When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

Book - 2016
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"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 nurture 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."--
Publisher: New York :, Random House,, [2016]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780812988406
Branch Call Number: 616.99424 KAL
Characteristics: xix, 228 pages ; 20 cm
Alternative Title: Staff picks.

Opinion

From Library Staff

The poignancy of Paul Kalanithi’s memoir affects readers deeply. At thirty-six, nearly at the end of training as a neurosurgeon, Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. When Breath Becomes Air is his contemplation of his profession, his path not taken, his experience as a patient, and ... Read More »


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l
Lourdeaux
Oct 24, 2017

Once I started I couldn't put this book down. For readers who now contemplate multiple paths their lives might take, as well as anyone who'd like to know what it feels like to live a medical specialist's life, this book is an unforgettable tale of life meeting death day by day.

m
Mymulla
Oct 04, 2017

A reflective and compelling book. I had to read and ponder every page of this excellent book. Paul gives the reader insight to his thoughts, career and his life. May he and his family be blessed. A must read for all.

s
sgcf
Sep 09, 2017

Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s skill as a lyrical and contemplative writer brings the reader a profound gift by fusing his medical knowledge with his expected death. I am full of admiration for him as a very enlightened being. In using his dying experience for this book he helps all who read it to live their lives more fully. His repeated theme of wanting to find meaning in life reminded me of a previous work I’ve valued, "Through the Dark Woods: Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life" by Dr. James Hollis, who says happiness is not life’s goal – a meaningful life is.

a
ADELP95
Jul 28, 2017

Excellent yet heartbreaking story. A must read for everyone.

MrsSarahGrace Jul 28, 2017

I grabbed this title before vacation when I realized Paul Kalanathi was the brother-in-law of one of my favorite bloggers. I felt like I knew him from reading her posts about him and her sister. What a book! The honesty of his experience of dying was heartbreaking. I don't suggest reading it on a plane as I did. I think my fellow passengers were a little worried about me! The unfinished nature of the book (he passes away before completing it) made it even more real to me. The insight into the mind of a medical professional was fascinating and helped me understand my doctor friends and family members a little bit better. Inspirational.

m
m0mmyl00
Jul 26, 2017

Paul Kalanithi had earned multiple degrees from some of the most prestigious universities in the country. His desire to find meaning in life led him to study literature, science, philosophy, and human behavior, including his own. He excelled at every endeavor. Continuously, he sought meaning, connections with other humans, rather than financial or professional gain (although financial and professional rewards came, too). His golden days ended early and abruptly, though, as he was diagnosed (he diagnosed himself, actually) with advanced lung cancer. Knowing that he might have only months to live, his search for meaning in life became concentrated and distilled. His writings reveal a deep understanding of the complexities and ambiguities of life, and boundless gratitude for the life he briefly led.

v
vaidybala
Jul 20, 2017

I heard about this book. I read the commentaries, they touched me. Dr. Paul's brief life reminds the fragility of all of our lives. Simply there is no warranty or guarantee, yet we survive against many odds or also perish to nothingness. The lesson is enjoy & love yourself and and others, not conditioned by our faith, culture, color or education etc. While this is difficult to cross-over everyone must put in efforts to understand the biggest picture of the Cosmos, we are all in, waiting for arrivals & departures.
Death Teaches and Touches All!

j
JudithE
Jul 03, 2017

Loved this book. And it nudged me to consider my own mortality, which is something I tend to avoid.

k
kevincostain
Jun 13, 2017

Just incredible is so many ways. The story of a man well-versed in mortality, facing his own death. This theme gives way to something so much more profound than what it's like to die as an expert. Paul revals much of the true nature of what it feels to leave those you love, and to endure such a massive loss.

It would be wonderful to read a follow-up and find out just how Cady is doing and what she came to feel while reflecting her father. Did she keep the nickname? Is she religious?

k
klakh
Jun 11, 2017

One of the most poignant books I've read in a long, long time. I recommend that everyone read it.

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AL_MARYA Jan 26, 2017

...When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

j
jenn_g
Jan 18, 2017

You can't ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

s
shayshortt
Aug 18, 2016

I was less driven by achievement than by trying to understand, in earnest: what makes human life meaningful? I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain.

j
JanPruatt
Aug 05, 2016

Chemotherapy began on Monday. Lucy, my mother and I went to the infusion center together. I had an IV placed, settled into an easy chair and waited.

b
BeckyR21
May 03, 2016

There we were, doctor and patient, in a relationship that sometimes carries a magisterial air and other times, like now, was no more, and no less, than two people huddled together, as one faces the abyss.

Doctors, it turns out, need hope, too.

Summary

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s
shayshortt
Aug 18, 2016

After ten years of medical education, Paul Kalanithi was on the verge of completing his training as a neurosurgeon when he became concerned about his own health. At first he blamed the rigours of residency, but a CT scan soon revealed the worst: cancer in the lungs, spine, and liver. Early in his university career, Kalanithi studied literature, dreaming of a career as a writer, but was driven to medicine by questions about mortality and meaning that he felt could not be answered by literature alone. Suddenly, those questions became urgent and personal, and the only time left to write a book and achieve that dream was now.

j
JanPruatt
Aug 05, 2016

This book is one of the best 75 books in the past 75 years and it was just published this year. It will be truly a classic when you consider it’s about a neurosurgeon who discovers he has lung cancer. As the summary on the back of the box says – “One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live.” Only 36 years old Kalanithi had many questions he wanted answers to – “What make 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?” Together with his large, loving family Kalanithi discovers the meaning of life. He was a brilliant writer and surgeon and was transformed as he explored literature in pursuit of what is important in life. I admire that he found what he was looking for and reported in a sensitive, matter-of-fact way without sentimentality.

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JanPruatt
Aug 05, 2016

JanPruatt thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

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