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Narrator Rating (66)

When Breath Becomes Air

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Cassandra Campbell, Sunil Malhotra

5 Hours 35 Minutes

Random House (Audio)

January 2016

Audio Book Summary

- 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 decades 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 Kalanithis 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 cant go on. Ill 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.

Praise for When Breath Becomes Air

"I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this books 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: ‘Its just tragic enough and just imaginable enough. And just important enough to be unmissable." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"An emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring." - The Washington Post

"Possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead." - The Boston Globe

"Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where its all heading." - USA Today

"Its [Kalanithis] unsentimental approach that makes When Breath Becomes Air so original - and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early." - Entertainment Weekly

"[When Breath Becomes Air] split my head open with its beauty." - Cheryl Strayed

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  • Paula C

    Well written but wish that he were still here to author another book. RIP Paul and thank you for taking us along on your final journey.

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  • Sandra K

    This is a very sad and moving story. The last part of the book is the best. The narration in the last section of the book is excellent. As a wife and mother I hope, given the same or similar circumstances, I hope I can express the same strength and love. Lemonlily

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  • Eden c

    great book!

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  • Kelly G

    Excellent, sad, inspiring and real.

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  • Lora H

    five stars all around: a beginners guide to the brain...insight into the thinking of a surgeon about his/her life and that of their patients & families...a calm, accepting of the end of a life...wonderful prose...thank you, Paul and family

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  • Varghese T

    Excellent Book! Good read. Puts the meaning of life into perspective. It redefines the meaning of family, relationships and life in general. You can feel the life and pain of a terminally ill patient through every word in this book

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  • Tasya B

    One of my favorite books, beautifully written, deep and touching story

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  • Kimberly A

    Hauntingly beautiful and elegant in its ability to render truth through experience.

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  • Brittany W

    So beautiful. If you want a book that makes you want to die from sadness, but also live your best life, this is the book for you. This was the most I've ever enjoyed an exsistential crisis

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  • Karen B

    Beautiful. Poetic. Touching. Spiritual. I loved this book.

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