When Breath Becomes Air

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When Breath Becomes Air chornicles the life of Paul Kalanithi who after having completed a decade long training as a neurosurgeon is confronted with being diagnosed of lung cancer.

From being one who treated serious patients to being a patient with a terminal disease, Kalanithi started penning this auto-biography after he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and was counting days.

It is a moving story about Kalanithi’s own life: from being a student pondering over the meaningfulness of life to a famous neurosurgeon who operated brains that deals with the core of human identity, to being a new father at a time when his own life is awaiting an uncanny end.

In writing about his own life, Kalanithi puts forth some reflecting questions: what is a person supposed to do when his life is catastrophically cut off? What makes a life admirable and worth living right in the face of death? And, finally, what does it mean to have a child right when one’s own life is on the verge of perennial slumber?

Paul Kalanithi passed away while working on the book yet 'When Breath Becomes Air’ is regarded as a profound reflection on the acceptance of mortality and on the relationship between a patient and a doctor, all from an author, who had to face it all. About the author:

Paul Kalanithi: A neurosurgeon who took to writing, Paul Kalanithi held degrees in human biology, English Literature and history and philosophy of science and medicine from Cambridge and Stanford Universities before finally graduating from Yale School of Medicine. He was also bestowed with the highest award for research in the field of medicine by the American Academy of Neurological Surgery.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head (8 February 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847923674
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847923677
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 2.6 x 20.4 cm

Customer Reviews

Profound, emotional, beautiful and heart-breaking memoir.

 on 4 May 2018
By Chetana Thakur Chakraborty
“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Since I am certain Man can never ount all the …

 on 14 December 2017
By Student
I feel sure

The best I ever read!

 on 30 November 2017
By Sneha Patiil
It’s the narration of a neurosurgeon of his entire life & how it gets upside down when he discovers that he is suffering from grade 4 cancer. This book depicted his struggle till the end. Also he tells us how much life we take for granted and how we should live our life to the fullest with the time we got. Must read not only by Doctors but also everyone out there to know the real meaning of life.

When Breath Becomes Air leaves you Breathless and Speechless!

 on 7 September 2017
By .
I do not know what death feels like, but whenever I do encounter it, sometime in the future, I’m sure I would remember some of Paul Kalanithi’s words. They will have made my life (and death) meaningful.

This one book will make you feel small

 on 18 August 2017
By Vidhu Sagar
Not many books are written like this.

Brilliant, unnerving, beautiful

 on 16 June 2018
By Chaitanya
Unsettling yet calm. This book hits you so strongly that it takes some time to understand what transpired right in front of your eyes. This book torments you, puts you through a wringer. Joy, pain, love, grief, acceptance, excellence all flow at once with so strong a force that you cannot but feel overwhelmed. As Paul recalls his own childhood and his life in the arid desert of Arizona, I was reminded of my of my own, yet as he reaches the end of the book I could barely begin to comprehend the pain and suffering this man went through; his ability to maintain this wide range of feelings all while the looming death that lied in front of him shows the vividness of his character. I cried towards the end and read the last 40 or so pages (especially epilogue by his wife) bleary eyed. This book carries wisdom that a many generations will cherish. The raw emotion, the spirit of the book and most of the calm acceptance of inevitable fate are what make this one of the most beautiful books.

Eminently readable

 on 9 June 2016
By Gajanan Limaye
An engaging and thought provoking chronicle of Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s losing encounter with cancer at a young age. The language is lucid, it’s practical but not dry, emotional but not maudlin, presents profound thoughts without being pedantic. He describes how ‘the curse of cancer created a strange and strained existence, challenging (him) to be neither blind to, nor bound by death’s impending approach’. Depending on the time window available from time to time, he alternates between following his career as a top neurosurgeon, spending time with family, and writing this book as a legacy. Finally faced with a choice between a longer but partial existence on life support or a quicker exit while fully functional, chooses the latter. To some extent, a similar issue is covered in Dr. Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal”, another highly engaging and eminently readable book.

Heart touching autobiography

 on 18 June 2018
By Verified Purchase
Honestly written account by talented neurosurgeon Dr Paul Kalanithi who was diagnosed with cancer at peak youth…his language is simple, easy to understand, he often drops pieces of philosophy in between and gives an intellectual hue to life….in the first part ,he talks about his busy residency straining his marriage, his love for literature, his curocity for medical sciences…in the second part he is heartbroken with lung cancer, his disease gluing back his marriage, the birth of their baby and ultimately his sad demise….the account is extremely heart touching, the shift of doctors being a patient is drastic…a must read esp for medico students to develop empathy for patients and understand what to expect out of their years long medical training

I will give it 3.75 stars 🙂

 on 20 May 2018
By Bibliophile
This book is a memoir, so don’t expect to get overt life lessons or any guidelines on how to live. Nonetheless, there’s quite a bit of things to absorb from the author’s life. The book is a short read and can be finished in less than 5 hours. I found the first part of the book tough to read. Though, the last 30 pages are extremely moving. This book can be read by everyone regardless of one’s profession. The life of brain surgeons is so challenging and gave me a new perspective on life. This book is different from “Tuesday’s with Morrie”. The latter is more of life lessons and the former is the author’s life story. Overall I’m ambivalent about the book. It was a surreal experience. I was left with tears as soon as I finished the book. Knowing about our own mortality gave me a wake up call.

Enthralling Work of An Existential Nature

 on 2 January 2018
By Ashok Krishna
‘At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet’, it is said. But one cannot say the same about Death. When Death arrives calling, not everyone stays brave or becomes a philosopher. Not all of us remain the proud humans that we are during our lifetimes, but go begging for another lease of life, no matter however brief that might be. Very few of us have the courage and composure to meet Death face-to-face, contemplate their life so far, take stock of their purpose and progress, and then, finally, do something that would fill them with the satisfaction of leaving behind something worthwhile, something that could set apart their sojourn on this planet from the billions of others. Paul Kalanithi’s was, fortunately or unfortunately, one such life that acquired a glowing purpose and meaning, sadly more during his final phase of life.

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