and so sad. It's a brief memoir of a life ended way too early. Kalanithi was 35 years old and finishing his training as a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer. As he was living out the end of his life, he wrote this brief powerful memoir. In the first section, he describes how he became aware of his diagnosis -- he essentially self diagnosed. In the second section he explains how he decided to become a n ...more
Jan 06, 2022 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this memoir and can see why so many people applauded it when it first came out. Paul Kalanithi’s writing is straightforward and evocative at the same time. For a man approaching his own death, he crafted this memoir in a way that doesn’t feel overly sentimental yet still captures the love he has for his profession, his family, and for literature and writing. I felt immersed in several parts of When Breath Becomes Air, ranging from Kalanithi’s journey to discovering neurosurgery as his ...more
Feb 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Seemita by: Sue
[Originally appeared here (with edits): http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li...]

It has been a few days since I turned the last page of this book. But the numbness reappears the instant I allow the pages to unfold in my memory. The silence which suddenly parts to let these memories seep in and cloud my vision, fills the air. Even as I grapple to make ‘sense’ of what it means to lose a dear, dear one, I, ironically, already know that very ‘sense’ to be ephemeral. No part of my being accepts death
Kelsey (munnyreads)
Aug 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
I read this on my 3-hour plane ride today. The last paragraph and epilogue broke me. Ugly cried into the sleeve of my sweatshirt.
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Paul Kalanithi, M.D., was a neurosurgeon and writer. Paul grew up in Kingman, Arizona, before attending Stanford University, from which he graduated in 2000 with a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Human Biology. He earned an M.Phil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine from the University of Cambridge before attending medical school. In 2007, Paul graduated cum-laude f ...more

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