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When Breath Becomes Air Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Jan 12 2016

4.6 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (Jan. 12 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081298840X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812988406
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #14 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated. As he wrote to a friend: ‘It’s just tragic enough and just imaginable enough.’ And just important enough to be unmissable.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Paul Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, written as he faced a terminal cancer diagnosis, is inherently sad. But it’s an emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”The Washington Post
“Paul Kalanithi’s posthumous memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy. . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead. . . . The narrative voice is so assured and powerful that you almost expect him to survive his own death and carry on describing what happened to his friends and family after he is gone.”The Boston Globe
“Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”USA Today
“It’s [Kalanithi’s] unsentimental approach that makes When Breath Becomes Air so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.”Entertainment Weekly

“[When Breath Becomes Air] split my head open with its beauty.”—Cheryl Strayed

“Rattling, heartbreaking, and ultimately beautiful, the too-young Dr. Kalanithi’s memoir is proof that the dying are the ones who have the most to teach us about life.”—Atul Gawande

“Thanks to When Breath Becomes Air, those of us who never met Paul Kalanithi will both mourn his death and benefit from his life. This is one of a handful of books I consider to be a universal donor—I would recommend it to anyone, everyone.”—Ann Patchett

“Inspiring . . . Kalanithi strives to define his dual role as physician and patient, and he weighs in on such topics as what makes life meaningful and how one determines what is most important when little time is left. . . . This deeply moving memoir reveals how much can be achieved through service and gratitude when a life is courageously and resiliently lived.”Publishers Weekly
“A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity . . . Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[A] moving and penetrating memoir . . . This eloquent, heartfelt meditation on the choices that make life worth living, even as death looms, will prompt readers to contemplate their own values and mortality.”Booklist
“Dr. Kalanithi describes, clearly and simply, and entirely without self-pity, his journey from innocent medical student to professionally detached and all-powerful neurosurgeon to helpless patient, dying from cancer. Every doctor should read this book—written by a member of our own tribe, it helps us understand and overcome the barriers we all erect between ourselves and our patients as soon as we are out of medical school.”—Henry Marsh, author of Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery

“A tremendous book, crackling with life, animated by wonder and by the question of how we should live. Paul Kalanithi lived and died in the pursuit of excellence, and by this testimonial, he achieved it.”—Gavin Francis, author of Adventures in Human Being

About the Author

Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon and writer. He grew up in Kingman, Arizona, and graduated from Stanford University with a BA and MA in English literature and a BA in human biology. He earned an MPhil in history and philosophy of science and medicine from the University of Cambridge and graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine, where he was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha national medical honor society. He returned to Stanford to complete his residency training in neurological surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience, during which he received the American Academy of Neurological Surgery’s highest award for research. He died in March 2015. He is survived by his large, loving family, including his wife, Lucy, and their daughter, Elizabeth Acadia.

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4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 'When Breath Becomes Air,' Kalanithi accounts his transition from his childhood and the path that drew him towards an initially unlikely career in medicine through the end of residency, and ultimately the tragic derailment of a once promising career outlook. Beyond the difficulty of dealing with terminal illness, the author is able to find some of the answers

As an aspiring doctor and having been impacted by terminal illness in my family, there are many passages in the story that resonated with me. At times it required me to put the book down to really process the feelings that I had, and to understand on a deep level the vulnerabilities we all experience as human beings, regardless of our position in life. I will always appreciate the impact of Paul's story on my own maturing perspective.
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Format: Hardcover
When Breath Becomes Air is an earnest self-examination of the life of a resident neurosurgeon, neuroscientist, nascent writer, and husband as he grapples with death. Throughout the memoir, he writes about the questions intersecting life, death, identity and meaning. He states that his attraction to neurosurgery was to work in the “crucible of identity” where people have the opportunity to consider their substance - what is most important. However, his early degrees were in literature and he is pulled toward academia and writing throughout his life.

In the first part, Paul Kalanithi provides a glimpse into the life and struggles of a neurosurgeon. He states that he choose the career “to pursue death: to grasp it, uncloak it, and see it eye to eye, unblinking”. He hoped it would elevate his own being - from petty materialism, self important trivia, to the heart of the matter….."surely a kind of transcendence would be found there?" He opens himself to looking for the same thing as he faces his own death.

Those of us that are attracted to reading about death will appreciate that this is where he turns. “Lost in a featureless wasteland of my own mortality, and finding no traction in the realms of scientific studies, intracellular molecular pathways, and endless curves of survival statistics, I began reading literature again.....searching for a vocabulary with which to make sense of death, to find a way to begin defining myself and inching forward again…..The privilege of direct experience had led me away from literary and academic work, yet now I felt that to understand my own direct experiences, I would have to translate them back into language. "

Abraham Verghese describes Kalanithi’s writing as stunning, unforgettable, spinning gold. I found it satisfying and thought provoking, which was enough for me.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Paul Kalanithi's memoir pulled me in immediately. I loved the insight into his quest for knowledge, and this quest cut short by his illness was keenly felt by the reader. Above all, I was moved and comforted by the meaning he found in life. This is a book everyone should read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If there ever was a perfect book - this is the one. A difficult subject written by a Master. A page turner, thriller about death and dying. I learned many fine things from When Breath Becomes Air. Love the intriguing title and every word written. Feel so grateful that I stumbled upon this book. It helped me and changed me. I feel richer in wisdom, knowledge and inspiration. My favourite book of my life. I'm 71 years old and an AVID reader all my life.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I wasn't drawn to the first half of the book and found it self-aggrandizing and frankly not that different from an account of any other medical resident. The second half of the book was much more compelling and unique. I would recommend skim reading the first half and really reading the second half.
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By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on May 26 2016
Format: Hardcover
What a beautiful and profound book. Like my late father who learned the greatest lessons in life when he learned that death was imminent, Kalanithi takes us into the depths of his journey to the next life. While it is all painfully shocking and sad, this wonderful man's story, in all its humanity and humility, is a reflective reminder that death is really only a transition point which we inevitably approach while living. While we don't get to set the terms of this natural experience, we can, as Kalanithi so eloquently explains, alter its effects by becoming aware of - and sensitive to - the extent of its potential impact of others. This little book is full of very poignant anecdotes of Kalanithi's encounters with death as he trained to become a leading neurosurgeon. The reader gets to see how devoted this man is to becoming someone who understands and empathizes with his patients as they struggle with brain cancer. His is a calling that must address questions that get to the core of who we are such as is life still worth living if quality is no longer there. Brain surgery was always something more than just removing the tumor and attempting to give a modicum of hope to the patient where little or none existed. That would never happen unless Kalanithi, a brilliant doctor in his mid-thirties, suddenly became stricken himself with an aggressive and ultimately an inoperable cancer. He admits that it was truly at that point that he started to live in a way that gave meaning to his profession. There is a lot of philosophical and spiritual musing in this meditation that shows that Kalinithi is prepared to make some big choices in life that will grapple with the tensions and fears of being caught in the middle of a great dilemma: wanting to live while preparing to die.Read more ›
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