When Breath Becomes Air

When my friend, Shirley Hershey Showalter, wrote about When Breath Becomes Air in her blog post, When Time Shall Be No More: Kalanithi and Kairos, on February 10, 2016, I read it immediately following the book I was currently reading. Shirley’s wisdom and track record are such that when she recommends something, you don’t hesitate.

It’s rare that I use my blog to share about books that I’ve read. An avid reader and reviewer, I use Goodreads and Amazon for that purpose. However, I feel so strongly about When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi that I’m sharing it here.


After reading devouring the book, this is the review I posted on Goodreads and Amazon:

“For over two decades a particular book held the highly coveted all-time-favorite-book place in my heart. In one fell swoop, WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR single-handedly took its place. Each word chosen with tremendous care, the writing is exquisite. A call to action, the reader can’t help but sit down and carefully examine the nooks and crannies of their essence to discover what it is—exactly—that gives their individual life meaning. A call to action, this book is going to change your life!” —Laurie Buchanan

To date, what is your all-time favorite book?

© lauriebuchanan.com

53 thoughts on “When Breath Becomes Air

  1. Yes, I must check it out. I’m more of a fiction reader and there are many books I like. As I child I loved ‘Little Women’ that remains one of my favourites. I love ‘La plaça del diamant’ (Time of the Doves or ‘In Diamond Square’ depending on the translation), ‘Moby Dick’… But I’m always discovering new ones to add to my list. Thanks for the recommendation, Laurie

  2. Thank you for the recommendation. I will most certainly look out for it. I have many favourites and it really is hard to choose, but I loved the meaning and the message in The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

  3. Laurie, I’m so happy that you too have been touched deeply by this book. I hope it stays on the bestseller lists for a long time. Along with BEING MORTAL and A GOOD DEATH, this book is changing the strong death denial in our culture. And when that happens, we love life more! Written with love and appreciation from Queenstown, New Zealand.

    • Shirley — I hope it stay on bestseller lists for a long time, too. The more people who read it, the further the positive ripple effect will travel.

      Speaking of travel, I think you’re just about directly through the globe right now! You’re 20 hours ahead of Boise, Idaho. Happy tomorrow! 🙂

  4. Laurie, choices, choices, choices! So hard to choose only one! So many books and one human lifetime to consume as many as I can. I will have to say that outside of the Bible, which is so much more than a book for me and others, I would award the top position to Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”. I’m not going to take up Time and Space to enumerate the reasons why, only that from the first time I opened it’s pages, I was captured by all that it is. It speaks to every human heart in every time that has or will exist.

  5. Thank you for this compelling review, Laurie.
    I rarely read non-fiction, but I made an exception for Elizabeth Gilbert’s (Ear, Pray, Love) new book–Big Magic. Her comments on living a creatively are inspiring, empowering and at times humourous.

    • Leanne — I read “Eat, Pray, Love” and have “Big Magic” on my reading list.

      I recently told my sister, “If we don’t get to die until we finish all the books on our must-read list, I’m going to be here for the L-O-N-G haul!” 🙂

  6. Reading a book that is so 1980s! Does blog post reading count as an actual book? Just kidding my favorite book of all time would probably be Wiseguy. The basis of the movie Goodfellas, you can’t go wrong with The Great Train Robbery or The Hunt for Red October either. Damn you Laurie now I’m feeling guilty I haven’t read a book in awhile, see you in a week I’m off to the bookstore!

  7. Picking a favorite book is rather like choosing among a houseful of lively children. As a teen, I lapped up the romantic Jane Eyre because it came with marvelous pen & ink drawings. I just finished reading and reviewing poet Donald Hall’s The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon in which life, love, loss are entwined in a powerful marriage. Even in Jane’s death, the force of life persists.

  8. I don’t have a favorite book, but I have favorites–Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, Anne of Green Gables–those are books I’ve read many times. As for more recent books, I really loved All the Light We Cannot See, The Book Thief, and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (it’s about historians who actually go back in time, so of course). 🙂

    • Merril — yes, Yes, YES! To Kill a Mockingbird. Anne of Green Gables. The book Thief. I’ve just added All the Light We Cannot See, and Doomsday Book to my reading list. I wonder,is the Doomsday Book what the time traveling Librarian movies are based on?

      • No, the Librarian movies/show are something different. Connie Willis’s book is set in England, Oxford College with an entirely different tone. She has written some other stories and books that also involve historians going back in time. There are two books set in WWII England that are favorites of a friend of mine. In Doomsday Book, they go to medieval England.

  9. Ooooooo thank you …if you say it’s good it must be , that is without doubt a spring read for me .
    Ermmm now that could be a difficult question because I could say I love just about every book I have ever read because every book teaches us something but then it leapt out at me screaming …Heidi …because my mum read it to me and gave me the first love of books …

  10. My current favorite is INTEGRITY from Sweden. Not that it is the most wonderful book but it is timely and well written and says what is needed to be heard about Value and producing value in an earth friendly world.
    I have this book on my list of personal reads, which I have not gotten to recently at all. I got behind on my contracted review books and then 2 book groups…sigh…
    My all time favorite read is LITTLE WOMEN with a close second PRIDE AND PREJUDICE They just seemed to open the world for me.
    My twitter is not working today. I will try to fix that

    • Patricia — any book that discusses producing value in an earth friendly world is a book I’m interested in! Thank you for telling me about INTEGRITY. I loved “Little Women,” and “Pride and Prejudice,” too 🙂

  11. Coming back to tell you I bought the book the other day after your glowing recommendation. Still have to finish a couple others before diving into this one. Hope all is going well with you!

  12. Thank you for the recommendation and I will put this on my agenda to read!

    I’m almost embarrassed to admit my favorite books as I’m an adult but I have a few that are kept in my library at home that I read, re-read and read again and again. The Laura Ingalls Wilder series (all of them including her mother and daughters series), The Outsiders, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Giving Tree, and A Good Home: A Memoir.

    If you have not read A Good Home: A Memoir by Cynthia Reyes (a fellow blogger), take the time to. It’s a really great book connecting your life to your homes! Great post! Tina

  13. Shirley Showalter mentioned in her response that…”this book is changing the strong death denial in our culture.”

    Another “strong denial in our culture” is ageing.

    My all-time favorite book is FROM AGE-ING TO SAGE-ING (A Profound New Vision of Growing Older) by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. I read it in 1997, and it ignited a determination in my spirit to become a “conscious elder.”

  14. I agree with your assessment of ‘When Breath Becomes Air.’ The read ripped through my heart and then my gut and circled back to my soul. I read it while sitting beside my husband’s hospital bed and I finally decided the power of the book had nothing to do with my husband’s health but everything to do with the author’s skill in pulling the reader into the loss he was facing.
    A tiny book that always lives center stage in any bookshelf I’ve ever had is: TWO OLD WOMEN, An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis.

  15. Laurie my favorite all-time book is Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLES, which I have actually read twice in my life.

    However, my favorite book to teach is Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, which I used many times when I taught Jr. High School English.

  16. Wow! This is some high praise! I have a hard time picking one – my favorite novels are Light Years by James Salter, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, and probably Divisadero by Ondaatje. I’m curious what book held the spot before so long for you before Kalanithi came along!

  17. I’ve read far too many great books to choose one favorite. but several come to mind. To Kill a Mockingbird (of course), Treasure Island, The Call of the Wild (Jack London), The Help (Kathyrn Stockett), The African Queen (CS Forester).


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