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Narrator Rating (104)

When Breath Becomes Air

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Cassandra Campbell, Sunil Malhotra

5 Hours 36 Minutes

Random House (Audio)

January 2016

Audio Book Summary

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • This inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

NAMED ONE OF PASTE’S BEST MEMOIRS OF THE DECADE • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • People • NPR • The Washington Post • Slate • Harper’s Bazaar • Time Out New York • Publishers Weekly • BookPage

Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Books for a Better Life Award in Inspirational Memoir

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.

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  • Lisa K.

    This is a lesson in mortality, beautifully written with meaning and prose by a neurosurgeon. His honesty is refreshing and there is so much knowledge in this book. I was looking things up and looking for the poetry he mentioned. His life was cut too short. You wonder why a person so gifted is yanked from this life when so many squander their existence. I am sure he would have come up with new technologies to save lives but it wasn’t meant to be. He lived his life saving others. We are all blessed that he took time while so sick to share a part of his life with us. What courage! This is a bucket list book! The narrator was excellent!

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  • Patricia T.

    So many losses wrapped in one man's life. Very well written.

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  • Michelle B.

    My love, my husband died in 2020 from a nine year battle with cancer. I could relate to all that you said. Such beautiful words of love, sorrow and faith. You have the opportunity to keep his love alive through your daughter, just as I have the opportunity to do through my first grand daughter. God gives us beautiful love with our husbands, not always easy, but yet so beautiful. Thank you for giving us this book and sharing. May you feel our Lord, Jesus's arms around you and your daughter for the years ahead. Love Michelle

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  • Darylann C.

    We accompany Paul and his family on their journey, as they live, love, culminating in Paul’s end. Cried. So much sadness but also courage, determination, understanding and drive to be human through everything. Narrators were both very good.

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  • Rachel W.

    A heartbreaking story, beautifully written.

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  • Nancy W.

    Good book, but disliked the narrators voice

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  • Anonymous

    Excellent writing and powerful story.

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  • Jacoba O.

    Love this book.

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  • Evelyn L.

    A gripping life story of amazing grace and the beautiful determination of a neurosurgeon who found meaning and purpose in a life of service to others who suffered from complicated diseases of the brain. It is a powerful testimony of his remarkable faith and unusual approach to facing his own mortality. It allows the reader to look into the tender beauty he shared with his wife, new born baby girl and their supportive families and friends. The narrators were exquisite!! A must read!!!

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  • Dorte Lassen

    "When air becomes breathe" was a breathtaking story, about a neurosurgeon who in a very young age gets sick with cancer. His insight on life and mortality as a doctor and suddenly as a patient was refreshing for me as an oncologist. His voice was clear, hopeful, reflective, and most of all honest throughout his story. His wife wrote the afterword, which was a wonderful ending about what happend with both Paul and her.

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