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 9,737 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?

“Unmissable . . . Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, People, NPR, The Washington Post, Slate, Harper’s Bazaar, Time Out New York, Publishers Weekly, BookPage

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.
Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Books for a Better Life Award in Inspirational Memoir


  • Sad but great.

    By Brad1996!!
    A beautifully written book describing what it feels like to sit on the precipice between life / death, doctor / patient, actor / object. This piece also provides unique perspective on how to face your own mortality with reason and grace, focusing on living, not dying… even when the odds are not in your favor.
  • Favorite

    By Podcast187
    One of my favorite books of all time. Will be a bookshelf staple forever.
  • A EMTs Perspective

    By olly1745
    This book brought me to tears, from a human perspective and a healthcare worker perspective. Amazing book (don’t read the end on an EMS shift, you will cry till the sun comes up)
  • Stunning

    By Marzjoltom
    Beautiful, full of joy and hope account of a remarkable life filled with purpose, love and intentional living. Inspiring on many different fronts, especially what it means to find purpose, to love, and to die with dignity.
  • Letdown

    By BlakeBuilt
    200 book/ yr reader and this is one of the highest rated letdowns of a book I’ve ever read. Dude tried to use big words to pull you in emotionally to a very anti climactic and unfulfilling story.
  • Very emotional

    By Nahyah123
    This was an emotional book. I like how he educated us whilst telling his story as a patient and a doctor.
  • No connection

    By ElevateAddict
    I just couldn’t connect with this book. And I have experienced cancer myself.
  • 10/10

    By jonlittle615
    This book is so great it’s a must read.
  • When Breath Becomes Air

    By Jrbdjdbj
    This book is an inspiration on how to live and die with grace.
  • Stunningly beautiful…

    By Kerosa
    … and poignant.