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When Breath Becomes Air

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  210,126 Ratings  ·  19,578 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 with
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…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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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
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.
Petra X
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.

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 meet him and they had a long email correspondence. And so it goes.
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
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
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 Ca
Nov 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
Pouting Always
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
Feb 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Seemita by: Sue
[Originally appeared here (with edits):]

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
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
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
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
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 ...more
Raeleen Lemay
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, nonfiction
This was such a beautiful, touching book! Not going to lie, the epilogue by Paul's wife nearly made me cry. SO GOOD. I also highly recommend the audiobook, although the narrator's voice was so soothing that sometimes I found myself not listening to him speak... my bad.
Nov 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"This book carries the urgency of racing against time, of having important things to say."

I knew going in this would be a tough read for me, and it was, but aside from that, it is a touching, heartbreaking and most "powerful tale of living with death" knocking at your door.

Paul Kalanithi, neurosurgeon and writer was only 37 when he passed away from lung cancer, and besides the loss to his wife and family, such a great loss to the medical profession too. Oh what more this brilliant man could have

Glenn Sumi
Mar 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
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
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
With over 1200 reviews in just over a month, there isn't much I can say that hasn't been said. I'm not sure I even need to acknowledge the brilliance, ambition, tenacity, curiosity, and endurance this man possessed or the fact that he wrote in a way that felt conversational and genuine, even when discussing procedures of the brain and medical school examples well outside most people's normal realm. His wife's epilogue was extremely well-written and reduced me to tears, as did his note to his bab ...more
Mar 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Servere illness wasn’t life altering, it was life shattering. It felt less like an epiphany, a piercing burst of light illuminating what really matters, and more like someone had just firebombed the path forward. Now I would have to work around it.”

Paul Kalanithi is just thirty-six years old when he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer. Before entering the medical field, he debated about whether to follow his love of literature into a teaching and writing field. It’s touching that he got to do bo
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars! What an emotional book! Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgical resident entering his final year of training when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. This memoir is Paul's story for his daughter, Cady, who was 8 months old when he passed away, just 22 months after his cancer diagnosis. Among other things, Paul writes about his career, his love for his family, his views on the 'doctor and patient relationship' and his eventual transistion from doctor to patient.

Something that r
Paul Kalanithi, the author of this touching memoir, died of stage IV lung cancer in March 2015, ten months before the publication of the novel which would not only raise attention to his fate, but also to the general effects of the terrible disease that is cancer (which should never cease to deserve attention; it is a subject too important). When I first opened the pages of this book, what I expected was a clinical description of his disease's course, but Kalanithi surprised me and probably a lo ...more
Paul Bryant
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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,
Feb 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Memoir, Moving Message, a Morning Glory

As memorable as it is moving for not only the charm and impact of Dr. Paul Kalanithi's writing but his impressive might to complete the memoir's manuscript maugre the malignancy that ultimately ended his life before he could finish writing it.

Though I'd never presume as much, I try to maintain my faith that a reason exists for the premature death of someone like Paul Kalanithi, who was ably devoted to giving so much. That is to say, I must have hope that D
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Ladies & Literature: * Official January 2018 Book Discussion: When Breath Becomes Air 9 23 Feb 05, 2018 11:02AM  
Infinite Cafe: Book #4 - When Breath Becomes Air 1 4 Jan 28, 2018 08:39AM  
What drove Paul on even in the face of impending death? 9 134 Jan 19, 2018 05:21AM  
Overall Takeaways 2 30 Jan 03, 2018 02:07AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Wrong title, please correct 2 29 Jan 01, 2018 08:02AM  
  • The Iceberg
  • A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy
  • Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death
  • Wondering Who You Are: A Memoir
  • The Art of Memoir
  • A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back
  • Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir
  • Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime
  • A History of the Present Illness
  • The Long Goodbye
  • The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science
  • The Reason You Walk
  • Things I've Learned from Dying: A Book About Life
  • On the Move: A Life
  • Epilogue: A Memoir
  • The Light of the World
  • Callings: A Celebration of Lives of Purpose and Passion
  • On My Own
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
More about Paul Kalanithi...

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“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.” 623 likes
“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.” 489 likes
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