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When Breath Becomes Air

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  310,962 ratings  ·  26,848 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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4.35  · 
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 ·  310,962 ratings  ·  26,848 reviews

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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.
Petal 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. 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
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
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
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
Elyse Walters
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 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
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.
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019

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
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
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
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
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
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
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Imagine being sick and dying slowly, without knowing how long you have left.

Long enough to keep going on as you did before: working, planning, and dreaming of a future, or long enough to live life like there is no tomorrow?

Paul’s calling—neurosurgery—pulled him back to work even as he knew he was ill, because he couldn’t envision leaving it behind to focus on making the most of the perhaps little (or long) time he has left.

At the same time, he realized neurosurgery brings him joy—and so does hi
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.
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
Jaline - (on 2/3 hiatus)
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: xx2018-completed
Nestled between a wonderful tribute by Abraham Verghese in the form of a Foreword and his wife Lucy’s few chapters, beautiful and poignant in an Epilogue, are the pages containing Paul Kalanithi’s words.

Paul Kalanithi tells his story in two parts – his life as a son and brother growing up mostly in Arizona, his College life, then his University experiences and early career years comprise the first part. In the second part, we are invited into a time of his life that is heartbreaking, tragic, fil
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
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

Raeleen Lemay
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 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.
G.H. Eckel
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you liked Tuesday's With Morrie, you'll enjoy this memoir about a neurosurgeon who contracts cancer at 39.

Paul Kalanithi ’99 M.A. ’00 was an instructor in Stanford’s department of neurosurgery and a fellow at the Stanford Neurosciences Institute. At the pinnacle of his training, Stage IV lung cancer happens. The title foretells the memoir's ending. So, this is not a mystery nor is there suspense. This novel is about a man's honest search for meaning in life in his journey toward the grave. S
Glenn Sumi
Mar 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
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
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The Munas Book Club: Links to audiobook, related articles and reviews 1 21 Apr 15, 2019 04:38PM  
UCAS English 11 R...: Feburary 1 3 Feb 28, 2019 07:00PM  
UCAS English 11 R...: January Book Report 1 2 Jan 31, 2019 10:35AM  
What drove Paul on even in the face of impending death? 12 234 Jan 03, 2019 09:19PM  
Overall Takeaways 3 87 Oct 17, 2018 08:13PM  

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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
“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.” 871 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.” 658 likes
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