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Paul Kalanithi was successful by every societal standard. He had graduated from Stanford with double majors in English and Biology and earned advanced degrees in both fields before becoming a Chief Resident at the Stanford Hospital. He was a talented academic, diligent neurosurgeon and loving husband, with the world at hand and the brightest future one could possibly imagine.
But when he was diagnosed with lung cancer, everything came crashing down.
When Breath Becomes Air is divided into two sections — one that relates Paul’s journey of discovering his calling as a neurosurgeon after a lengthy but indirect grapple with death, and the other as he is granted the wish of experiencing death more directly, but not in the manner he wished he would.
Paul’s writing is concise but intimate. Despite his countless encounters with death and suffering during his career, the book still unveils his bewilderment and fragility in face of cancer. Yet it is precisely this vulnerability that reveals another side of him — beneath the enviably glossy resume is only a human, whose fears and hopes are the same as those of any other.
I’m really glad I read this book immediately after finishing Love, Money & Parenting. After thinking about people as rational, informed, resource-allocating creatures who could be categorized by sociological variables, it is easy to forget that these statistics are individuals, each of whom lives among us, as doctors, patients, friends, and family.
In a global mentality that continues to think in “us vs. them,” it is easy to be blinded by socially constructed barriers.
But our lives on Earth are only finite, and despite all our differences throughout these journeys, at the end we are only the same.
One moment it is breath in, breath out, and in the next, breath has become air.
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When Breath Becomes Air is a moving memoir from a young neurosurgeon diagnosed with a terminal cancer. After working tirelessly for a decade training, learning and performing surgeries Paul is almost at the end of his residency when he starts to feel unwell and unlike himself. Reading the signs of his symptoms Paul knows there is definitely something wrong, but he undergoes tests to confirm his fears. The moment he hears the results his life is changed forever, from doctor to patient and confident to scared out of his mind.
I was overcome with sadness for this man in only the first few pages as I imagined how difficult his journey during this book was over the two years he spent writing it. Not just the physical pain he went through as his body failed to keep him alive, but the disappointment of his loss, the shame of not being able to live his life the same way and the loss of his future and family. I found this book fascinating, though, not just because it was a first-hand account of his descent into his illness but also for the medical stories of his own patients and practices. It was a book I enjoyed reading from start to finish and I do believe it's one you won't quickly forget.
Kalanithi's prose is a bit leaden and the flow isn't always smooth, but he showed promise as a writer. It is sad he had to die so young. This short memoir is a touching testament to a man who came to grips with his own mortality and made sure his loved ones would be okay after he passed on.
When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir by Paul Kalanithi, who was a neurosurgeon, husband and father. A must read powerful small book is all about a subtle yet profound reality check and truly proves its purpose, to give you a clarity about life and death.
This is an intimate and detailed account of Dr. Kalanithi's diagnosis of Stage IV Lung Cancer. Dr. Kalanthi was in the prime of his life at 36 following years of training as a neurosurgeon and enjoying his young married life when he was diagnosed. In this book, you will follow his journey of life and the pursuit of a young family. This book is written in a first-person narrative by Dr. Kalanthi and it really makes you think of what's really important in life. This is worth the read and it is a quick and in-depth and valuable read. This book will encourage people faced with a loved one suffering from terminal illness. There are some deep sad moments, moments of angst and some levity.
I would not have read this if it wasn't a selection for my Book Club, but I'm glad I did. Beautiful and breathtaking and sad.
A memoir/essay/treatise by a brilliant neurosurgeon who died before the age of 40 from cancer. Part One - his story of his search for meaning as a doctor dealing with untold death amid fervent striving for a fulfilling life - was profound and wise. As he tries to become the doctor he most wants to be, he writes, "I began to suspect that being so close to the fiery light of such moments only blinded me to their nature, like trying to learn astronomy by staring directly at the sun. I was not yet with patients in their pivotal moments, I was merely at those pivotal moments." He's humble about the disconnect between doctor and patient and wants desperately to change that. Part Two - his memoir of his short time from diagnosis to death as he strill strives for relationships, meaning, enlightenment, and truth - is at times unbearably sad and yet exquisitely beautiful. And it's all followed by an epilogue from his wife that's stunning.
Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for this type of book.. it was a book I kept putting down until I forced myself to finish it. It was gripping in some parts, but seemed rushed (rightfully so). I did start liking it by the middle and end. The epilogue was also good. Overall, I respect kalanithi’s efforts to write it - he inspires readers to pursue their dreams, for life is too short to do otherwise.
What a lovely book. When "breath becomes air" words and phrase are so well written. I often find myself reflecting back to this book which I read in the spring of 2018. Enjoy. DAP
This is a book that I read repeatedly, and every time, I come away with new things I love from the book. From the word choice to new quotes that I cannot help but write down somewhere, it brings a plethora of inspiration with each read.
It is definitely something that does not suit all age groups but is definitely a good read. To actually enjoy this book, you need to have an interest in mortality and be willing to drop everything and read the whole thing through. It may help to have some background knowledge of biology and some state of mental maturity when approaching this book as it deals with something that requires a sense of seriousness.
"When Breath Becomes Air" is a touching novel with a breathtaking writing style. It is a great autobiography for a life cut short and definitely makes the reader feel something emotionally. The main theme of this novel is mortality, and it is definitely a good read as it brings a lot of insight into things in a patient-doctor perspective.
This book is definitely something that individuals who are interested in medicine, neuroscience, mortality, and neurosurgery should have on their reading list. It also references a good deal of literature for readers to read, from medical texts to classics.
It's honestly a matter of taste when it comes to books like these. For instance if you look at Bill Gates' review of the book, he has a certain preference that causes him to enjoy this autobiography. What one person likes is not indicative of what you may enjoy, but if you are looking for something that is potentially very saddening, I would suggest it.
In concluding, it's spectacular novel that definitely captures the mortality and conflicts of terminal illness. So depending on what you like, this may be a good book. For people with terminal illnesses or know someone with it, it might bring some closure, might not. It brought me some closure and helped me begin to understand what it was like to live on the edge near dying and yet still living.
Closest I've come to crying at the end of a the book. But I'm not a child, SO I DIDN'T CRY OKAY???
A great essay on death from a professional, philosophical, and ultimately human perspective. Written as a memoir on his life, an analysis on death, and ultimately a tribute to those he would be leaving behind. Unfortunately for us (but fortunately for Billy Joel) only the good die young.
R.I.P. Paul Kalanithi.
Paul is a neurosurgeon that is just months away from his life time goal of graduating from residency and getting the big job offers when they discover he has cancer. The end was near but not the end that Paul and his wife had envisioned. All those years of work and struggle and this is what happens. It makes one think and it made Paul do so as well. He tells his story from both sides of the bed as he has had many patients under his care that were not going to have the end they desired either. It is enlightening, joyful, tender, and sad. It was worth the read.
I wasn't sure of it at first, but I ended up really liking it. Very sad to listen to the author's story of his life before death, but he had a great story to tell. I especially loved his wife's epilogue.
Age recommendation: 16 & up
On a scale of 1 - 10 stars, I give it 7.
Wonderful book! I read it from the library, but bought the book because I will read it again.
Paul writes in a way that takes us into his life and into the lives of those around him. He gives us a glimpse of what it's like to face death and at the same time find his passion and live his life with his wife and family. He never purposefully says anything deep or quotable, yet every word makes you think about your life. Kalanithi takes us on his journey of discovery and even in this last days he learns more and more. This emotional, sweet and incredible story will leave you questioning what’s important for you.
- @Pandora of the Teen Review Board of the Hamilton Public Library
The book When Breath Becomes Air is an inspiring story that discusses the hard fought battle Paul Kalanithi (the author) had with stage 4 lung cancer. The insightful story was really eye opening and I feel that anyone could enjoy reading about Paul’s journey. The text provides an insight on Paul’s life when he had cancer from his own perspective. I would rate this book a four out of five because of all of the lessons learned from it, and how it also served as a wake up call to be thankful for what you have. I personally have an interest in science which attracted me further to this book as it discussed several medical conditions. Overall, I think that if you enjoy reading about science, or inspirational messages, this is the perfect book for you!
- @BetweenTheLines of the Teen Review Board of the Hamilton Public Library
Insight only someone living with a cancer diagnosis would have. Thank you to both he and his wife for being so vulnerable.
This autobiography goes beyond the usual chronological sequences in the life of a medical student/resident. Despite the moral pressures that the author faces while undergoing various treatments and the dilemmas that he faces, Kalanithi reminds his audience that making the most out of the small moments can be crucial to one's happiness.
What a brave man. This book is inspiring, thought provoking and so beautiful. A must for all of us.
Extraordinary, insightful, poignant. A personal journey taken with deeply felt observations seen through a glittering glowing awareness of each moment.
Would read again. 5 of 5 stars.
Good author. Recommend. Will be one of the books I buy in the future.
One of the best books I've read in a long time. Paul Kalanithi aspired to be a writer before he became a surgeon and the words just flow. Yes, it's a sad story, sad that we lost someone this gifted at any early age, but he gives us the gift by sharing his life, his desire to find meaning in life, his illness, and his death.
Do look up Bill Gates review of this book. It's far more eloquent that what I've shared. Also, look up Lucy Kalanithi and her life after Paul. Sometimes new opportunities come in strange ways...
After losing my 45 year old mother to an obscenely aggressive Lung Cancer at the age of 15, I could still relate to this breath-taking account of life on death's terms.
To this little human and loving wife that Paul left behind, I pray that the insight he bestowed affords comfort in your times of sorrow and enriches whatever wake he has left behind.
What a brilliant mind!
A good read. Paul generously and openly shared his experiences, sufferings and thoughts when test confirmed he had cancer. I'd have send a friend of mine this book but unfortunately he just passed away prior to my reading this book. The stages and experiences he had undergone were similar to Paul's and I'm sure having a reference during those difficult moments would be useful.