When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

Downloadable Audiobook - 2016 | Unabridged
Average Rating:
Rate this:
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERPULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, 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? NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • PeopleNPR • The Washington Post • Slate • Harper's Bazaar • Esquire • Time Out New York • Publishers Weekly • BookPage Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Books for a Better Life Award in Inspirational MemoirAt 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.
Publisher: New York : Random House Audio, 2016
Edition: Unabridged
Branch Call Number: Overdrive
Characteristics: 1 online resource (5 audio files) : digital
audio file
Additional Contributors: Malhotra, Sunil
OverDrive, Inc
ISBN: 9780399566196


From Library Staff

A memoir from neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi that reflects on finding joy and beauty in life, as well as reconciling with one's own mortality. Published posthumously, it is an affirmation on the value of a life lived to the fullest.

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Aug 26, 2018

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.

Aug 23, 2018

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.

Aug 01, 2018

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.

Jul 27, 2018

Wonderful book! I read it from the library, but bought the book because I will read it again.

Jul 25, 2018

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

Jul 24, 2018

Insight only someone living with a cancer diagnosis would have. Thank you to both he and his wife for being so vulnerable.
Well written.

Jul 10, 2018

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.

Jul 08, 2018

What a brave man. This book is inspiring, thought provoking and so beautiful. A must for all of us.

Jun 15, 2018

Extraordinary, insightful, poignant. A personal journey taken with deeply felt observations seen through a glittering glowing awareness of each moment.

Apr 03, 2018

Would read again. 5 of 5 stars.
Good author. Recommend. Will be one of the books I buy in the future.

View All Comments


Add a Quote

Jul 10, 2018

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

Jan 30, 2018

"... As a resident [neurosurgeon], my highest ideal was not saving lives - everyone dies eventually - but guiding a patient or family to an understanding of death or illness. ... The families [of the patient] see the past, the ... memories, the freshly felt love, all represented by the body before them. I see the possible futures, the breathing machines connected [to] the neck, the pasty liquid dripping [into] the belly, the possible long, painful, and only partial recovery - or, sometimes more likely, no return at all of the person they remember. In these moments, I acted not, as I most often did, as death's enemy, but as its ambassador. I had to help those families understand that the person they know ... now lived only in the past and that I needed their input to understand what sort of future he or she would want: an easy death or to be strung between bags of fluids ... to persist despite being unable to struggle." (p. 87-88)

ArapahoeMaryA Jan 26, 2017

...When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

Jan 18, 2017

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

Aug 18, 2016

I was less driven by achievement than by trying to understand, in earnest: what makes human life meaningful? I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain.

Aug 05, 2016

Chemotherapy began on Monday. Lucy, my mother and I went to the infusion center together. I had an IV placed, settled into an easy chair and waited.

May 03, 2016

There we were, doctor and patient, in a relationship that sometimes carries a magisterial air and other times, like now, was no more, and no less, than two people huddled together, as one faces the abyss.

Doctors, it turns out, need hope, too.


Add Age Suitability

Aug 01, 2018

jandt_mcmurray thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

Aug 05, 2016

JanPruatt thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over


Add a Summary

Aug 18, 2016

After ten years of medical education, Paul Kalanithi was on the verge of completing his training as a neurosurgeon when he became concerned about his own health. At first he blamed the rigours of residency, but a CT scan soon revealed the worst: cancer in the lungs, spine, and liver. Early in his university career, Kalanithi studied literature, dreaming of a career as a writer, but was driven to medicine by questions about mortality and meaning that he felt could not be answered by literature alone. Suddenly, those questions became urgent and personal, and the only time left to write a book and achieve that dream was now.

Aug 05, 2016

This book is one of the best 75 books in the past 75 years and it was just published this year. It will be truly a classic when you consider it’s about a neurosurgeon who discovers he has lung cancer. As the summary on the back of the box says – “One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live.” Only 36 years old Kalanithi had many questions he wanted answers to – “What make 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?” Together with his large, loving family Kalanithi discovers the meaning of life. He was a brilliant writer and surgeon and was transformed as he explored literature in pursuit of what is important in life. I admire that he found what he was looking for and reported in a sensitive, matter-of-fact way without sentimentality.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further


Subject Headings


Find it at Skokie Public Library

To Top