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When Breath Becomes Air Hardcover – 16 Dec 2016

4.6 out of 5 stars 265 customer reviews

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Description for When Breath Becomes Air

Review

"A vital book about dying. Awe-inspiring and exquisite. Obligatory reading for the living." (Nigella Lawson)

"Rattling. Heartbreaking. Beautiful." (Atul Gawande, author of BEING MORTAL)

"A great, indelible book ... as intimate and illuminating as Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal,” to cite only one recent example of a doctor’s book that has had exceptionally wide appeal ... I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option ... gripping from the start ... 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." (New York Times)

"Powerful and poignant." (The Sunday Times)

"Less a memoir than a reflection on life and purpose… [A] vital book." (The Economist)

"Extraordinary…Remarkable… luminous, revelatory memoir about mortality and what makes being alive meaningful ... Lyrical, intimate, insistent and profound. Kalanithi had the mind of the polymath and the ear of a poet." (Heather Hodson Daily Telegraph)

"Powerful and poignant… Elegantly written posthumous memoir… Should be compulsory for anyone who intends to be a doctor… A profound reflection on the meaning of life." (Daisy Goodwin Sunday Times)

"A stark, fascinating, well-written and heroic memoir." (Stefanie Marsh The Times)

"The power of this book lies in its eloquent insistence that we are all confronting our mortality every day, whether we know it or not. The real question we face, Kalanithi writes, is not how long, but rather how, we will live – and the answer does not appear in any medical textbook." (Alice Okeeffe Guardian)

"Exceptional." (Katie Law Evening Standard)

"When I came to the end of the last flawless paragraph of When Breath Becomes Air, all I could do was turn to the first page and read the whole thing again. Searingly intelligent, beautifully written, and beyond brave, I haven't been so marked by a book in years." (Gabriel Weston, author of DIRECT RED)

"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)

"A remarkable book… Kalanithi writes very well, in a plain and matter-of-fact way, without a trace of self-pity, and you are immediately gripped and carried along… [He] was clearly a deeply thoughtful and compassionate man, and his death is a great loss to medicine, but at least he has left this remarkable book behind." (Dr Henry Marsh Observer)

"A meditation on what makes a life worth living." (Guardian)

"The power of this book lies in its eloquent insistence that we are all confronting our mortality every day, whether we know it or not. The real question we face, Kalanithi writes, is not how long, but rather how, we will live." (Alice O’Keeffe Guardian Weekly)

"It turns out not really to be about dying at all but about life and how to live it ― though the closeness of death gives it an urgency and economy… When Breath Becomes Air is a Renaissance book from a Renaissance man. It is a work of philosophy and morality, a reconciliation of science and religion. There is even plot and excitement… It was only with the restrained, elegant epilogue written by his wife Lucy Kalanithi that I found myself weeping helplessly… When Breath Becomes Air tells us what means to live a good life, by giving us a glimpse into an exceptional one." (Lucy Kellaway Financial Times)

"A powerful and compelling read." (The Economist, Book of the Year)

"As thought-provoking as it was moving. The sheer exuberance of Kalnithi’s intellectual curiosity shone through in his writing." (Katie Law Evening Standard, Book of the Year)

"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. He learns lessons about the reality of illness and the doctor-patient relationship that most doctors only learn in old age but Paul Kalanithi died at the tragically early age of 37.

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)

"To the venerable canon of doctors who could write (from Chekhov to Oliver Sacks and Atul Gawande), another name can be added: that of Paul Kalanithi… Brilliantly written." (Louise Carpenter Sunday Telegraph)

"Paul Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Airsplit my head open with its beauty. Truly. Madly. Deeply." (Cheryl Strayed, author of WILD)

"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 one of a handful of books I consider to be a universal donor - I would recommend it to anyone, everyone." (Ann Patchett, author of BEL CANTO)

"A remarkable book about what it means to live…a tour de force…The book will be compared inevitably to Sacks’ work and also to the iconic book that Joan Didion wrote about grief, The Year of Magical Thinking. And like that book, it’s destined to become an elegiac classic on the subject of mortality. But it’s a different feeling from Didion’s gorgeous, melancholy fog of war. When Breath Becomes Air is electrically alive in its anticipation of death." (Lisa Chase Elle)

"It is [his wife] Lucy who completes the book with an honesty and elegance that echoes his own… This book goes a long way to achieving what Kalanithi wanted to achieve – helping people understand death and face their mortality. He emerges as a fine man who faced his own with fortitude and integrity." (Louise Jury Independent)

"Eloquent, elegant, heartbreaking memoir… As [Kalanithi] courageously faces his death, he takes care to celebrate love and hope in this sorrowful but ultimately life-affirming book." (Eithne Farry Sunday Express)

"It's a story so remarkable, so stunning, and so affecting that I had to take dozens of breaks just to compose myself enough to get through it…Although you know how this one ends, you still can't believe it. That's because the author -- a nonsmoker whose cancer was the result of a genetic mutation -- is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it's all heading. It occurs to me, as I close this book again (but not for the final time), that when I'm next on rounds in the hospital, I will have something devastating and spectacular to recommend." (Matt McCarthy USA Today)

"[A]n emotional investment well work making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature…His words are bracing for their honesty. He also writes beautifully about the philosophical aspect of medicine, neurosurgery in particular." (Nora Krug Washington Post)

"It would be hard to conceive of a more tragic story… Kalanithi provides a uniquely valuable perspective… [He] writes with eloquence, humour and honesty from both sides of the medical fence. His prose is fluid and precise, enlivened by brisk dialogue and offbeat anecdotes, mixing a surgeon’s precision with a human touch… Filled to the brim…with joy, humour and meaning." (Wendy Moore Literary Review)

"Devastating account of the shift from doctor to patient." (Charlotte Heathcote Daily Express)

"A deeply thoughtful and beautifully written book on the question of what makes life worth living." (Macmillan Cancer Support)

Book Description

For readers of Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal and Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm, an unforgettably powerful and heart-breaking book about how to live.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head (16 December 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847923674
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847923677
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 2.6 x 20.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (265 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #110 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
12-Jul-16: Finished reading "When Breath Becomes Air" by Dr. Paul Kalanithi. Tears blur my vision as I attempt to write a review for a book that is rattling, heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. In words of Atul Gawande, "Dr. Kalanithi's memoir is proof that the dying are the ones who have the most to teach us about life."

The foreword written by Dr. Abraham Verghese had left me sobbing and so had the following lines:
"You that seek what life is in death,
Now find it air that once was breath."

This book was published posthumously after Dr. Paul succumbed to stage IV lung cancer in March 2015. He worked meticulously (even during his last days and despite his frail health) to finish this book. His words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. The quest for what gives life its meaning transformed Dr. Paul from a naive medical student into an acclaimed neurosurgeon at Stanford. Coming face to face with his own mortality, Dr. Paul recognizes that in the end only two things matter:
1) Did you lead a meaningful life?
2) Did you make the right choices?

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 (read Dr. Paul) who became both. Quoting Ann Patchett, "This is one of a handful of books I consider to be a universal donor - I would recommend it to anyone, everyone."
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I picked up “When breath becomes air” by Paul Kalanithi with a heavy heart. Since I knew that reading one’s encounter with the only reality, death, would be neither easy nor entertaining. The realization that we all are mortal would be frightening to core. Except that we do not know that number of days we are left with.

Then, Paul Kalanithi was not another man: he was a doctor, the one who saves lives. How it would be to turn a patient from a doctor. That also when he least expected it, when he is considered GOD by the ailing patients.

It is nothing less than a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky.

The book begins with a brief description of his childhood at Arizona. His keenness in understanding the essence of human existence since childhood. And his confusion in selecting the career ahead. A part of his soul wanted him to be writer, another part suggested him to be a doctor. Ultimately finalizing Neurosurgery as his path, his destiny.

And deciding to turn a writer at a later stage, once he becomes a successful neurosurgeon.

He never portrays himself as a super-human, who shrugged of the fear of death. But the image he draws is of a real human being, fragile, but fighting, strong, yet weak, determined, still faltering. The book is the account of his dreams, his thoughts, and the pain he encountered whilst undergoing treatment for the unforgiving illness.

It will touch your heart, will make you cry, perhaps inwardly, and will scare even the strongest. I wanted to write more about the book, but am falling short of words. Then, no word can describe death, it can only be felt.

“When breath becomes air” could only be the title of the book, I felt. Nothing else could have depicted the crux of the book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a sad yet a beautiful story of a man who saw himself in the gowns of a neurosurgeon and turn into a fragile, bony figure on a wheelchair. Paul Kalanithi felt what it was to step out from the shoes of doctor and slide into the slippers of a cancer patient and die a hero. All my condolences to the families and people who loose their significant other and all my respect to the heroes who leave.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Earth's loss is Heaven's gain! This Genius seems to combine the best of all that's crucial and matters in life, to reach where he did. Despite saving thousands of lives,he succumbed to his own.Wish this book never had an ending...This loving Son, Caring Husband, Doting Father Talented Surgeon and a cherished life to so many who were near and dear to him would have been there...But the Gods thought otherwise. The Divine's deeds are Inexplicable yet inevitably true. HIS need was far greater than mere mortals
Don't mourn his death, but thank God instead, that such a man ever lived!
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Format: Hardcover
“If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining?”
― Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
There’s a part of me that feels bad to be reviewing this book. It is not just another book, but a sacrosanct memoir of a dying man; a man who strived to uphold to his belief in moral perfection till the end. His quest for the meaning in life, what makes human life worth living compelled me to think about the meaning of my own life.
The book begins with his childhood in Kingman, Arizona where he was initiated into literature by his mother. As a youth embarking on a life full of potential, he turns out to be the crème de la crème of intellectuals, pursuing degrees in literature, biology, philosophy of science and medicine and finally foraying into medicine at Yale, becoming a neurosurgeon-neuroscientist.
“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
His entire journey of life could be summed up in stages that he himself uncovers one revelation at a time. He begins his journey by examining death and human character through literature, then unsatisfied at the passivity of literature he jumps into the forefront of action as a neurosurgeon battling death and identity for his patients. He finds meaning in the gruelling hours of his resident life by guiding his patients and their families through the trough of illness, often encountering death and accepting it. The cycle reaches its penultimate stage when he finds himself at the receiving end of the table, suddenly becoming a patient himself. He was diagnosed with Stage IV terminal lung cancer.
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