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When Breath Becomes Air

19 December 2022

Inspiring, perfectly observed memories find hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable adversity as an idealistic young neurosurgeon tries to answer the question: what makes life worth living? At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing ten years 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 fighting for life. And just like that, the future he and his wife had envisioned evaporated. The book chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a naïve medical student "possessed," as he wrote, "by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes for a virtuous and meaningful life" to a neurosurgeon at Stanford University, and finally to a patient and father confronting his own mortality. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, which is no longer a ladder leading to your goals in life, flattens out into an eternal present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life when another is dying? These are some of the questions Kalanithi grapples with in this deeply moving memoir.


Paul Kalanithi passed away in March 2015. While working on this book, but his words are still a living guide and gift to all.