Features of When Breath Becomes Air PDF
When Breath Becomes Air PDF -#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 questionWhat makes a life worth living?
NAMED ONE OF PASTE’S BEST MEMOIRS OF THE DECADE • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BYThe New York Times Book Review • People • NPR • The Washington Post • Slate • Harper’s Bazaar • Time Out New York • Publishers Weekly • BookPage
Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Books for a Better Life Award in Inspirational Memoir
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.
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Description of When Breath Becomes Air PDF
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PAUL KALANITHI was a neurosurgeon and writer. He graduated from Stanford with a B.A. and M.A. in English literature and a B.A. in human biology. He earned an M.Phil in the history and philosophy of science and medicine from Cambridge and graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine, where he was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha national medical honor society. He returned to Stanford to complete his residency training in neurological surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience, and received the American Academy of Neurological Surgery’s highest award for resident research. He died in March 2015. He is survived by his family, including his wife Lucy, and their daughter Elizabeth Acadia.
Dimensions and Characteristics of When Breath Becomes Air PDF
- Publisher : Random House; 1st edition (January 12, 2016)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 228 pages
- International Standard Book Number-10 : 081298840X
- International Standard Book Number-13 : 978-0812988406
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.37 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
- Book Name : When Breath Becomes Air PDF
Pamela J.H. “When Breath Becomes Air (2016) made a huge splash, becoming a NYT bestseller, etc. Even Bill Gates read (and reviewed, and loved) it. In it, Dr. Paul Kalanithi basically tells his life’s story in two main threads: how he came to choose, learn, and practice medicine, and how he’s fighting late-stage lung cancer in only his mid-30s. The situation has (had…) all the makings of a kind of hero’s journey, and no wonder it grabbed people’s attention. A superstar young doctor dying of lung cancer right after bringing home a new baby, imagine that.
But as far as I can tell, the Paul Kalanthi described in the book would want me to write an honest critique of his work, and I can’t be 100% positive. I have no problem with the lofty philosophical bits, but many other prospective readers will. Kalanithi seems to think that his decision to study medicine is deeply interesting (he studied literature first, and first bristled at the thought since there were doctors in the family). But I didn’t care so much – who among us hasn’t changed their college major or master’s program once or thrice? Depending on your existing worldview, you’ll either find Kalanithi’s ultimate choice of neurosurgery as either inspired or eye-rollingly hubristic.
Kalanthi is interested in the mind-body problem, and I know that he would have studied it specifically. But, disappointingly, he can’t muster much more to say about it than platitudinous rhetorical questions (“There must be a way, I thought, that the language of life as experienced – of passion, of hunger, of love – bore some relationship, however convoluted, to the language of neurons, digestive tracts, and heartbeats.”)
For someone who decided (years ago, as a student) that “human relationality” “undergirds meaning,” it’s a little rich that Kalanithi had become estranged from his wife prior to his diagnosis and then barely mentions her pregnancy in passing. I do believe it’s noble that Kalanithi tried to relate to his patients on a human level, especially seeing as how he operates on what he takes to be the seat of their souls. But readers are just as likely to feel alienated by Kalanithi’s focus on strangers to the detriment of those close by. It’s like an overdone character in a book: doctor too busy caring for patients to care for his own wife, oops! The very last paragraphs Paul wrote are about his infant daughter Cady, and the joy she brought him as he died. But that’s why those bits seem a little surprising. Perhaps, due to Kalanithi’s increasing frailty, the part of the journey that turned him from arrogant doctor into sated family man simply went mostly unwritten.
To be clear, producing a single book that encapsulates everything someone with a full professional and personal life might want to say is a totally Herculean task (especially to undertake while already critically/terminally ill). It’s certainly no surprise that When Breath Becomes Air isn’t completely satisfactory in that regard. You don’t have to be a perfect person to write a good book, either. But since this is a book review…
The highlight reel of Kalanithi’s life doesn’t make you feel especially connected to him, but you feel obligated to preemptively develop some empathy because you know what’s coming next. His experiences training as a doctor are sort of depressing and cliched: start ambitious, end desensitized. His experiences as a student shouldn’t have to be that significant. But because his life is turning out to be rather short and he was a student for most of it, they become forced into significance. I don’t know exactly what I’d want anyone, dying or not, to say about “human relationality” vis a vis meaning in life (personally, I don’t think there’s any such meaning to be had, but the question comes up often enough that there has to be something to say).
Throughout, Kalanithi’s writing is alternately beautiful and cringe-worthily heavy-handed (“in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight”). It’s clear that he’s trying to find a comfortable writing voice (while also grappling with the weightiest possible subject matter), and under such pressure. What a shame that he got only an ill-fated Titanic crack at writing a book. If this material had spanned a few decades instead, who knows how it could have come out.
I did especially enjoy (???) the section on glioblastoma, from a neurosurgeon’s point of view. It helped me to more fully envision the events that unfolded around my family member’s recent diagnosis. The epilogue, by Paul’s widow Lucy Kalanithi, is quite beautiful (a number of reviewers like it better than the rest of the book). It helps to drive home that Paul is gone, his life’s previous work (doctoring), new work (writing), and would-have-been-future-work (parenting) all left unfinished. She too must find her voice for this task under immense pressure, kudos for that. I have only begun to dip a toe into the mental fog of grief and it’s enough to make you forget how to brush your teeth, let alone how to write something huge numbers of strangers would want to read.
All of the above notwithstanding, I read the book very quickly and definitely cried at the end.
Read this book if you’re interested in how a doctor thinks about his own death and if you don’t mind stories without silver linings.
Don’t read this book if you’re very put off by arrogance or intellectualism.”
Ashutosh S. Jogalekar “I read this book in one sitting, long after the lights should have been turned off. I felt like not doing so would have been a disservice to Paul Kalanithi. After reading the book I felt stunned and hopeful in equal parts. Stunned because of the realization that someone as prodigiously talented and eloquent as Dr. Kalanithi was taken from the world at such an early age. Hopeful because even in his brief life of thirty-seven years he showcased what we as human beings are capable of in our best incarnations. His family can rest assured that he will live on through his book.
When Breath Becomes Air details Dr. Kalanithi’s life as a neurosurgeon and his fight against advanced lung cancer. Even in his short life he achieved noteworthy recognition as a scholar, a surgeon, a scientist and now – posthumously – as a writer. The book is a tale of tribulations and frank reflections. Ultimately there’s not much triumph in it in the traditional sense but there is a dogged, quiet resilience and a frank earthiness that endures long after the last word appears. The tribulations occur in both Dr. Kalanithi’s stellar career and his refusal to give in to the illness which ultimately consumed him.
The first part of the book could almost stand separately as an outstanding account of the coming of age of a neurosurgeon and writer. Dr. Kalanithi talks about his upbringing as the child of hardworking Indian immigrant parents and his tenacious and passionate espousal of medicine and literature. He speaks lovingly of his relationship with his remarkable wife – also a doctor – who he met in medical school and who played an outsized role in supporting him through everything he went through. He had a stunning and multifaceted career, studying biology and literature at Stanford, then history and philosophy of medicine at Cambridge, and finally neurosurgery at Yale.
Along the way he became not just a neurosurgeon who worked grueling hours and tried to glimpse the very soul of his discipline, but also an eloquent writer. The mark of a man of letters is evident everywhere in the book, and quotes from Eliot, Beckett, Pope and Shakespeare make frequent appearances. Accounts of how Dr. Kalanithi wrested with walking the line between objective medicine and compassionate humanity when it came to treating his patients give us an inside view of medicine as practiced at its most intimate level. Metaphors abound and the prose often soars: When describing how important it is to develop good surgical technique, he tells us that “Technical excellence was a moral requirement”; meanwhile, the overwhelming stress of late night shifts, hundred hour weeks and patients with acute trauma made him occasionally feel like he was “trapped in an endless jungle summer, wet with sweat, the rain of tears of the dying pouring down”. This is writing that comes not from the brain or from the heart, but from the gut. When we lost Dr. Kalanithi we lost not only a great doctor but a great writer spun from the same cloth as Oliver Sacks and Atul Gawande.
It is in the second part of the book that the devastating tide of disease and death creeps in, even as Dr. Kalanithi is suddenly transformed from a doctor into a patient. It must be slightly bizarre to be on the other side of the mirror and intimately know everything that is happening to your body and Dr. Kalanithi is brutally frank in communicating his disbelief, his tears, his hope and his understanding of his fatal disease. It’s worth noting that this candid recognition permeates the entire account. Science mingles with emotion as compassionate doctors, family and a battery of medications and tests become a mainstay of life. The painful uncertainty which he documents – in particular the tyranny of statistics which makes it impossible to predict how a specific individual will react to cancer therapy – must sadly be familiar to anyone who has had experience with the disease. As he says, “One has a very different relationship with statistics when one becomes one”. There are heartbreaking descriptions of how at one point the cancer seemed to have almost disappeared and how, after Dr. Kalanithi had again cautiously made plans for a hopeful future with his wife, it returned with a vengeance and he had to finally stop working. There is no bravado in the story; as he says, the tumor was what it was and you simply experienced the feelings it brought to your mind and heart.
What makes the book so valuable is this ready admission of what terminal disease feels like, especially an admission that is nonetheless infused with wise acceptance, hope and a tenacious desire to live, work and love normally. In spite of the diagnosis Dr. Kalanithi tries very hard – and succeeds admirably – to live a normal life. He returns to his surgery, he spends time with his family and most importantly, he decides to have a child with his wife. In his everyday struggles is seen a chronicle of the struggles that we will all face in some regard, and which thousands of people face on a daily basis. His constant partner in this struggle is his exemplary wife Lucy, whose epilogue is almost as eloquent as his own writing; I really hope that she picks up the baton where he left off.
As Lucy tells us in the epilogue, this is not some simple tale of a man who somehow “beats” a disease by refusing to give up. It’s certainly that, but it’s much more because it’s a very human tale of failure and fear, of uncertainty and despair, of cynicism and anger. And yes, it is also a tale of scientific understanding, of battling a disease even in the face of uncertainty, of poetry and philosophy, of love and family, and of bequeathing a legacy to a two year old daughter who will soon understand the kind of man her father was and the heritage he left behind. It’s as good a testament to Dr. Kalanithi’s favorite Beckett quote as anything I can think of: “I can’t go on. I will go on”.
Read this book; it’s devastating and heartbreaking, inspiring and edifying. Most importantly, it’s real.”
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