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 does describe some of his neurosurgeries in graphic detail. It was enough to make me a little squeamish, but I could tell home much he loved his work through the descriptions.




Alcohol use was a normal part of Paul's life. He drank both at home with his wife, as well as in social settings.

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Comments: It was difficult for me to rate this novel. It reads as a rough draft needing polish, but that's also exactly the point. None of us know how much time we have left to finish our work here. Whatever that work may be. I found Paul's writing on philosophy interpreted through the lens of a neurosurgeon fascinating, and his final battle with cancer heartbreaking. I cried all through his wife's epilogue, and found it quite beautiful. Paul's drive to become a neurosurgeon is admirable, but I most admire how in the end he recognized what truly matters most...family. It's really a story about creating a meaningful life, and not as much about death itself. He stares death straight in the face, and asks himself how he can create the most meaning with the time he has left. His meaningful life lives on through those that love him and this book.

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