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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air (edition 2016)

by Paul Kalanithi (Author), Abraham Verghese (Foreword)

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2,6802123,345 (4.23)241
Title:When Breath Becomes Air
Authors:Paul Kalanithi (Author)
Other authors:Abraham Verghese (Foreword)
Info:Random House (2016), Edition: 1, 228 pages
Collections:Your library

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi


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Showing 1-5 of 216 (next | show all)
The author is very articulate. His story makes him sound almost saintly. I don't know if this is an accurate representation of the man, but his is a sad story. The book is divided into 2 parts. The first is his adult life before diagnosis, the second is after diagnosis.

His upbringing seems good, and he didn't have money worries. He was able to go to college and pursue advanced degrees. He tries to be a compassionate doctor and person. His diagnosis is a tragedy. We don't see much of the despair he must have felt upon diagnosis. His writing feels pretty upbeat.

The only part I teared up on was the ending, written by his wife. The bulk of the book didn't make me feel much. The writing style was too matter of fact.

Still, a good book and an interesting look at the end of a man's life. ( )
  readingover50 | Jun 11, 2019 |
I think about death a lot, and this is one of the more moving books I've read about the subject. The book reminded me of the Last Lecture and the ending sent chills down my spine and almost made me cry. It's fundamentally incomplete (though sometimes the narrative almost seems too neat, too perfect to fit) the author died before the finishing (having wanted to write his entire life), but honestly the events are moving enough by themselves to read. The author worked his whole life to achieve a dream, only to die of cancer within a few years of the end of his journey as a doctor (the author even operates to finish his residency while he knew he had cancer). What stood out to me in particular, was his desire to know the survival curves, and how a doctor can only guess the probability of an illness, when the patient wants a concrete number. I was a bit surprised that the author admitted to how many major surgery and life/death medical procedures were judgment calls (even more surprised that he admitted to that) and how the effects of certain chemo drugs are not well established. It seems to run with the general theme of the Emperor of All Maladies that medicine is not as authoritative and complete as popular culture would lead us to expect. I found the author's thoughts on metaphysical interesting, in that an epistemology based only on empirics would destroy many things we value such as love, caring and the spirit. I found it relatable on some levels, the ambition, the desire to experience first hand (in particular his movement from literature to medicine) and the tragedy of having the goal snatched away at the finish line. However, the book is about living and dying despite knowing that, and the courage to find meaning and resolution in death. When the author and his wife decide to have a child despite his death, and about the joy the child brought to him in his last days, I genuinely felt sentimental. Ultimately, a moving piece by a man learning to live and die in a meaningful way. ( )
  vhl219 | Jun 1, 2019 |
But if I did not know what I wanted, I had learned something, something not found in Hippocrates, Maimonides, or Osler: the physician's duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face and make sense of, their own existence.

Paul Kalanithi was in his last year of neurosurgery residency when he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Before medical school Kalanithi had studied English literature and the History of Medicine in his attempt to discover 'what makes life meaningful". After his cancer diagnosis he also set out to understand death better. He explores both these ideas and the relationship between doctors and patients in this memoir. Kalanithi is a skilled writer, his prose is beautiful; it's obvious that he studied literature. As someone who has worked as part of a health care team in a large university research hospital for nearly 30 years I found many truths in Kalanithi's passages about the doctor-patient relationship and the bonds that are forged between all members of the patient care team. I particularly liked the above quote (from pg 166) and the passage on pg 81-82 that describes bonding between members of the care team who can be "clinging to the same raft, caught in the same tide".
Kalanithi died before he could finish the book. The epilogue is written by his wife, Lucy Kalanithi. (warning: you will need tissues handy when you read this part)
Recommended. ( )
  VioletBramble | May 27, 2019 |
I am deeply moved. Elegant sentences, honest struggles, and insights worth reflecting on. I didn't read the forward until after I'd read the book, a habit, but in this case it was precaution I didn't need to take.

I noted particular insights in my reading notes: p.30, p.34 (cusp moment), p.43 (my experience as well), p.71 ("What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?"), p.96 (beautiful), p.109. p. 134 (statistics, and, if I am recalling this correctly, this was a crucial reflection in his NYT article which I remember reading - what do statistics mean to me, applied to the gritty circumstances of my life?). (I make these page notes for the sake of a future book club discussion, perhaps.)

It really is a glorious book. I'm grateful to have read it. ( )
  MaryHeleneMele | May 6, 2019 |
A powerful memoir about a man you don’t fully understand until you hear his wife’s words about him, this book tells the story of a doctor turned patient, pursuing his own life’s meaning as it’s coming to an end. He’s a good writer on his own, but the story’s strength comes from knowing that you literally are holding part of what made his last year meaningful in your hands. Published posthumously, the book itself could use some polishing, but there’s no denying the power and inspiration in the story, particularly in the epilogue. ( )
  jesmlet | Apr 23, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 216 (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.

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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)

"At the age of 36, on the verge of a completing a decade's worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi's health began to falter. He started losing weight and was wracked by waves of excruciating back pain. A CT scan confirmed what Paul, deep down, had suspected: he had stage four lung cancer, widely disseminated. One day, he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next, he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated. With incredible literary quality, philosophical acuity, and medical authority, When Breath Becomes Air approaches the questions raised by facing mortality from the dual perspective of the neurosurgeon who spent a decade meeting patients in the twilight between life and death, and the terminally ill patient who suddenly found himself living in that liminality. At the base of Paul's inquiry are essential questions, such as: What makes life worth living in the face of death? What happens when the future, instead of being a ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present? When faced with a terminal diagnosis, what does it mean to have a child, to nuture a new life as another one fades away? As Paul wrote, "Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn't really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live." Paul Kalanithi passed away in March 2015, while working on this book"--… (more)

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