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When Breath Becomes Air
When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi
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 Bre...  more » 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.
ISBN-13: 9781784701994
ISBN-10: 1784701998
Publication Date: 2017
Pages: 228
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.

4.1 stars, based on 13 ratings
Publisher: Vintage
Book Type: Paperback
Other Versions: Hardcover, Audio CD
Members Wishing: 102
Reviews: Member | Amazon | Write a Review

Top Member Book Reviews

reviewed When Breath Becomes Air on + 175 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
5.0 out of 5 stars -- I do not usually read memoirs or nonfiction but I was drawn to this because the forward was written by Abraham Verghese, the author of one of my favorite books of all time -- CUTTING FOR STONE.

Ostensibly, the book is about the life of Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a young man who is in the last year of his neurosurgery residency when he is diagnosed with lung cancer. We know at the outset that he has recently died, leaving behind a wife and an 8-month-old baby girl. But the true nature of his writing is the underlying theme -- Why are we here -- what is the purpose of life.

The book is not maudlin or dramatic, and it's not for everyone. There's a lot of medical detail and literature references that some might find pretentious or overwhelming. After all, Paul initially majored in Literature before he was called to become a physician and surgeon. The reader learns of Paul's early years, growing up in Arizona, and about his education and training in his young adulthood. Then it shifts to his changed circumstances and his treatment after being diagnosed. We see glimpses into his personal life and hear about his closeness to his family, colleagues and friends. What the book most definitely not is a roadmap, nor a guide of how to navigate a terminal illness -- it's not a story of how he found religion, and it definitely does not provide THE ANSWER.

I feel that the mark of a really great book is when it makes me think. When it causes me to pause for periods of intense self-reflection. I do not want to live an unexamined life. I read this over the course of a couple of hours and had to take a break just to reflect on some of Paul's personal insights. These were his thoughts, his reactions, his decisions. What would mine be, given my own life situations. It made me wish that this poetic soul had received the gift of more time. I came away from this reading experience humbled by his story. I would like to think I will go gently and courageously, not screaming WHY ME -- but none of us knows until it happens. Can a person prepare for death, really?

I'd recommend this for the beautiful prose and for giving the opportunity to see what one man did and said and thought during the last months of his life. How would I like to be remembered...what will I leave behind.

Thank you to NetGalley for the e-book ARC to review.
reviewed When Breath Becomes Air on + 1423 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
So much to ponder! This young doctor (in his thirties) is just finishing his residency when he realizes that he has cancer. The symptoms have been with him for some time but his busy work keeps him so occupied that he doesn't realize what is happening. When he does, he knows full well that his time in this world is limited. As he becomes a very sick patient the illness brings him and his wife closer together. They decide that the time to begin their family is now. And, Paul lives to hold their cherished child. What more could he ask for in this situation?

Some might say this book is about dying but Paul's wife, Lucy, helps us understand that it is about living. Paul was obsessed with being not only a good neurosurgeon/neuroscientist but also a compassionate and understanding physician. I read some of other reviews and I beg to differ with the negative comments. A talented writer, this man was dying and wanted to leave a legacy for living. Living a good life means helping and understanding others. Living a good life means making the most of the time you have to do just that. I'm so glad that I read this wonderful biography. And, I find myself wondering could I live a life as filled as Paul's was?
reviewed When Breath Becomes Air on + 329 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
This was a sad but heartwarming book about a young doctor diagnosed with lung cancer. It is a story about his hopes and dreams and his battle with this awful disease. Well written and a truly remarkable young man..
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reviewed When Breath Becomes Air on + 328 more book reviews
A truly moving book. A doctors story of becoming a doctor and then getting incurable cancer that takes his life. His thoughts and thinking about the process of dealing with the disease and dying.

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