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 5,602 Ratings)


#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, 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?

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.


  • Hands down, amazing.

    By CantFindAName1010101
    I initially came across this book through a forum, about pre-med. Terminology I couldn’t understand. But written in a way I can comprehend. The book talks about patients, treatments, medicine. But really, the book is about morality and love. The ending does not develop until you’ve passed the halfway point of the book, maybe later, but it hits you like a truck. I couldn’t stop reading it, it’s just breathtaking and eye opening, the love between Paul and his wife and fighting through hell. 10/10 would recommend, read it all the way through. Your won’t regret it.
  • Tear jerker.

    By jinjic
    Finished it on my flight. Def had the sniffles reading it. A great read. Avoid crying on the plane if you can. Hold back the tears.
  • When Breath Becomes Air

    By oceans tides
    I have read this book five times. One of my top three favorite books. Touching, thought provoking and beautiful. In hoping to help a few thousand during his lifetime he has reached millions in his death. His words are woven into a lovely tapestry of what it means to live fully while dying. This book should be required reading for all medical professionals.
  • Literally takes your breath away

    By Reba and Zoey
    I never knew you could be overwhelmed by both a persons life and a book at the same time - they became one in the same. There are no words or comments I can adequately write to express how completely consuming this book is. Tonight, I will start to read it all over again.
  • A profound piece of literature

    By a.lassan.m
    An amazing, emotional, inspirational read. I am glad I came across this book. Definitely one of the best books I have read so far. A must read. Highly recommend.
  • When Breath Becomes Air

    By NiaReads14
    I loved this book! I bought this book to read on an airplane and read it in a day! This book made me think and provided great insight to many things, I can’t list them all. This book makes you think and question what it means to be a patient, a doctor (for me a future PA, hopefully),what it means to be human, and what it means to be mortal. I feel inspired to continue to prepare myself and pursue not perfection, but the asymptote!! Dr. Kalanithi truly was an exceptional person and I just want to say thank you to the people that allowed his work to come into fruition because you gave me an opportunity to know him and in he process know a little more about myself.
  • Emotional and inspiring

    Couldn’t put the book down! What an emotional and inspiring story to stare adversity in its face and still live with a smile on his face.
  • Some of the best writing ive ever read

    By floridadoctorgirl
    Incredible literature, an honest voice, and angelic prose. Such a good read.
  • When breathe becomes air

    By Lynlouise
    Very important discussion of living and feeling and living!!
  • Touching

    By Ehsan Alipour
    Touching. A real piece of Art... nothing else to say