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

Enthralling Work of An Existential Nature

9 people found this helpful.
 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.


10 people found this helpful.
 on 4 April 2017
By Fook_bood
This is a sad yet a beautiful story of a man who saw himself in the gowns of a neurosurgeon and turn into a fragile, bony figure on a wheelchair. Paul Kalanithi felt what it was to step out from the shoes of doctor and slide into the slippers of a cancer patient and die a hero. All my condolences to the families and people who loose their significant other and all my respect to the heroes who leave.

I am so glad that Paul has chosen to share his journey

4 people found this helpful.
 on 18 October 2017
By Mrs Khan
Oh wow!!! Every once in a while I long for a book this intense. I am so glad that Paul has chosen to share his journey. This book is heart breaking and yet it gives us strength. Surely an eye opener that shows us the fragility of human life. I was very stunned with how powerfully he could write although he was a doctor and then as I read on I found out that he did have a background in literature. A very gripping read which I really enjoyed.

The best I ever read!

4 people found this helpful.
 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!

One person found this helpful.
 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.


One person found this helpful.
 on 4 December 2017
By Rishi
This book rakes your brain like nothing else.


2 people found this helpful.
 on 11 November 2017
By Hodl
The last few pages of the book and the epilogue will hit you in the feels more than the rest of the book. At least it did for me. This book instills a sense of gratitude towards life and also drills home the fact that the transformation from life to death may be sudden and, obviously, inevitable, urging one to rethink the process of fulfilment with regard to every single day. Must read.

Eminently readable

4 people found this helpful.
 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.

What it would be like to make choices when death comes calling and gives you just enough time to say good bye?

One person found this helpful.
 on 3 October 2017
It is unfortunate that the world has lost such a wonderful surgeon, researcher, human being and author (the same person) at a very young age. This book is a touching and thought provoking account that moves back and forth between Doctor Paul Kalanithi and Patient Paul Kalanithi. One always wonders what does a doctor do when he himself falls ill. This book captures one such instance poignantly. The book shows the blurring of dichotomy between patient and doctor, and between life and death especially when a successful doctor, who is driven to make his patients’ lives wonderful, is made aware of his mortality. The book is structured in two distinct halves. The first is the evolution of a doctor and the second is the contrasting evolution of a terminally ill patient. It is almost like a movie. Paul’s love for literature is reflected in the literary references and the language usage throughout the book. In some case, the lines seem too poetic to be seen as prose. I would recommend this book for anyone who wishes to glimpse into what it would be like to make choices when death comes calling and gives you just enough time to say good bye.

One of the best memoirs I have ever read

2 people found this helpful.
 on 1 October 2017
By Vaj
One of the best memoirs I have ever read. Truly gripping, deeply riveting, poignant, heartbreaking and daring in everyway .The book is a poignant tale about the sojourn stay on earth of an extra ordinary human being. The book is split in to two parts. In first part, the author describes about his childhood days growing up in kingsman Arizona, his love for books & how they helped him in making the choices that shaped his life.He also details about some of the choices that he has made in life along with reason and judgement.He explains about how from an early age, he has aroused a keen interest in books and how his mother who was influential in instilling in him his love for books & literature from an early age. He has made books his closest confidants, finely ground lenses providing new views of the world.His mothers quest to provide better education for her kids combined with the excellence standards set by his father along with his love for literature, drove his spirits and landed him with a degree in english @ Stanford. The author also narrates how his course at Stanford helped him seek a deeper understanding of a life and identify what makes life meaningful.His search for identifying purpose & meaning to life dawned him with the revelation that only a physician could truly understand the physiological-spiritual man. which led him to choose medicine as his profession. & neurosurgery as his specialization. He beautifully unveils his choice of specialization and substantiates it with a barrage of facts/information.He elucidates that he was compelled for neurosurgery because of it unforgiving call to perfection.which required moral,emotional, mental and physical excellence. The duties of the neurosurgeons and the enormous physical,emotional,mental & moral responsibilities that they need to shoulder while treating the patients has been explained in detail.since brain being the most important part of the human body that could give rise to an organism capable of creating an identity to the human life & finding meaning in the world,Neurosurgeons are considered as polymaths who strode into the densest thickest of emotional,scientific and spiritual problems and found or carved ways out.

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