10 Best Quotes From “When Breath Becomes Air”

Syed Muhammad Khan
Published in
2 min readJun 28, 2020


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Paul Kalanithi’s bestseller book “When Breath becomes Air” highlights his journey from a lifesaver to a patient suffering from a terminal disease. The book eloquently narrates the transition from a carefree life to a struggle for survival in the face of death. Death is certain, and the author, despite having false hopes dangled in front of him, eventually came to terms with his fate. He strived to make the best of his last days and shared the experience with the world.

The central idea of the book is to let go of the constant pursuit of an ideal life and “live” the life you’ve been given. Here are my picks for the most inspiring and thought-provoking quotes from Paul Kalanithi’s magnum opus, When Breath becomes Air:

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

“If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining?”

“Even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.”

“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still, it is never complete.”

“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.”

“It’s very easy to be number one: find the guy who is number one, and score one point higher than he does.”

“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

“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.”

“The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”

My Take

The book has an awe-inspiring and life-changing ability in it. Being Kalanithi’s first and last manuscript, finished and later published by his wife Lucy, this book perfectly captures the journey of a man who stood in the face of death and accepted it with dignity. We must all embrace the uncertainties of life, realize that it is not a mathematical equation but a flowing river that undulates and overflows or dries up as a part of nature. The book also evokes the spiritual side of the readers, probing their belief in a Superior Being, God, and directs them towards leading a life with meaning. I learned a great deal from it, and if you get it, you will certainly feel the same way.



Syed Muhammad Khan

Muhammad is an SEO writing expert on UPWORK; here he showcases his work in lifestyle, science, and history niches, plus he republishes some of his old writings.