When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who 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...

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Title:When Breath Becomes Air
Author:Paul Kalanithi
Rating:
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Kindle Edition
Number of Pages:208 pages

When Breath Becomes Air Reviews

  • Elyse
    Nov 20, 2015

    1/12/16: Update: Just wanted to mention that this book goes on sale today. Its an amazing story!

    Paul Kalanithi studied literature at Stanford University. For his thesis, he studied

    the work of Walt Whitman, a poet , who a century before, was possessed by the same questions that haunted him. Kalanithi wanted to find a way to understand and describe what he termed "the Physiological-Spiritual Man."

    Kalanithi had a passion for literature. He began to see language as an almost supernatural force, ex

    1/12/16: Update: Just wanted to mention that this book goes on sale today. Its an amazing story!

    Paul Kalanithi studied literature at Stanford University. For his thesis, he studied

    the work of Walt Whitman, a poet , who a century before, was possessed by the same questions that haunted him. Kalanithi wanted to find a way to understand and describe what he termed "the Physiological-Spiritual Man."

    Kalanithi had a passion for literature. He began to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in

    centimeter-thick skulls, into communion.

    "There must be a way, I thought, that the language of life as experienced – – of passion, hunger, of love – – bore some relationship, however convoluted, to the language of neurons, digestive tracks, and heartbeats."

    Paul Kalanithi's thesis was well-received -- but neuroscience as literary criticism didn't quite fit in the English Department. ( nor did he). There was a question he couldn't let go of. "Where did Biology, morality, literature, and philosophy intersect?".

    Kalanithi consulted a premed advisor - set aside his passion for literature - and figured out the logistics to get ready for medical school. He was still searching for answers to the question "what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay?"

    When he was in his fourth year medical school, he watched many classmates choose to specialize in less demanding areas, (radiology or dermatology for example). It puzzled him that many students focused on lifestyle specialities--those with more humane hours, higher salaries, and lower pressures. For himself, he chose neurosurgery as a specialty.

    Kalanithi was diagnosed with Cancer. ( he actually was almost certain he had cancer many months before getting an X-Ray or MRI). Once it was clear that the cancer had invaded multiple organ systems--( "severe illness wasn' life altering--it was life shattering"), decisions needed to be made. His wife Lucy, father, siblings, doctors were all involved - and chemo would start soon.

    Clarifying the rest of his life ( only age 36 at the time), was going to be a process.

    He and Lucy went to visit a sperm bank to preserve gametes and options. They had planned on having kids at the end of his residency.

    To think. Paul Kalanithi wrote this book - relentlessly- fueled with purpose during the last year of his life -- never got to finish his life's plan..( yet he still worked that last year).... But he was racing against time. With this book - he was hoping to confront death - examine it- accept it-- as a physician and a patient. He wanted to help other people understand death and face their mortality. "It's not exotic..but tragic enough and imaginable enough he says".

    There is a beautiful - but so sad- Epilogue by Lucy - from Paul's wife at the end of the book. Their baby had been born eight months before Paul died - March 9th, 2015.

    Lucy reports that Paul let himself be vulnerable and comforted by family and friends.. and even when terminally ill, he remained fully alive!

    Thank You Random House, Netgalley, and Paul ( and Lucy), Kalanithi

  • Aisling
    Nov 22, 2015

    Oh dear. I was always told not to speak ill of the dead. It feels awful to give a three star rating to a nice guy (by all accounts) who is now dead. But I simply did not find this book compelling or insightful enough. It is mildly interesting to learn about neurosurgery as a specialty and to read the author's thoughts as he faced diagnosis, illness and then death. I always felt that the author was holding back; that it was too clinical, too calm, just not passionate enough. The first time I felt

    Oh dear. I was always told not to speak ill of the dead. It feels awful to give a three star rating to a nice guy (by all accounts) who is now dead. But I simply did not find this book compelling or insightful enough. It is mildly interesting to learn about neurosurgery as a specialty and to read the author's thoughts as he faced diagnosis, illness and then death. I always felt that the author was holding back; that it was too clinical, too calm, just not passionate enough. The first time I felt that I was reading something worthwhile was in the 26 page epilogue by the author's wife. I guess the best way to say it is this; this is a quick read. And of course it should not be.

  • Esil
    Nov 23, 2015

    A very high 4 stars. When Breath Becomes Air is so good and so sad. It's a brief memoir of a life ended way too early. Kalanithi was 35 years old and finishing his training as a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer. As he was living out the end of his life, he wrote this brief powerful memoir. In the first section, he describes how he became aware of his diagnosis -- he essentially self diagnosed. In the second section he explains how he decided to become a n

    A very high 4 stars. When Breath Becomes Air is so good and so sad. It's a brief memoir of a life ended way too early. Kalanithi was 35 years old and finishing his training as a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer. As he was living out the end of his life, he wrote this brief powerful memoir. In the first section, he describes how he became aware of his diagnosis -- he essentially self diagnosed. In the second section he explains how he decided to become a neurosurgeon -- he wavered between being a writer and a doctor but decided that he wanted to do something tangible that engaged him in the real world -- although he had planned to become a writer later in life. In the third section, he writes about being a patient, his struggle to live a normal life, becoming a father, and his failing health. And the final section is written by his wife after his death – she writes about his death, how he wrote the book and who he was to her. I'm not sure what to say to do justice to this book and to Kalanithi. There's a bit of a stream of consciousness feel to the book. But all the bits and pieces of narrative add up to a very meaningful whole: he writes strong fluid prose, he has a brilliant mind, he conveys his dual love of literature and science, and he has great human insight into life, medicine, dying and death. It makes for a very sad book -- not because Kalanithi is melodramatic or self-pitying – quite the contrary -- but because as I read and savoured his prose and thoughts I couldn't help feeling the sense of a life cut far too short. I can't fathom how he was able to so soberly write this book in the last few months of his life, but I'm grateful I had a chance to read it. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for an opportunity to read an advance copy.

  • Iris P
    Dec 04, 2015

    Sharing this interesting New York Times interview with Dr. Lucy Kalanithi.

    She sounds like a very special person too:

    ***********************************************************

    Upgrading this to 5 stars, not sure why I didn't before

    ***********************************************************

    After finishing this profound, emotional memoir I feel like I lost a good friend.

    Thank you Paul Kalanithi for this beautiful gift you left for us, wherever you are...

    Sharing this interesting New York Times interview with Dr. Lucy Kalanithi.

    She sounds like a very special person too:

    ***********************************************************

    Upgrading this to 5 stars, not sure why I didn't before

    ***********************************************************

    After finishing this profound, emotional memoir I feel like I lost a good friend.

    Thank you Paul Kalanithi for this beautiful gift you left for us, wherever you are...

    I was going to try to write a longer review but my mind is not into it these days.

    All I can say this book will stay with me for a long time and everything good you've heard about how amazing it's well deserved.

    Sad, poignant, raw, beautiful...

  • Diane S ☔
    Jan 14, 2016

    As I finished this book with tears running down my face I asked myself, "Why did you read this book? You know it was going to be sad, how could a man dying of lung cancer before the age of forty be anything but." Yet to just classify this memoir, to classify this novel as such is to devalue the man he was. He was a lover of literature, a neurosurgeon, a scientist, a son and brother, a husband and father. He tried to live each day to the best of his ability, he helped many and he acknowledged the

    As I finished this book with tears running down my face I asked myself, "Why did you read this book? You know it was going to be sad, how could a man dying of lung cancer before the age of forty be anything but." Yet to just classify this memoir, to classify this novel as such is to devalue the man he was. He was a lover of literature, a neurosurgeon, a scientist, a son and brother, a husband and father. He tried to live each day to the best of his ability, he helped many and he acknowledged the doctor patient relationship had a big disconnect with the reality of life, how their lives would change after being diagnosed with a serious illness. He was not a saint, he cried when given a death sentence, but his thoughts were not always for him, he always wanted to make sure his wife had a life after he was gone. So in many ways this was a profoundly beautiful read by a remarkable man.

    His wife says it best, "What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy."

  • Jen
    Jan 24, 2016

    Unforgettable is what Verghese says in his foreword. I agree and am fighting for my own breath to write my thoughts about this stunning memoir that has left me gasping for air. The writing. The emotion. The beauty in the darkness of dying.

    I mourn the death of this writer, a surgeon of great potential. A doctor of great compassion. But the message he has left us is quite eloquently simple: make life as meaningful as you can in the time you have. Be grateful.

    The touching epilogue his wife Lucy w

    Unforgettable is what Verghese says in his foreword. I agree and am fighting for my own breath to write my thoughts about this stunning memoir that has left me gasping for air. The writing. The emotion. The beauty in the darkness of dying.

    I mourn the death of this writer, a surgeon of great potential. A doctor of great compassion. But the message he has left us is quite eloquently simple: make life as meaningful as you can in the time you have. Be grateful.

    The touching epilogue his wife Lucy wrote.

    My tears runneth over. 5⭐️ - have upped this. This one will stay with me for a long while.

  • Maxwell
    Jan 25, 2016

    I don't think you should read this book because the story of an incredibly gifted man who had his life taken away at such a young age might give you the motivation to live life more fully. I think you should read this book because that talented, inspiring man has incredibly important things to say derived from his own experiences, and it's important to listen and learn from them.

    Read this book with the knowledge that you might not always be able to understand everything someone goes through, bu

    I don't think you should read this book because the story of an incredibly gifted man who had his life taken away at such a young age might give you the motivation to live life more fully. I think you should read this book because that talented, inspiring man has incredibly important things to say derived from his own experiences, and it's important to listen and learn from them.

    Read this book with the knowledge that you might not always be able to understand everything someone goes through, but you can set aside the time to listen to their story and hopefully give them the dignity and respect they deserve as a human being, in life or death.

    -Paul Kalanithi

  • Petra Eggs
    Feb 05, 2016

    I finished the book. I'm glad that I perservered with it. It's quite an odd book and an overall rating might be the sum of the parts, but is not going to reflect the writing or content of those parts.

    The first part, the foreword, by Abraham Verghese, was verbose, hagiographic and contradictory

    . He said he didn't know the author at all until after his death. Then he says well he did meet him and they had a long email correspondence. And so it goes.

    I finished the book. I'm glad that I perservered with it. It's quite an odd book and an overall rating might be the sum of the parts, but is not going to reflect the writing or content of those parts.

    The first part, the foreword, by Abraham Verghese, was verbose, hagiographic and contradictory

    . He said he didn't know the author at all until after his death. Then he says well he did meet him and they had a long email correspondence. And so it goes. He says it's the foreword but should be the afterword. Verghese must have sat there with a thesaurus composing endless sentences of praise for the author, who had, like most of us, never accomplished anything much out of the ordinary. I dnf'd this part and give it a whole, rounded-up 1 star.

    The second part, I feel churlish writing this, I really do. The author had an interesting career in his short life, mostly as a student. He had a MA in English Literature, another MA in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, a BSc in Human Biology and finally an MD from Yale, before going on to be a neurosurgeon.

    It was in his brief career as a neurosurgeon and scientist he was diagnosed with cancer. He tried his best to be introspective and give guidance through the exponentially-increasing awfulness that is the journey through this dread disease. The problem was, he wasn't a natural writer although he'd wanted to be one all his life. Hi prose might have been just the stuff of essays at his Ivy League universities, but to me it is reminiscent of a writers' group where each attempt to outdo each other with portent-laden phrases and lots of deep literary references. It was tedious in parts. But... he did his best and he was a good doctor, husband and father, and this was only his debut book. Five stars for the man, but three stars, just, for this central section of the book.

    The long afterword is written by his widow. She is a doctor too, but could easily be a writer. She just has 'it' and her late husband, who wanted it so much, didn't. She rounds out the story he told, and continued on at length in the most interesting and well-written part of the book. Her ability to convey emotion without getting either lyrical or sappy was excellent. Five stars. Dr. Lucy Kalanithi should have been credited as co-author. I hope she goes on writing

    It won't make sense to read the last part without the second, but you can easily skip the foreword, all it adds is unnecessary verbiage and lots of pages to make it look more than just the thin tome it really is.

    ________________

    An example of the really rather awful writing that got me down. You may disagree, you may feel that the three words I suggest - dawn came up, are no substitute for the 150 poetic, lyrical, descriptive ones the author wrote instead. I'm too hard, right?

  • Maggie Stiefvater
    May 29, 2016

    A gasping, desperate, powerful little book, bigger on the inside than outside.

    It's a little bit about dying, but more about being alive.

  • Sabaa Tahir
    Jul 16, 2016

    Never has a book turned me into a sad sobbing mess so quickly. Philosophical, beautiful, moving, difficult, heartbreaking. Highly, HIGHLY recommend.