MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Reading guide for When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi X
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Jan 2016, 256 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

Use these discussion questions to guide your book club discussion of When Breath Becomes Air….

  1. How did you come away feeling, after reading this book? Upset? Inspired? Anxious? Less afraid?
  2. What did you think of Paul's exploration of the relationship between science and faith? As Paul wrote, "Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue. Between these core passions and scientific theory, there will always be a gap. No system of thought can contain the fullness of human experience." Do you agree?
  3. How do you think the years Paul spent, tending to patients and training to be a neurosurgeon, affected the outlook he had on his own illness? When Paul wrote that the question he asked himself was not "why me," but "why not me," how did that strike you? Could you relate to it?
  4. Paul had a strong background in the humanities, and read widely throughout his life. Only after getting a Master's in English Literature did he decide that medicine was the right path for him. Do you think this made him a better doctor? A different kind of doctor? If so, how? How has reading influenced your life?
  5. What did you think of Paul and Lucy's decision to have a child, in the face of his illness? When Lucy asked him if he worried that having a child would make his death more painful, and Paul responded, "Wouldn't it be great if it did," how did that strike you? Do you agree that life should not be about avoiding suffering, but about creating meaning?
  6. Were there passages or sentences that struck you as particularly profound or moving?
  7. Given that Paul died before the book was finished, what are some of the questions you would have wanted to ask him if he were still here today?
  8. Paul was determined to face death with integrity, and through his book, demystify it for people. Do you think he succeeded?
  9. In Lucy's epilogue, she writes that "what happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy." Did you come away feeling the same way?
  10. Lucy also writes that, in some ways, Paul's illness brought them closer – that she fell even more deeply in love with the "beautiful , focused man" he became in the last year of his life. Did you find yourself seeing how that could happen?
  11. How did this book impact your thoughts about medical care? The patient-physician relationship? End of life care?
  12. Is this a book you will continue thinking about, now that you are done? Do you find it having an impact on the way you go about your days?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Random House. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for a year or $12 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Lung Cancer

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Bear
    The Bear
    by Andrew Krivak
    The Bear feels like a novel I've been awaiting for years. I received the book and its message with ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Island of Sea Women
    by Lisa See
    Lisa See's latest novel, The Island of Sea Women, follows the lives of Mi-ja and Young-sook, two ...
  • Book Jacket: Race Against Time
    Race Against Time
    by Jerry Mitchell
    Jerry Mitchell spent nearly three decades trailing cold cases from the Civil Rights Movement. As a ...
  • Book Jacket: The Resisters
    The Resisters
    by Gish Jen
    Gish Jen's The Resisters depicts a future United States, dubbed AutoAmerica, where climate change ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    And They Called It Camelot
    by Stephanie Marie Thornton

    An unforgettable portrait of American legend Jackie O.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    I Want You to Know We're Still Here
    by Esther Safran Foer

    "A vivid testimony to the power of memory."
    - Kirkus (starred review)
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
American Dirt
by Jeanine Cummins

"American Dirt is a Grapes of Wrath for our times."
—Don Winslow

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Mostly Dead Things

Mostly Dead Things
by Kristen Arnett

"Hilarious, deeply morbid, and full of heart."
- BuzzFeed

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T Die I C

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.