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When Breath Becomes Air Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 12, 2016
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“Paul Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, written as he faced a terminal cancer diagnosis, is inherently sad. But it’s an emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”—The Washington Post
“Paul Kalanithi’s posthumous memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy. . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead. . . . The narrative voice is so assured and powerful that you almost expect him to survive his own death and carry on describing what happened to his friends and family after he is gone.”—The Boston Globe
“Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”—USA Today
“It’s [Kalanithi’s] unsentimental approach that makes When Breath Becomes Air so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.”—Entertainment Weekly
“[When Breath Becomes Air] split my head open with its beauty.”—Cheryl Strayed
“Rattling, heartbreaking, and ultimately beautiful, the too-young Dr. Kalanithi’s memoir is proof that the dying are the ones who have the most to teach us about life.”—Atul Gawande
“Thanks to When Breath Becomes Air, those of us who never met Paul Kalanithi will both mourn his death and benefit from his life. This is one of a handful of books I consider to be a universal donor—I would recommend it to anyone, everyone.”—Ann Patchett
“Inspiring . . . Kalanithi strives to define his dual role as physician and patient, and he weighs in on such topics as what makes life meaningful and how one determines what is most important when little time is left. . . . This deeply moving memoir reveals how much can be achieved through service and gratitude when a life is courageously and resiliently lived.”—Publishers Weekly
“A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity . . . Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[A] moving and penetrating memoir . . . This eloquent, heartfelt meditation on the choices that make live worth living, even as death looms, will prompt readers to contemplate their own values and mortality.”—Booklist
“Dr. Kalanithi describes, clearly and simply, and entirely without self-pity, his journey from innocent medical student to professionally detached and all-powerful neurosurgeon to helpless patient, dying from cancer. Every doctor should read this book—written by a member of our own tribe, it helps us understand and overcome the barriers we all erect between ourselves and our patients as soon as we are out of medical school.”—Henry Marsh, author of Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery
“A tremendous book, crackling with life, animated by wonder and by the question of how we should live. Paul Kalanithi lived and died in the pursuit of excellence, and by this testimonial, he achieved it.”—Gavin Francis, author of Adventures in Human Being
Top Customer Reviews
When Breath Becomes Air details Dr. Kalanithi's life as a neurosurgeon and his fight against advanced lung cancer. Even in his short life he achieved noteworthy recognition as a scholar, a surgeon, a scientist and now - posthumously - as a writer. The book is a tale of tribulations and frank reflections. Ultimately there's not much triumph in it in the traditional sense but there is a dogged, quiet resilience and a frank earthiness that endures long after the last word appears. The tribulations occur in both Dr. Kalanithi's stellar career and his refusal to give in to the illness which ultimately consumed him.
The first part of the book could almost stand separately as an outstanding account of the coming of age of a neurosurgeon and writer. Dr. Kalanithi talks about his upbringing as the child of hardworking Indian immigrant parents and his tenacious and passionate espousal of medicine and literature. He speaks lovingly of his relationship with his remarkable wife - also a doctor - who he met in medical school and who played an outsized role in supporting him through everything he went through.Read more ›
Paul Kalanithi answers that question in the most meaningful way possible in his outstanding book. A 36-year- old neurosurgeon, Paul wrestled between medicine and literature as an eventual career. Medicine won out and he was just on the cusp of a stellar trajectory when he was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer.
Paul nurtured a passionate belief in the moral dimensions of his job. He also strongly believed that the relational aspect between people undergirded meaning and that life’s meaning has everything to do with the depth of the relationships we form in our journey. He says this, “The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win …You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which are ceaselessly striving.
Just as his surgeon’s scalpel eased disease of the brain and saved lives, his words give reasons for living. The grace with which he navigates his journey – from a top-rated surgical resident to writer to his most important role of all, husband and father of a young daughter – his book is ample testimony to how one life well-lived can continue to create such a great impact.
In the foreword by fellow doctor and writer Abraham Verghese, that doctor writes, “He (Paul) wasn’t writing about anything—he was writing about time and what it meant to him now, in the context of his illness.” And in the afterword by his wife Lucy, the meaning of that time becomes even clearer. I felt the sense of having lost a personal friend.Read more ›
"When Breath Becomes Air" is a memoir chronicling Paul Kalanithi's life as he studies at Stanford University, and then at Yale University's medical school. Kalanithi is close to finishing his training as a neurosurgeon when he is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. The realization that everything he's been studying and working for is about to be taken away from him is incredibly sobering; not only for Kalanithi, but for his wife, too. What follows is a fascinating look into the mind of someone with a terminal illness. Someone who had dedicated their life to helping sick people was now suddenly thrown into the new role of patient.
Kalanithi's writing is honest and insightful, with frequent references to the literature he enjoyed so much. He is a deep thinker, for sure, and much of the book focuses on relationality. "Human knowledge is never contained in one person," Kalanithi writes. "It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still, it is never complete." We also learn much about the doctor-patient relationship, from both sides. "Doctors, it turns out, need hope, too."
"When Breath Becomes Air" is at once heartbreaking and inspirational, and really puts life in perspective. While reading it, I couldn't help but think how lucky I am.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book was so honest and raw.... Had me sobbing at the end, but really gives you an honest read in being terminally ill.Published 8 hours ago by wright
Survival is the ability to adapt to one's environment. This is an amazing journey in the pursuit of living with integrity.Published 10 hours ago by Constance
A book that takes an unremitting look at life and death through the eyes of someone who has held both in his hands. There's a lot to learn here about living and dying. Read morePublished 11 hours ago by E. Latshaw
The cliche I was moved to tears is the truest and only comment I can manage at this moment. P. ZippayPublished 12 hours ago by Patsy Zippay
This book comes at a time when I question my mortality more and more with each year. It's comforting to hear such an ambitious smart person address it so candidly. Read morePublished 14 hours ago by Nancy D.
This short memoir delivers quite an impact--or at least it did for me. I am not one that usually reads memoirs, particularly if they are promoted as "inspirational. Read morePublished 14 hours ago by Cariola
Really powerful book and beautifully written. The final passages were transcendent. That the author was not able to finish the book just add to the poignancy. Read morePublished 15 hours ago by Amazon Customer
This is one of the most beautifully written and engaging non fiction books I've read in years. It was our book club choice for May and lead to some very interesting discussions... Read morePublished 16 hours ago by Donald A. Barnhart