book hack

When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi, Abraham Verghese

5 mins

3 key insights

Visual, audio & text

Faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi reflects on his life and passions, which included neuroscience, literature, meaning, and his family.


When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanithi


Life is short, but we go about most days not thinking about our inevitable deaths. Would thinking more about death push us to live more meaningful lives?

When neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi got the news he was going to die of cancer in his mid-thirties, he wanted to make sure he left a piece of wisdom in writing.

Writing to a friend about his diagnosis, Kalanthi said, 'The good news is that I've already outlived two Brontës, Keats and Stephen Crane. The bad news is that I haven't written anything.' Writing wasn't easy because of his fragile and worsening health, but Kalanthi was able to forge ahead.

In his memoir When Breath Becomes Air, Kalanithi shares his feelings on being diagnosed with terminal cancer at the peak of his life and career with so much potential in front of him.

Favorite quote

There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.

- Paul Kalanithi

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