When Breath Becomes Air

Written by:
Paul Kalanithi

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
January 2016
5 hours 36 minutes
#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?

“Unmissable . . . Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, People, NPR, The Washington Post, Slate, Harper’s Bazaar, Time Out New York, Publishers Weekly, BookPage

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.
Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Books for a Better Life Award in Inspirational Memoir
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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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Really good book, makes you consider what you really want out of life. Definitely recommend.

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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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Patricia T.

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

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Tina T.

Really enjoyed listening to this touching memoir.

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Maria G.

Beautiful message about what we truly consider to be a meaningful life

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Tali B.

beautifully written

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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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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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Greg H.

it was an it was an emotional and thought-provoking book I thoroughly enjoyed reading it but was sad for a time

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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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Justyna B

Beautiful and very touching book! It's an honor to read this story.

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Sonya M

Honestly, I wasn't that impressed with this book. It was okay. I didn't pay to listen to it as it was part of my free trial so I can't complain. But, if I'd paid for the book I would've been upset. The author talks a lot about treating patients and clinical stuff. I guess I was expecting more of the emotional side of illness and death from the author's perspective. I enjoyed the end of the book the most, which was written by Paul's wife. She tied things up nicely. I wish her and their daughter the best going forward.

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Arwa Y

Wonderful book! I truly enjoyed how he added a philosophical touch or spin while reflecting on his life events.

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Life changing! I could not put it down. What a sweet journey it really moved me. Dr. Kalanithi story is something everyone should know about. I laughed , cried, got angry and then in the end I felt peace. The world gained lost so much with the passing of this amazing human being.

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Jeanette Ruel Turvey

Beautiful, thought provoking, stirring, and riveting are just a few words that come to mind. I felt deeply drawn to listen to the thoughts and quandaries of a brilliant young man's struggle to accept his inevitable death from the dreaded cancer. He was valiant but not boastful or arrogant. His chronicle of his passage through his unfortunate illness was so very human yet truly courageous. The book left me somewhat saddened but it also gave me an insight into what it means to live life for each day!

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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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shannon novito

Absolutely enlightening. Such a generous gift Paul gave, sharing his vision and heart .

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Terri Crawford

I loved this book! Kalanithi painted a true picture of suffering and courage. He is very inspiring and shares his feeling as he faces a terminal illness. The end is written from his wife's perspective of end and the journey they took together, which is moving and heartfelt. A great read!!

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Marie Prizzi

This is a very moving story, I enjoyed listening to the narrator tell the story.

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Jesse Dean

This is a wonderful, deeply affecting account on finding meaning and joy even in tragedy.

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Julie Burton

Amazing, inspirational, brilliant book about living bravely in life and in death!

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Pam lockhart

This book is an extraordinary gift! A rare and insightful look at mortality as the human experience. The epilogue was stunningly beautiful. Much gratitude for sharing a deeply personal journey.

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Katherine Chargin

This book is gorgeous, compelling, memorable. It's short, written with deep thought and feeling, in beautiful prose by a human being I'm very glad to have met -- through his memoir. I highly recommend this book. His wife, who wrote the afterward, also did a beautiful job. I wish Paul's whole family, especially his daughter, all the best.

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Nancy Krehlik

This book is wonderful. I am grateful that the author took the time and energy to write it and that his wife had it published!

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