When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air

Author: Paul Kalanithi

  • Publication Date: 2016-01-12
  • Category: Biographies & Memoirs
5 Score: 5
(From 6,423 Ratings)


#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • This inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • People • NPR • The Washington Post • Slate • Harper’s Bazaar • Time Out New York • Publishers Weekly • BookPage

Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Books for a Better Life Award in Inspirational Memoir

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.


  • Life and Death.

    By Nailah27
    This book is amazing, as a person not interested in epidemiology and getting past the details of surgery, Paul tells a compelling story and teaches an important lesson. He teaches readers to find purpose in your life and live a meaningful life, one that will be remembered. He gives new heights to the saying “Live everyday like it’s your last”. I feel very moved and privileged to have read this book and experienced (through words) a part of Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s life. Thank you Lucy.
  • Most touching book I’ve ever read

    By AuntJannie
    It is a sad but beautiful story. Paul was an amazing human being. So much wisdom, such a generous spirit.
  • Beautiful Read

    By EmreCakirSC
    I read this book in one sitting. It truly is captivating and so beautiful. I truly felt like I was there with Paul during his battle with cancer. Thank you Paul for making me think about my own life and relationship with death.
  • I am glad that I read it on iPad, but I nonetheless got a hardcopy.

    By jzhu2018
    I started, and finished very soon, the book after spending some time myself in hospital. The book offers a calm and calming meditation of life by providing an account of death, narrated by the author Paul, a neurosurgeon and writer who is capable of operating with the finest precision both in brains and words. The prose in the book is poignant, emotions honest, and sentiments long-lasting. The author blended and balanced some right amounts of sorrow, wisdom, and humor. It is clear that many thoughts in the book had their origins in philosophy, but they were streamlined, by the authors’ able hands, into sentences that are clear, crisp, and comprehensible. However, the book requires emotional investments, which promise to return enormous benefits. Reading the book on my iPad, I became oblivious of progress bar that indicates both the completion of book, as well as the completion of the author’s life. It was therefore painful to find that the book stopped an abrupt stop. Paul announced his goal of writing this book only in the very end: to let the readers “walk in the shoes” of death, and realize it is the only finality. “Sooner or later”, he says. As a neurosurgeon, his goal was to help his patients to navigate through the vast uncertain area of death. This goal is equally achieved for his readers, in this book.
  • Powerful

    By As if it needed another rating
    Powerful and somehow delicate at times.
  • Heart-wrenching read

    By johnmfreder
    Unbelievably satisfying and gripping. What a true warrior.
  • Inspiring & Challenging

    By Bama YP
    I could not put this book down! I appreciate the epilogue it brought great closure!
  • A profound calm

    By mcguirkmusic
    i just finished this book and I am filled with a profound calm . Paul’s story moved me . I feel like I made a new friend and now mourn his passing. I am grateful for his example of courage and determination, his heart to learn and to understand, to ask questions and to stay present until his present shifted into eternity. Lucy thank you for being faithful to your promise to publish this book. Cady your daddy was an extraordinary man and from what I have read , you are the apple of his eye . Blessings to your family and thank you for blessing mine .
  • A nice read

    By Lady Brooke
    Nuff' said
  • Beautiful and moving

    By BBH2513
    Best book I have ever read.