Review of When Breath Becomes Air

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  • Eloquent
  • Engaging
  • Inspiring


A brilliant doctor approaching the end of his neurosurgical residency receives the worst possible diagnosis: He has stage IV lung cancer. The late Paul Kalanithi’s moving and beautifully written memoir documents his journey from doctor to patient, from saving lives and making life-or-death decisions to grappling with the irrefutable proof of his own mortality. He didn’t shy away from the prospect of death. He faced it head-on with fortitude, courage and an insatiable desire to embrace life and untangle its mysteries before his time ran out. In his eloquent memoir, you will see that although the role of patient was foisted upon him, he used the opportunity to deepen his understanding of what people endure when they face illness or injury. Readers will be moved by this stirring New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist.

About the Author

The late Paul Kalanithi, MD, was a writer and neurosurgeon who completed his residency in neurological surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience at Stanford University.  


Dr. Paul Kalanithi, an intelligent, philosophical man, had an endless fascination with literature, medicine and science. He earned a BA and MA in English Literature from Stanford and a master’s in the history and philosophy of science and medicine from the University of Cambridge before studying medicine at Yale. When he became fatally ill, he continued to wrestle with humanity’s most profound questions: What is the meaning of life, and what makes a life meaningful? Even as his words move you and you mourn his loss, you’ll cherish the wisdom and insights of a man as compassionate as he was brilliant. As best-selling author Dr. Abraham Verghese says in the book’s foreword, “The prose was unforgettable. Out of his pen, he was spinning gold.”

The diagnosis changed everything.

Readers will feel their hearts sink as neurosurgical resident Dr. Paul Kalanithi and his wife Lucy hold each other and process the news confirming what they had only suspected as he continued to lose weight and feel severe back pain. Six months earlier, he had discussed his symptoms with his primary care doctor. His X-rays looked normal, so Kalanithi and his doctor ascribed his symptoms to hard work. He took healthy amounts of ibuprofen to see him through grueling, 14-hour days. He had 15 months left in his residency and was already fielding job offers, but he began having chest pain. Seeing him researching cancer online, Lucy became upset that he hadn’t discussed this worry with her. His unrelenting neurosurgical training was straining their relationship, and she wanted time to think. Kalanithi visited friends in upstate New York alone, hoping rest would alleviate the symptoms, but the news wasn’t good on his return. His CT scan showed multiple lung tumors, and the cancer had spread to his spine and liver. The couple realized the depth of their bond. “I need you,” Kalanithi whispered to his wife. “I will never leave you,” she replied. He checked into the hospital, now a patient instead of the doctor.

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    J. E. 1 week ago
    Very inspirational and thought-provoking piece of legitimate art. Kalanithi’s writing style, scribed at a time when he was undoubtedly in a tremendous amount of physical, mental, and emotional pain, draws the reader in and doesn’t release its grasp until the final page when I was overtaken with emotion.
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    O. K. 1 year ago
    No comment
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    J. D. 2 years ago
    When will the summary be available? Actually the book is really inspiring and I hope that many people could read this.