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Publisher's Summary

The New York Times number-one best seller.

At the age of 36, on the verge of completing a decade's training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity - the brain - and finally into a patient and a new father.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?

Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

©2016 Paul Kalanithi (P)2016 Random House AudioBooks

Critic Reviews

"Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.... Unmissable." ( New York Times)

What listeners say about When Breath Becomes Air

Average Customer Ratings
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An incredible journey

This book has helped me have a guiding light to restore balance when I become to immersed in experiences or too lost in contemplation "if an unexamined life isn't worth living then is an unlived life worth examining".

2 people found this helpful

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Eye opening

Loved this book. Reminded me that life is short and has no guarantees. Always make the most of the present.

1 person found this helpful

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Thank you for this book.

Thank you Paul for writing this book. It feels extremely authentic and honest. I have come to love you and your family through this book. I admire you.

1 person found this helpful

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A beautifully written book.

This book and the lovely voices will live with me long after the last word.

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Thought provoking


Loved it. Makes you think. I recently buried my father. This booked helped me coping with this loss.

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Thanks thanks thanks Paul

Life doesn’t give you second chances. Life is now. Live the present. LIVE now. Thank you!!!

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This touched me deeply.

This is profoundly heartbreaking but reassuring that Paul lived his dreams, although not long enough. His book is achieving more touching and bringing people to the reality of life, meaning and purpose.

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You have GOT to read this!!!

Absolutely amazing. A gripping account of one brave Indian man’s life and death, completed by his surviving wife.

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Deep

The book has so much depth and makes you reflect on life and what we hope for

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moving

one of the most moving books I have ever read. Paul must have been an amazing person 

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  • HN786
  • 03-08-20

this book is about ambition not death

This book was supposed to be about death and whilst in the obvious sense it was, it was more about fulfilling life’s ambitions. I feel bad to write a bad review but the writing was mediocre, the story was nothing special and it was ultimately less about death and confronting it and rather more about writing to fulfil a dying man’s lifelong ambition to be a published writer. I didn’t like the strong American ambition; of working the body down to a pulp that this book describes persistently and then packaged it up as if it is a thing to be admired. This is not the way to live life. Indeed one of Paul’s friends Geoff commits suicide from the pressures of the medical profession. I hated how Paul’s oncologist encouraged him to go back to gruelling brain surgeries despite the fact that his body was buckling under the pressure and he no doubt became more ill because of the burden of his professional work. I admired Paul’s striving for excellence before his cancer diagnosis but after that the story takes a turn that I did not approve of. Reading (or rather listening to) this was incredibly depressing, it did not inspire any hope of a life after death. For more inspiring literary works on this topic, I would recommend readers obtain the rather more shorter beauty (barely 70 pages), A Grief Observed, written by C S Lewis. I believe this is the text that his wife Lucy even cited from at the end in her epilogue. There is a far greater wealth of literature on death that is more inspiring than this book. Throughout this book the writing teetered on the spectrum between sounding too clinical or trying too hard to sound poetic with descriptions about the moonlight or some other such descriptive that added no value or weight to the words being expressed. There was a disconnect and lack of tangible human vulnerability. I didn’t *feel* his ordeal through the language he used to express himself. I highly doubt that he didn’t have those emotions within him which is why I felt disappointed by the book and all that it was supposed to represent. If the book had had less hype attached to it perhaps I would not have been so disappointed. But this was a mediocre book and not one that I would recommend when there’s far better literature on death. If I were a neurologist perhaps I’d take keener interest in reading his medical publications but Paul’s writing style leaves a reader like me with much to be desired.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Angie
  • 03-25-16

Deeply touching & a story of bravery

Initially when I chose this book on audio version, I didn't know what to expect.
This book took me through love, strength as a person, couple, family, integrity of the patient but also of Lucy who stood by him relentlessly through each day.
Rest in peace, people like you are rare.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Vivian
  • 09-27-16

Lovely insight into a doctor becoming a patient

I think I cried through most of this book. It is very thought provoking as a doctor, as a surgeon, to rethink what makes me a doctor and what would I be if I am no longer a doctor.
It also describe from a doctor's point of view how it feels like to become a patient.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Diana W.
  • 01-04-17

An inspirational book

An account both deeply personal and universally resonant, of living life, and seeking meaning, in the face of death. The memoirs of a man dying at 35, Paul Kalanithi reflects on his early love of literature combined with his discovery of science, and his intuition that both are essential in understanding the meaning of human existence. Later training as a doctor and practice as a neurosurgeon drew him to engage deeply with questions of meaning in the lives, suffering and deaths of his patients and their families, until, with a diagnosis of terminal cancer, he was forced to confront these existential questions most powerfully, painfully and profoundly, in his own life. A moving and inspiring book. Very well narrated.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Nash Hon
  • 10-02-16

Powerful book

Very rarely, a book comes along that makes you pause and think about what you're doing with your life and what you want to do with it.
This is one of them and it's one of the best. Painful yet absolutely inspiring.

8 people found this helpful

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  • C
  • 11-19-16

My book of the year

I would recommend this book to anyone who is

A) thinking of joining the medical profession
B) currently deals with patients in any professional capacity.
C) is currently or has been a patient
This book truly is a gift and a reminder of our shared humanity. Thank you to Paul & his family for writing about and sharing their very personal experiences and to the buyers at Audible/ Amazon for making it available in this format. My life is the richer for it.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Jack Wright
  • 02-14-19

That, that was something else.

A very special book that is more than the culmination of its words on a page.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Colm O' Leary
  • 11-01-18

Beautiful, poignant and meaningful

I listened in one sitting. Really moving and emotive. I cried and smiled like a baby

2 people found this helpful

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  • luke
  • 08-17-16

Brilliant, emotional, needed

This book is so well written. It has helped me in so many ways. Thank you

2 people found this helpful

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  • Jenny
  • 04-04-16

One of the best books I have ever read

Such an insightful and heart rendering look at lung cancer. Enjoyed every minute of listening to the book.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Kunal Kumar
  • 01-10-21

Moving and powerful!

This memoir by Dr Paul Kalanithi takes the reader on a short yet powerful journey through his illness, his mental stage and the last few years of his life!
Just finished it and I have no words, so not going to write more in this review!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Stacy
  • 11-11-20

Truly beautiful

This book was a prescribed book by my uni and at first, I believed I would be bored by it. I was pleasantly surprised. Cried many times in the book, discovered areas in my own life where I could be doing things differently, and gave me a better understanding of what people go through when dealing with a terminal illness. Loved the story and the narration was well done.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-01-20

Cried it was so beautiful

Meaningful and beautifully written, moved me at my core and showed a different way of looking at life. Short and great read.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-21-20

I am a doctor! I have cancer.

Great book in three parts. An audiobook well presented, better than the book itself.
The highlight for me was the last part by his wife. She as a ‘non’ writer captured her story in a way that the narrative stays with you, nesting deeply in your heart and mind.
Paul himself tried to hard to be a writer...a doctor with cancer. No more than my doctor friends that committed suicide, died in a car crash, those died of cancer and those died on the battlefield or mission trips. I could not get lost in HIS life story...Why not? When writing a story, biography about something with a message, it’s about the message or lesson, not about you.
The cancer in a physician suffering and deeper meaning was smothered by the ME. Thus not enough about IT and to much about the I.
Thoughts by a doctor myself...not I but it, the entity.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Carol
  • 07-09-16

When breath becomes air

When I was looking for my next read I came upon It and I was captured from the first paragraph. What a wonderful man, I cried many times during the book. I lost my own father to cancer but was to young and immature to realise the significance of death....forever is a long long time. Thank you Paul

1 person found this helpful

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  • Annette K.
  • 12-04-21

Terrible robotic narrator, flat story

I listened to the audiobook, always close to giving up. The male narrator is awful. Monotone, staccato voice without harmony, change in pitch or emphasis. What kept me going was the hope that at least the story would develop to something deep and meaningful. But again a disappointment (except for the epilogue to a degree)
This is the book in four sentences:

Doctor studies medicine and becomes a neurosurgeon. Develops cancer. Has a baby with his partner (via ivf). Dies a few months later.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-24-21

A great book about life.

This is a somber and well written account of Paul’s life as a husband, neurosurgeon, patient, and his death. I am grateful to Paul, his wife and family for having shared this story.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-16-21

Well narrated ending

A beautifully narrated epilogue, one to take all the way to the end. Paul's life was interesting but we never saw more than his feelings about work until the last year of his life.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-16-21

You will cry. Likely alot

Heartbreaking story about a surgeon with terminal cancer navigating through the challenges that accompany illness and questions of one's own mortality. Beautifully written, and you'll likely need a box of tissues for the final forty minutes.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-22-21

The best book I’ve ever read

This book is absolutely life changing. Deals with life’s most complex questions of meaning and sacrifice in a thoughtful and humble way, whilst also delving into the darkest topics of premature death, fear and suicide in a way that is truly beautiful. Could not recommend it more highly.