When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air

By Paul Kalanithi

  • Release Date: 2016-01-12
  • Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Score: 4.5
From 9,152 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 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.


  • Heartbreakingly beautiful!

    By KCN43
    Every word resonated, and tears flowed powerfully at the end!
  • When Breath Becomes Air

    By barbiecapp
    I find myself reading this book over and over again. For him to write about so many of his personal triumphs ( including death; there is triumph in death as well)as well as his disappointments; made Paul very personable. I know from a nurses prospective that he would’ve been a fine and compassionate doctor.
  • Powerful

    By earth.nurse
    I couldn’t put this book down. Paul’s writing is descriptive and thoughtful. I would highly recommend reading this book and following him through his journey. Inspiring.
  • Overwhelmingly Beautiful

    By Tcdickerson
    Heart-wrenching and absolutely beautiful. Couldn’t put it down or stop crying. Thought provoking and life changing for me, personally.
  • A beautiful reminder of what makes life worth living.

    By grooviemomma
    I am thankful Paul shared his words with the world.
  • Paul Kalanithi

    By Caly56
    An amazing memoir and so honestly written. One comes away with an awareness of the intensity of responsibility of becoming a medical professional. Viewing life and death so intimately. Took my breath away.
  • Inspiring

    By maria5441
    Incredible book about the hardship of finding oneself again after a terminal illness diagnosis. Made me fall in love with medicine again.
  • This book is… beautiful.

    By CJ-Coleman
    Interesting, informative and dramatic, this book is simply a beautiful gist from a beautiful man and his family. Like his life, it was over too soon.
  • Poignant, essential, gutting.

    By craazydina
    An important and authentic conversation on what it means to live with death. I’m very humbled to have been able to learn from Paul and Lucy by way of this memoir. Thank you.
  • Simply amazing

    By Lane Christian
    Must read, unbelievable