When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air Summary

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • 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 PASTE’S BEST MEMOIRS OF THE DECADE • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • People •NPR• The Washington Post • Slate • Harper’s Bazaar • 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 Memoir

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.

Book Reviews


This book is… beautiful.5 star

Interesting, informative and dramatic, this book is simply a beautiful gist from a beautiful man and his family. Like his life, it was over too soon.55


Poignant, essential, gutting.5 star

An important and authentic conversation on what it means to live with death. I’m very humbled to have been able to learn from Paul and Lucy by way of this memoir. Thank you.55

Lane Christian

Simply amazing5 star

Must read, unbelievable55

Big A little n

Great book5 star

All I have to say is I cried for 30 minutes straight and the end of this book, and I don’t cry.55


Beautiful!5 star

A nephrologist that I admire and respect profoundly, recommended this book to me. Well, it did not disappoint. It was beautifully written. I couldn’t stop reading it even with tears clouding my vision. Rest In Peace Paul.55

Andy Tre

Excellent book.5 star

This was a beautifully written book that really hits home. I recently lost my father to stage IV pancreatic cancer. This book has provided me with some new insight and perspective. Some of the similarities are shocking and also familiar. It opened up old wounds, but allowed me to see clearer. I cried. I began to mourn again. It all caught up to me because of this book. Yet, there is the beauty of this creation. Paul wrote so eloquently. His prose is unmatched. His story is almost surreal. I wish I could have met this man and his family.55


When Breath Becomes Air is Inspiring and engrossing5 star

I’ve read this beautiful book twice now and it has become one of my top inspirational memoirs. Paul, a gifted neurosurgeon has just hit his stride when he’s diagnosed with cancer. His perseverance pays off not in a longer existence but rather a more meaningful one. A fascinating look at one doctor’s ability to accept his premature death and live in the present.55

Faith Munge

Phenomenal5 star

Incredible book that deeply moved and inspired me. Paul left a legacy that will live on forever.55


Meaningful. Human.5 star

Thoughtful. Moving. Emotional. Human. A wrestling with life and death from a neurosurgeons, and thinkers, perspective. An exposition on the constant introspective challenges of how best to live ones life, what is meaningful, what do you value, and what is your legacy? Those answers change in context, and they’re not the same for everyone: here’s a great framework.55

elise taylor

loved the title5 star

excellent, fast paced, emotional, thoughtful, informative.. can’t say enough good things about this book!!!55

Other Books by Paul Kalanithi

El buen doctor


El buen doctor

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