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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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  • claudia caso

    Deep, different, and very well written. Makes you question your own values and priorities.

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  • Shelby hedgepeth

    Loved every minute of this. A must read for anyone in healthcare.

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  • Joan Morabito

    Fabulous read. Very interesting and provokes quite a bit of thought -- about life, love, goals, etc. Veey sad to hear such fabulous writing and such raw honesty from someone who is gone. I though his wife did a wonderful job of finishing it for him. Kudos to her for that as I am not sure I could have done it as well as she did given the circumstances. A wonderful but sad read. You will cry.

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  • Alex Gretter

    This book is as raw as it is rare. It is the account of one family handling the death and dying of a man far to young to die. He risked being vulnerable by telling his story for all of our betterment. I won't forget his story, him, or the impact of reading this book. Very grateful.

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  • Shayna Mason

    A must-read for aspiring physicians, this book brought me to tears and reminded me of why medicine is so beautiful.

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  • Arlene Jennings

    When Breath Becomes Air is a touching, inspiring yet terribly sad story.

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  • Vicki LoSasso

    Well-told story of a fascinating man. He has much of interest to say about life, death and medicine. While I would like to believe all doctors so motivated and honorable, I can say with the certainty of one who has worked in the medical establishment, Dr. Kalanithi was very special.

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  • Paul Person

    I found this to be a very good book on the end of life as we know it. His wife finished it on his and did a very good job.

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  • James Kattoor

    Reading this book, one cannot help but feel sad, yet feel joyful and delighted. The passing away of a brilliant, beautiful, human being, who held so much promise, and who might have done so much for humanity tears at your heart. Yet the passion for life, dedication to the profession, and love for the family that shines through in the beautiful prose will delight you. You will cry with the author when he asks himself "Will I live long enough for my little girl to have at least some memory of me?" You will rejoice and be delighted at the beautiful prose, which reads like a poem. You will feel grateful for the beautiful life which was short yet so productive. You will be amazed at the accomplishments that easily exceeds what most people could achieve in two life times. You will feel glad that he loved and was loved to a degree many people may never experience.

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  • Bruno Martins

    Very good book. Sends us a very beautiful lesson of life.

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