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About When Breath Becomes Air:
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.
Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” 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 who became both.
“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
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.
Lucy Kalanithi is an internal medicine physician at Stanford and associate fellowship director at Stanford's Clinical Excellence Research Center, where she leads innovative efforts to improve healthcare value. She completed her MD at the Yale School of Medicine, where she was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society, her residency at the University of California-San Francisco, and her postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford. Her interests include patient engagement and shared decision-making. Lucy Kalanithi wrote the epilogue to When Breath Becomes Air by her late husband Paul Kalanithi.
Joanna Goddard was born in Paris and grew up in France, England, and (mostly) the suburbs of Michigan. She is the founder of the award-winning women's lifestyle site Cup of Jo, which covers style, design, food, travel and parenting. Over the past 15 years, she has edited and written for a range of magazines, including Glamour, Budget Travel and New York. She lives in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, with her husband and two sons. (parlerodermime)