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When Breath Becomes Air: A Neurosurgeon's Journey of Life and Death

3 min / Published
By Renew

Chapter 1:Who wrote the When Breath Becomes Air


"When Breath Becomes Air" is a poignant memoir written by Paul Kalanithi. Born on April 1, 1977, in New York City, Kalanithi was a gifted neurosurgeon and writer who shared his profound reflections on life, mortality, and the human experience.


Kalanithi's journey to becoming an acclaimed author was tragically cut short when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at the age of 36. Despite this devastating news, he continued to explore the meaning of life and the question of what makes it worth living. Kalanithi approached his diagnosis with incredible courage and grace, using his remaining time to write his memoir.


"When Breath Becomes Air" chronicles Kalanithi's personal and professional journey, exploring his passion for literature and his decision to pursue a career in medicine. As he confronted his own mortality, Kalanithi's perspective shifted, leading him to delve into the concept of death and the importance of finding purpose and meaning in the face of adversity.


The book offers an intimate glimpse into Kalanithi's inner world as he grapples with illness, reflecting on his experiences as a doctor and patient. He explores themes of identity, compassion, and the delicate balance between science and spirituality.


Published posthumously in January 2016, "When Breath Becomes Air" became an instant bestseller and received critical acclaim for its profound insights and eloquent writing. The book resonated with readers worldwide, touching hearts and minds with its raw authenticity and unwavering hope.


Paul Kalanithi's "When Breath Becomes Air" remains a testament to the power of storytelling and the indomitable human spirit. His words continue to inspire and provoke contemplation, reminding us of the fragility and preciousness of life.






"When Breath Becomes Air" is a memoir written by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In this thought-provoking book, Kalanithi explores his journey from being a medical student to becoming a successful doctor and ultimately facing his mortality.


The book begins with Kalanithi reflecting on his childhood and how his love for literature and the arts eventually led him to pursue a career in medicine. He shares his experiences as a medical student and the challenges he faced while balancing his academic pursuits with personal relationships.


As Kalanithi progresses in his medical career, he develops a passion for neuroscience and decides to specialize in neurosurgery. The book delves into his experiences as a resident and the demanding nature of his work, highlighting some of the ethical dilemmas that arise in the field of medicine.


Just as Kalanithi's career is taking off, he receives devastating news—he has stage IV lung cancer. The remainder of the book focuses on Kalanithi's struggle to come to terms with his diagnosis and the choices he grapples with as he navigates his remaining time. He examines the meaning of life and the purpose of human existence, all while facing his own mortality.


Throughout the memoir, Kalanithi reflects on the profound impact his patients had on him and how his perspective on life and death evolved through his interactions with them. He also explores the role of compassion and empathy in medicine, emphasizing the importance of understanding the patient's experience beyond their physical ailments.


Kalanithi's writing beautifully captures his emotions and thoughts throughout his journey, offering insights into his personal transformation and his search for meaning in the face of imminent death. The memoir concludes with an epilogue written by Kalanithi's wife, Lucy, sharing her perspective on his life and the legacy he left behind.




Mortality and the meaning of life: Kalanithi grapples with his own mortality, questioning the purpose of life and what makes it meaningful.

Identity and self-discovery: As a doctor, Kalanithi's identity is deeply intertwined with his medical career. His illness forces him to reconsider who he is and what truly defines him.

Compassion and empathy: Through patient interactions, Kalanithi learns the importance of understanding and empathizing with individuals beyond their medical conditions.

Balancing work and personal life: Kalanithi reflects on the challenges of maintaining personal relationships while pursuing a demanding career in medicine.

Legacy and leaving a mark: In the face of limited time, Kalanithi contemplates the legacy he wants to leave behind and how he can make his remaining days count.


Chapter 3:When Breath Becomes Air ending


In this memoir, Paul shares his journey from being a successful neurosurgeon to facing the devastating diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer.


As the book reaches its conclusion, Paul reflects on the fragility of life and the profound questions that arise when one confronts their own mortality. He grapples with his identity as a doctor and how his perspective has shifted now that he becomes the patient. Throughout the book, Paul's writing is filled with introspection and contemplation, and the ending is no exception.


Ultimately, Paul passes away before completing the book, and his wife, Lucy, takes over the narrative. She provides an intimate insight into their final moments together and the impact that Paul's illness had on their lives. The book closes with a reflection on the legacy Paul leaves behind, his enduring love for his family, and the importance of cherishing the time we have.


The ending of "When Breath Becomes Air" leaves readers with a sense of both sorrow and inspiration. It reminds us of the fragility of life and the significance of living with purpose and gratitude.

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