When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air


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#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 PASTE’S BEST MEMOIRS OF THE DECADE • 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812988406
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/12/2016
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,416
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon and writer. He grew up in Kingman, Arizona, and graduated from Stanford University with a BA and MA in English literature and a BA in human biology. He earned an MPhil in history and philosophy of science and medicine from the University of Cambridge and graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine, where he was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha national medical honor society. He returned to Stanford to complete his residency training in neurological surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience, during which he received the American Academy of Neurological Surgery’s highest award for research. He died in March 2015. He is survived by his large, loving family, including his wife, Lucy, and their daughter, Elizabeth Acadia.

Read an Excerpt

Part I

Excerpted from "When Breath Becomes Air"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Paul Kalanithi.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Abraham Ferghese xi

Prologue 3

Part I In Perfect Health I Begin 17

Part II Cease Not till Death 117

Epilogue Lucy Kalanithi 201

Acknowledgments 227

Reading Group Guide

1. How did you come away feeling, after reading this book? Upset? Inspired? Anxious? Less afraid?

2. What did you think of Paul’s exploration of the relationship between science and faith? As Paul wrote, “Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue. Between these core passions and scientific theory, there will always be a gap. No system of thought can contain the fullness of human experience.” Do you agree?

3. How do you think the years Paul spent, tending to patients and training to be a neurosurgeon, affected the outlook he had on his own illness? When Paul wrote that the question he asked himself was not “why me,” but “why not me,” how did that strike you? Could you relate to it?

4. Paul had a strong background in the humanities, and read widely throughout his life. Only after getting a Master’s in English Literature did he decide that medicine was the right path for him. Do you think this made him a better doctor? A different kind of doctor? If so, how? How has reading influenced your life?

5. What did you think of Paul and Lucy’s decision to have a child, in the face of his illness? When Lucy asked him if he worried that having a child would make his death more painful, and Paul responded, “Wouldn’t it be great if it did,” how did that strike you? Do you agree that life should not be about avoiding suffering, but about creating meaning?

6. Were there passages or sentences that struck you as particularly profound or moving?

7. Given that Paul died before the book was finished, what are some of the questions you would have wanted to ask him if he were still here today?

8. Paul was determined to face death with integrity, and through his book, demystify it for people. Do you think he succeeded?

9. In Lucy’s epilogue, she writes that “what happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy.” Did you come away feeling the same way?

How did this book impact your thoughts about medical care? The patient-physician relationship? End of life care?

11. Is this a book you will continue thinking about, now that you are done? Do you find it having an impact on the way you go about your days?

12. Lucy also writes that, in some ways, Paul’s illness brought them closer – that she FELL feel even more deeply in love with the “beautiful , focused man” he became in the last year of his life. Did you find yourself seeing how that could happen?

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When Breath Becomes Air 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 143 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This reveals and rips the vain between Now and Forever. Thank you for writing and sharing. And God bless.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Inspiring, heartbreaking, and uplifting...all at the same time. Thank you for letting the world learn of this incredible journey. A beautiful and powerful book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Being a wife who's husband is dying of a terminal illness and working in medicine this book hit home. An amazing view on life and death, filled with compassion and hope as well as reality and truth. Tears and smiles, I read this book in one sitting and wished I knew more of this man.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book let me open my mind up to the other world - death. It's something we all think about and have to go through. This book touched my heart and made me realize what I take for granted. This doctor will never be forgotten. All the sacrifices he made in his last couple years alive is truely humbling and inspirational. To the other review that was disappointed that he never found God: No one should judge or expect another person to think the way you do. He overcame what he had to do and found his own way to cope through this tragedy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was incredibly moved by this story, thinking of recent losses and my own future. Very moving and written so well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully and honestly written account of a thinking man's experience in dealing with his own mortality. Add to this, his being a neurosurgeon struggling with helping his patients and their families through this process of dying, makes this memoir so unforgettable. Read it. Make it a reading requirement for all medical students.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A thread of life and the incredible mysteries that accompany it run through every page. Bravery, vulnerability and end of being human while knowledgeable, loved and loving. This is a must read for anyone in the medical field who has recognized, "there by the grace of God go I."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one book that I will never forget. Thank you to Paul for sharing the most precious part of life....and death.
Penmouse More than 1 year ago
When Breath Becomes Air is a elegantly written and moving book about the life and death of Dr. Paul Kalanithi. Kalanithi. could truly be called a renaissance man as he loved both arts and science. Thanks to his love of writing and science we are left with his legacy of how he learned to view life and death. Kalanithi left his earthly bounds too soon as his gift for medicine and writing will be greatly missed. Recommend. Review written after downloading a galley from NetGalley.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book connected me with a family’s journey similar to my own. My beloved husband died nine months ten days after his diagnosis. Next week will be twenty years since his death. I love and miss him still and want to believe our energies will never part though I am now older than he was when he died. I was so fortunate to share ten years with him. Especially the last year.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was drawn to this book because I am battling cancer, not terminal. This book defies comparison. To have the perspective of patient and Doctor so brilliantly and beautifully described is gift to us all. Thank you Paul and Lucy! Your love conquers all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am battling cancer and I thank Paul, Lucy and Cady for affirming so much of what I've been feeling. There is no false hope presented here and no focus on the afterlife....something I think Paul must have believed was beyond knowing until we get there. The man simply lived in the time he had and appreciated what he had been given. I don't think any of us should expect to do more than that when we find our time is running short. It's no more profound than that. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful without even trying . Witty, engaging, heart breaking, and most of all thought provoking. What is the meaning of life? And maybe, more importantly, what is the meaning of death?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A profound and inspiring read....
Anthony_Positively_Fil More than 1 year ago
I just finished the book yesterday. In a few days, I’ll move beyond the immediate heartbreak of the loss of a talented, brilliant surgeon and scientist who was prepared to make a great difference in medicine. Dr. Paul Kalinthi writes so that you care about him, his dreams and his family. Beyond the grief, you’ll appreciate his example of bravery in the face of diminishing odds of survival about which he is always candid. He tells us of how his medical knowledge and experience working with patients influenced him to experience Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief in reverse. He is a realist but also a man with faith. The latter ― faith or God ― may appear antithetical for a scientist, but he manages to eloquently show the fatal flaw in an all-encompassing empirical view, even factoring in Occam’s razor. If we believe in only things we can see, then emotions, love and meaning have no place. This memoir covers more than just religion. Paul tackles many ideas on life and death in this short book he dedicated to his daughter, Cady, whom both he and we regret was too young to remember his time with her. Every moment is heartfelt and relevant for us mortals who soldier on. I don't normally comment on books, but for this one, I had to say something.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very moving and thought provoking book about a brilliant neurosurgeon who is faced with a tragic diagnosis. As a doctor, he has always been on the other side of the equation and suddenly he finds he is having to face his own mortality. Paul does a wonderful job of helping us all to remember the importance of life. But it’s the epilogue by his wife Lucy that brings it all together. The book would have been incomplete without her voice. Wonderful read !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is so touching and makes you want to search for the importance of life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So eloquently written, so heartwrenchingly raw and real, what a true gift he left the world. Brave, honest and an incredibly unflinching depth of character and grace. A book you won't forget.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well wrtten and even though sad at times the message about living while dying is so inspirational. This is a must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wish this was mandatory reading for all in health care!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Must read, creates overwhelming empathy; rips your heart out
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a beautiful Journey of one man's life. It is his quest defined Beauty and meaning in life and in the brain. I wish I had the words like he did to spin you a beautiful description of what he wrote. I cannot. Read this book of Sorrow and find joy too. Death was hard-but he met it unflinchingly- a man who made a difference. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a beautiful testament of life and facing death. It truly defines a human being facing the only guarantee in life which is death.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A powerful book, beautifully written. Tears fell as I read this amazing story. Paul was a brilliant physician and inspiring person. A must read for everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A beautiful and unforgetable book. I loved it. A book everyone should read.