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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.

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Boring

I just don't get the rave reviews for this book. I found it so boring. Nothing insightful or particularly interesting (beyond the fact that he was dying). I love these kinds of books and am fascinated in how incidents such as facing your mortality can have people change the way they look at life or live their lives but this didn't offer any of that. Snooze...

1 person found this helpful

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Emotional, heart-breaking yet profound & inspiring

It’s quite emotional, heart-breaking but also a profound and inspiring story of a remarkable man. It’s a book about embracing the reality of death which teaches you how to be alive, being strongest in your weakest moments, and fighting the ultimate survivor battle with courage, despite losing your breaths. It’s a memoir of hope and will leave you teary-eyed. I can’t recommend it enough.

We all know that we will eventually face death, some sooner than later. And yet, we spend most of our life in constant denial, living on autopilot, planning about our unseen future, ranting about our expired past. We keep procrastinating things that are important to us, our real goals and dreams believing that we still have ample time.

But what if you don’t?
What if you had 1 year, 1 month, 1 week, 1 day to be alive?
What if like Paul you were diagnosed with a terminal illness and you didn’t know how long you will be alive and in what state of health?
How would you come to terms with a future that is not going to happen?
How would it alter your priorities and idea of life?
What would make life worth living in those circumstances?

Paul was really driven. He tried to live each day to the best of his ability and helped many along his journey and after via this book. It also made me realize how unfair, uncertain, and fragile life is. At one end, he is finally graduating as a neurosurgeon after years of hard work, becoming a father but at the same time, his whole world is collapsing. Yet, he doesn’t portray himself as a victim or demands any sympathy.

What makes this special was the fact that Paul was always interested in death as a philosophical problem. One of the reasons he became a doctor was to understand how people make sense of their lives and deaths. But he soon discovered that no matter how close he was to his patients during his illness, he could never grasp the true meaning of their suffering since he was never in their shoes! And then when it suddenly happened to him, he realized how hard and intense it is.

He was not afraid of dying and Lucy (his wife) was not afraid to see him die which is incredibly brave. Cancer caused havoc in their life and it took everything they had to cope. But through it they could ultimately find meaning, which was amazing.

Another remarkable decision was when they decided to start a family. It was clear to them that the child wouldn’t be able to spend much time with Paul and Lucy would be a single parent. Even though Paul was running out of time, he left the decision to Lucy as she would be the one raising their child alone while taking care of Paul. While Lucy wanted Paul to be able to spend the remainder of his time in the way that he wanted to. She worried that having a kid would make goodbye more painful. To which Paul responded, “Wouldn’t it be great if it did?”. They believed that life was not about avoiding suffering but rather about creating meaning.

Lucy’s epilogue will leave you in tears. Interestingly, Lucy has the writing chops which Paul always strived for. Her storytelling and ability to convey emotions are incredible and certainly the most beautifully written part of the book. I can’t wait to read her future writings.

Above all, this book opens our eyes to our mortality and reminds us that our time here is limited. It urges you to truly savor the moment we are living right now and to reflect back into your priorities. It also teaches you the power of unconditional love and affection of family in reducing the greatest pain and suffering. And that life shouldn’t be measured in years but rather in the valuable and immortal memories.

It’s written by a remarkable man who chose to share his learnings when he had very limited time left on earth. Just having that courage is praise-worthy.

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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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  • 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.

24 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Dr. Siwan Thomas Gibson
  • 05-07-16

Fear hope and love

Moving in 'real time' this book shares the intimacy of terminal illness without drama or pathos.
A superb account of a personal experience that captures fear, hope and love.

4 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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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-28-18

This guy was on a different wave length to me. Worth a read.

Author was a deep thinker. It was sad but interesting to hear his take on suffering & grief & loss. It was scary though to have revealed how little care he took of his body when he was younger. There was no credence given to a healthy, well balanced life style. That is something I see in so many left brain, Medico types. He & his oncologist & wife seemed to value toxic therapies whose side effects some of which ( not all) seemed worse than the progressing cancer”s effects. He seemed to value extension of life over quality; although he did make clear in the book that as long as he was not cognitively impaired & could be a deep thinker, that for him personally his life held meaning. It was for me like a clear dis-announcing of the body. No recognition of what a wise & profound thing nature had evolved in creating the body. No honouring of its basic needs. No credence given to its potential to self heal given an optimum,self healing environment, nourishment & rest. It was as if his body was his enemy to be fought against with science as his weapon. I did gain insights reading this personal story of tragedy, but not the ones I was expecting or hoping for. He sounded like a beautiful soul - but I feel somewhere in life he lost his sense of connectedness to the profundity of nature, to nurturing instead of battling. In his deep philosophising he never uttered recognition of nurturing himself versus pushing himself. He was a brave, noble warrior. Worth a read.

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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  • Maxine
  • 09-26-16

Too much medical jargon

I feel bad writing a negative review but this book was full of medical jargon that I am sure the average bloke on the street would struggle to understand. Paul is facing death and appears to be desperately seeking validation of his worth. He is well read and doesn't hesitate to namedrop a few literary bits and pieces. His story lacks any human connection. He skips over his marriage issues, the birth of his daughter and generally is very light on in regard to emotions. He rarely mentions the impact of his illness on his wife and family. I felt sorry for him and wanted to tell him, forget the writing, you're not very good at it. Put down the pen and go outside, sit in the sun and watch the world go by. I do have to say that the epilogue written by his wife was very moving and I believe she is a far better writer than her husband was.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Maxine
  • 07-25-16

Slice of life

Would you consider the audio edition of When Breath Becomes Air to be better than the print version?

N/A

What did you like best about this story?

Paul's descriptive and inspiring quest to find personal meaning in life and battles to find self worth are topics I enjoyed.

What does Cassandra Campbell and Sunil Malhotra bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

n/a

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Opened my eye's to the physician's stresses and how much doctors truly give gifts to those in their care.

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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  • Gill Kolk
  • 05-06-16

A book to treasure

Beautifully written and narrated, its like Paul is there telling you his story himself. Very corageous.

1 person found this helpful

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  • carmel
  • 09-20-22

Beautiful

This book is so beautifully written. Looking at this life experience from both sides ,very heartfelt and real

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-19-22

challenging

When Breath Becomes Air was a challenging read... an unflinching journey towards the abyss guided by a dying neuro surgeon scientist at the beginning of a brilliant career... Written with intensely passionate intelligence, a terrible clear eye, almost unbearably so. The agonising tragedy of great potential cut short by the brutal teleology of Cancer.