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When Breath Becomes Air

Written by: Paul Kalanithi
Length: 5 hrs and 35 mins
Categories: Science & Math, Medicine
4.7 out of 5 stars (313 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Tackling the agonizing transition from skilled surgeon to bewildered patient, When Breath Becomes Air is an unflinching account of what it means to be betrayed by the body you devoted your life to understanding.

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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    4 out of 5 stars
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It is a great book with profound moments

Journey of Paul is inspiring and sad at the same time. Poignant tale of a man who could have been so much more . However this is not a book to lament a journey cut short. It is a story of a man who loved life. He perhaps ended up living more than what many would who outlive him.

4 people found this helpful

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very valuable writing

a beautiful, tragic, meaningful memoir that contemplates life in the face of death, and death as a reality of life.

1 person found this helpful

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Exceptional

Truly exceptional description of life and death. PAUL KALANITHI was a gem of a doc and writer. His dream of science, philosophy and conscience have truly intersected in this piece.

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a wonderful experience

Paul Kalanithi and his love for literature and science can be experienced in this book. Death confronted him when he was living his work trajectory. It came in the form of terminal lung cancer. But the wonderful thing is how he faced his last days. This book is a must read.

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the reality -death

really touching. helpless humans. the time is very precious for everyone. it is limited in this beautiful world.

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Touching and so real

I was so moved by this book that I kept thinking how to write my review since I was lost for words. In short, this story takes you to a place which is so real and touches your heart in so many ways that is so beautiful. Thank You

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No words ... amazing

must read book for everyone very deep and meaningful book... situation of hard earned doctor

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Embracing life and death

Listening to “When breath becomes air” was a wonderful experience. There was so much to learn from this book. I never knew how hard it was to be a doctor. Paul’s viewpoint towards cancer and death was very unique and interesting. This book is wonderful and wholesome.

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Story of a brave and an authentic soul

It's a great book and gives you new perspectives regarding medicine, life, it's meaning and death

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There is an incomprehensible depth to this book.

Every sentence vibrates with elegance and depth, wrote in a poetic way. It sometimes leaves you speechless and sometimes provokes many thousands of thoughts. Its unfinished nature left me saddened but you have to accept the truth whatever it might be, isn't that one of the core truths of this book?

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  • Anonymous User
  • 25-11-19

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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  • Anonymous User
  • 20-08-18

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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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-11-17

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".

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-07-20

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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  • Tim Stone,Templehouse
  • 01-01-20

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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  • Anonymous User
  • 17-12-19

Deep

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

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-12-19

moving

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

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  • Karthik Rajan
  • 31-07-19

Touching!!!!

Very good interesting and touching book!! Must listen atleast once!!! Story was very much touching

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-11-18

awakening

it allows me to reflect on my life and what is most important in life.

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  • James
  • 15-06-18

A must for anyone in healthcare

Truly a beautiful read and an inspiring man. I believe should be required reading for any aspiring to join the healthcare field. It is in essence an amazing and heart wrenching insight into what it can mean to practice medicine and an exploration understanding and coming to terms with death from multiple perspectives.

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  • HN786
  • 08-03-20

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.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Angie
  • 25-03-16

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.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Vivian
  • 27-09-16

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.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Diana W.
  • 04-01-17

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
  • 02-10-16

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
  • 19-11-16

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
  • 14-02-19

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
  • 01-11-18

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
  • 17-08-16

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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  • Amazon Customer
  • 21-05-20

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
  • 09-07-16

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

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-10-20

Highly recommended

Beautifully written, deeply moving. Shifted my perspective on how I look at my own life. Time flies with this audio version.

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  • Kimberley Tempest
  • 08-10-20

An honest look at life and death

I loved this book. Paul honest and brave account of his life and death was a compelling read. What a remarkable human.

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  • Ramesh chukkapalli
  • 11-09-20

very emotional

a very heartfelt emotional book, talking about death and life. And giving doctors perspective about disease and his own feelings.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 28-08-20

Alter your expectations

Somewhat self-serving autobiography of a doctor. I expected philosophy more so, maybe that's on me.

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  • David
  • 21-11-19

what a wonderful book on life and value of it

loved it and very deep...U appreciate your gift only when it is taken away. Must read and Simply wonderful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-11-19

Stunning, Beautiful, Moving. Highly Recommend.

Outstanding use of the English language. This book is so much more than I anticipated.

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  • Louisa
  • 04-09-19

Narration pretty bland.

I'm at chapter 4 and am yet to be engaged. This may be due to monotone narration. I would not buy.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 18-06-19

Words don't this book justice

beautifully written piece that has an elegance about it, the flow of the story line that takes you from giggling in your seat to deep in thought, the take away message is something very unique and dear, I would recommend this book a million times over, no doubt