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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanithi

Other authors: Lucy Kalanithi (Epilogue)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 146 (next | show all)
paul kalanithi had a lifelong curiosity about what gives existence meaning. he studied english and biology at university, before enrolling in medicine, thinking there were both artistic and biological contributions. setting his path on neurosurgery, he hoped to find what really mattered in life.

when breath becomes air is an emotionally affecting read. i found it very interesting and helpful, in many ways. it is impressive to me that kalanithi was able to write this while enduring his cancer and treatments (he is very clear about the levels of pain and the horrendous side-effects and complications he had to deal with), then returning to work, planning a family with his wife (then pursuing IVF to help make it happen)... and all the other normal things that add chaos to life. his grit and drive while so gravely ill are remarkable. the book feels very focused and determined, and i hope it provided a very helpful distraction to kalanithi during his last months. that he had such clarity of purpose during this time in his life is an impressive thing to me. i was very moved by how kalanithi's family cocooned him during this time - should everyone be so fortunate is situations like this - while providing the listening, support, and love that helped sustain him. i very much appreciated the different perspectives between kalanithi's roles - first as a successful neurosurgeon, and then as a patient navigating the system, his own choices and decisions.

kalanithi died before he fully completed the book -- but he entrusted his wife, parents, and editors to ensure it would be published. it's a role they all took seriously, though there is some clunkiness in the prose that could have used a bit of smoothing (only noting because some moments in the book are so profound and beautiful, but then you'd hit a clunker of a line. so it was noticeable to me as i was reading.) the book does not at all feel unfinished. lucy kalanithi - a doctor of internal medicine, and paul's wife - provides an epilogue which helps round out not only the book, but her husband's personality. the completely lovely introduction is provided by abraham verghese.

kalanithi hoped his book would help people -- i think he has succeeded here wonderfully. ( )
  Booktrovert | May 9, 2017 |
This book is a black-hole- from beginning to the end. His words are sweet poison: they take over your emotions one page at a time.. You can't help but feel the injustice in swiftness of his death, his rush to get to the end of the line with monuments to leave behind, and of course the puzzle of finding the meaning of life- before breath becomes air... One of the best from many:

About God: "To make science the arbiter of metaphysics is to banish not only God from the world but also love, hate, meaning — to consider a world that is self-evidently not the world we live in. That's not to say that if you believe in meaning, you must also believe in God. It is to say, though, that if you believe science provides no basis for God, then you are almost obligated to conclude that science provides no basis for meaning and, therefore, life doesn't have any." About his daughter: "Yet one thing cannot be robbed of her futurity: my daughter, Cady. I hope I’ll live long enough that she has some memory of me. Words have a longevity I do not. I had thought I could leave her a series of letters — but what would they really say? I don’t know what this girl will be like when she is 15; I don’t even know if she’ll take to the nickname we’ve given her. There is perhaps only one thing to say to this infant, who is all future, overlapping briefly with me, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past.

That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing." ***PS: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/amid-deaths-throes-young-doctor-examines-life-for... ( )
  soontobefree | May 1, 2017 |
The bravery and sadness of a neurosurgeon written by himself as he dies of lung cancer. Written in the last year of his life, leaving to mourn him is his wife and daughter. ( )
  myers3 | Apr 25, 2017 |
What do you do when you know you are ill and do not know how long you have to live? Paul Kalanithi chose to write a book and have a kid. He chose to spend time with his family. He despaired but he decided he wanted to treasure the remaining months he had. Life is fragile and precious as he thought me, and it is not worth it wallowing in self-pity and constantly worrying about things. ( )
  siok | Apr 9, 2017 |
This book appeared on many lists of the best nonfiction books of 2016. It is an autobiographical account of the author's discovery of his calling to be a neurosurgeon and the tragic interruption of his career by terminal cancer. The author passed away before the book was finished, but his wife offers a moving postscript to his account. ( )
  proflinton | Apr 4, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 146 (next | show all)
“When Breath Becomes Air” is gripping from the start. But it becomes even more so as Dr. Kalanithi tries to reinvent himself in various ways with no idea what will happen.

Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him — passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die — so well. 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.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paul Kalanithiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kalanithi, LucyEpiloguesecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Verghese, AbrahamForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I knew with certainty that I would never be a doctor.
I knew with certainty that I would never be a doctor. I stretched out in the sun, relaxing on a desert plateau just above our house. My uncle, a doctor, like so many of my relatives, had asked me earlier that day what I planned on doing for a career, now that I was heading off to college, and the question barely registered. If you had forced me to answer, I suppose I would have said a writer, but frankly, thoughts of any career at this point seemed absurd. I was leaving this small Arizona town in a few weeks, and I felt less like someone preparing to climb a career ladder than a buzzing electron about to achieve escape velocity, flinging out into a strange and sparkling universe.
Though we had free will, we were also biological organisms -- the brain was an organ, subject to all the laws of physics, too! Literature provided a rich account of human meaning; the brain, the, was the machinery that somehow enabled it. It seemed like magic.
Literature provided, I believed, the richest material for moral reflection.
Moral speculation was puny compared moral action.
I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 081298840X, Hardcover)

For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?
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.

Advance praise for When Breath Becomes Air
“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

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 07 Oct 2015 23:31:43 -0400)

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