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When Breath Becomes Air (Unabridged)

by Paul Kalanithi & Abraham Verghese - foreword

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For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question: What makes a life worth living? At the age of 36, 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.

Customer Reviews

Beautiful,moving and inspiring

Raw, real and captivating story of Paul and his amazing journey


There are so many books, shows, and movies that prop up physicians and surgeons on pedestals. They dramatize their lives and training and portray them as they're immune from the very worst things that afflict their patients. Dr. Kalanithi humanized the awful dichotomy of someone who was finishing his training to cure patients from the ravages of awful conditions such as brain tumors, only to then fight his own battle against cancer. As medical professionals, we are used to explaining next steps to our patients' families in their darkest hours. It's an entirely different thing when we are on the other side of that discussion. His wife did a beautiful job of of illustrating how her husband's cancer impacted their family. Although the ending is not a surprise, her accounting of his last hours and minutes is lovely and so sad at the same time. I hope this book will encourage people diagnosed with terminal illness to keep doing what's most important to them until the very end.

Dwayne Barton, NP

Inspiring read for anyone who works in medicine

This was a beautiful story about a neurosurgeon’s transition from doctor to patient. His passion for medicine is down right inspiring. Anyone who works in medicine should read this book.

Paul Kalanithi & Abraham Verghese - foreword, When Breath Becomes Air (Unabridged)
View in iTunes $23.95
  • Narrator: Sunil Malhotra, Cassandra Campbell
  • Published: 2016

Customer Ratings