When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

By Paul Kalanithi & Abraham Verghese

  • Release Date: 2016-01-12
  • Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Score: 5
From 4,699 Ratings
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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • 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?



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.

Praise for When Breath Becomes Air

“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“An emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”The Washington Post

“Possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead.”The Boston Globe

“Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”USA Today

“It’s [Kalanithi’s] unsentimental approach that makes When Breath Becomes Air so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.”Entertainment Weekly

“Split my head open with its beauty.”—Cheryl Strayed


  • When breath becomes air

    By Bee britches
    Wonderful Dr.james roy appleton jr
  • Inspiring

    By evelynr78
    I loved this book. As a cancer survivor, I was able to understand his point of view. As a healthcare provider, I saw his struggle with the reality of death for himself and his patients. He wrote this book with intentions to help others understand life & death. Kalanithi was able to accomplish his goal as a writer & physician in conveying the struggle of a patient's understanding of this disease. Truly inspiring.
  • When Breath Becomes Air

    By Alison9860
    Compelling in every way - it's been a while since I have been moved to tears - but this story leaves you no option. As I read, I felt enlightened about the process of dying. Invaluable!
  • When Breath Becomes Air

    By bigben29
    This is one of the most touching, most inspiring, most thoughtful and most loving expressions of the human condition that I have ever been so fortunate to experience. Dr. Kalanithi was such a courageous and loving husband and father, a son and brother, and no doubt an incredible physician. Although nobody can truly walk in anyone else's shoes, Dr. Kalanithi shares his experiences in such an open and honest manner that it is impossible to not be moved by his courage, the love that he shared with his wife, and his child, and his family. This is an incredible book!!
  • When Breath Becomes Air - when a life shared becomes priceless

    By Boulder Reader
    This book is a must. Of all the things you must do put reading this book at the beginning of the list. It will change the way you look at life. It will change the way you understand death.
  • Heartbreaking yet uplifting

    By aww1093
    Truly a masterpiece of the most human experience. Difficult to read, but the way he wrote was beautiful and alluring.
  • Wonderful Novella About Death and Living

    By Dtothechan
    A friend told me he couldn't put it down once he started reading it. I did the same thing.
  • When Breath Becomes Air

    By Karag8
  • Beautiful

    By Lucas727
    This book has left me speechless. The bravery and beauty exhibited by Dr. Kalanithi is inspiring beyond words. His family should be so proud that his legacy will live on timelessly in the writings of these pages. Really touched. - Cancer Survivor, Father of a Little Girl and a Regular, Fun-Loving Dude
  • A life well lived

    By ConnieBo
    A sad but incredibly uplifting book. One that will always have a place in my heart. I am blessed to have known this amazing man through his own words.