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When Breath Becomes Air Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 12, 2016

4.7 out of 5 stars 3,861 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of January 2016: When Breath Becomes Air is a powerful look at a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis through the eyes of a neurosurgeon. When Paul Kalanithi is given his diagnosis he is forced to see this disease, and the process of being sick, as a patient rather than a doctor--the result of his experience is not just a look at what living is and how it works from a scientific perspective, but the ins and outs of what makes life matter. This heart-wrenching book will capture you from page one and still have you thinking long after the final sentence. –Penny Mann

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“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated. As he wrote to a friend: ‘It’s just tragic enough and just imaginable enough.’ And just important enough to be unmissable.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
 
“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 life 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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (January 12, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081298840X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812988406
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3,861 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Ash Jogalekar TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 1, 2015
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I read this book in one sitting, long after the lights should have been turned off. I felt like not doing so would have been a disservice to Paul Kalanithi. After reading the book I felt stunned and hopeful in equal parts. Stunned because of the realization that someone as prodigiously talented and eloquent as Dr. Kalanithi was taken from the world at such an early age. Hopeful because even in his brief life of thirty-seven years he showcased what we as human beings are capable of in our best incarnations. His family can rest assured that he will live on through his book.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sometimes you don’t go out and find a book; the book finds you. Facing an impending loss without a foundation of faith to fall back on, I find myself asking, “What is the meaning of life if we’re all just going to die?”

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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I saw that this book was suggested for readers who like Anne Lamott, I knew I had to read it because Lamott is my favorite author. Her writings have inspired me and helped me get through some very difficult times through the years. Little did I know, though, that when I picked up "When Breath Becomes Air" and began reading it, I wouldn't be able to put it down until I was finished. Yes, it's that good.

"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.
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