When Breath Becomes Air

No items found.

by Paul Kalanithi


This inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, 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.

Our thoughts on When Breath Becomes Air

Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgery resident who was diagnosed with lung cancer in his final year of training, wrote a beautiful and heartbreaking memoir titled When Breath Becomes Air. Paul struggles to comprehend what his new life will entail and how long it will last when the life he and his wife, Lucy had planned for their futures will end due to his diagnosis. Paul describes his personal experience of learning the meaning of life, death, and the thin line dividing them through numerous treatments, his struggle to get back to work, and the birth of his first and only kid. In addition to his patients' lives, he also examines his own as he considers what it means to rescue a life.

Our favourite quote from When Breath Becomes Air

You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

13 recommendations for When Breath Becomes Air

13 recommendation for When Breath Becomes Air

Book Summary

Similar recommendations

You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

— Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air