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When Breath Becomes Air

2016 . Biography, Non-fiction, Health & Wellness . Paul Kalanithi

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About the book


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 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.







Maria Llamas

8 months ago


This autobiography was really profound and personal for the author to write by trying to summarize his whole life into one book in those circumstances, but as a reader it was hard for me to engage. I was not that into it, although it made reflect a lot about life and made me cry because it was really sad. Nonetheless, the book is about his achievements rather than himself, which says a lot about his personality and how he wanted to be remembered.


Morten V Schroeder image

8 months ago


Interesting read but never REALLY got hooked! I didn’t particularly like the style of writing, which was a bit too poetic or high-brow. Felt like unnecessary use of many fancy words that weren’t needed (or maybe I’m just too simple-minded to appreciate it 🤷‍♂️). It is a crazy story! I contemplated giving it a 6 but I did enjoy the end quite a lot where his wife gave her account. That was my favorite bit! The book did also reflect that it was written by a cancer patient who at times maybe didn’t have much time to read and for that reason had weird jumps in timeline!


Kristian Hald

9 months ago


Very intense read! Not just a real life story - but a story written by a guy who knows he is about to die. Fantastic reflections on how to spend your time - and how your priorities can change as the time you have left either shortens/lengthens.