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The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of…

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (2010)

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

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“The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” by Dr. Siddartha Mukerjee is magisterial in scope and yet accessible to the interested lay reader. He reaches back as early as Persian Queen Attosa (550 to 475 BC) who famously suffered from breast cancer and had a slave perform a gruesome form of mastectomy. From there, we make our way through the centuries as different theories – Black humors! Contagion! Radical surgery! -- are examined. The book is the inspiration of a 6 hour ‘Ken Burns Presents’ PBS documentary which will be showing soon.

The Dana Farber Cancer Institute is featured prominently. We learn the identity of the renowned ‘Jimmy’ of Jimmy Fund fame. I have worked in some fundraisers for the Dana Farber and the Jimmy Fund. A good friend is a longtime volunteer. Even without these specific connections, I would have been drawn to this wonderful book. In one way or another, all of us have a connection to cancer, those afflicted and/or those who treat it. Thus this book is sure to hold the interest of many. It certainly kept me engaged throughout. ( )
  michigantrumpet | Mar 23, 2015 |
There are a lot of interesting facts here, and I also like how he shows that curing cancer is less straightforward than putting a man on the moon.

However, there were just enough details that were wrong to make me wonder if there are any other details that are just as wrong but I don't notice because I don't have enough background.
One thing was his description of the first prospective trial about the link between smoking and cancer. Take a large group of people, wait a few years, and after this time 36 people have died from lung cancer. All 36 are smokers. And now the writer of this book suggests that this (more or less) settles the issue, without even mentioning that the fact that 4 out of 5 people smoked at that time considerably weakens the argument.
Another is his total ignoring of any issues about nutrition. True, at the end he spends two or three sentences about such details as the link between eating fibre and colon cancer, but there is no evidence anywhere that he has even considered that the Western diet as a whole may contribute to cancer. I suspect he believes it doesn't, but he doesn't give any arguments, he just ignores it.

So, as I don't know what else he has missed, I don't know how much of the information here I can trust. Which is a pity, as it is definitely an interesting subject. ( )
1 vote wester | Mar 17, 2015 |
This is a detailed but highly readable treatment of human experience of the various diseases collectively called cancer. An oncologist himself, the author examines the history of the malady. He explores advances in diagnosis and treatment over the century. Diving deeper, he reports on research into the cellular and genetic processes underlying the uncontrolled replication of cells. Throughout it all, though, he puts a human face on the battle.
It wasn't until I was most of the way through this book that I found out it's the source for a new Ken Burns documentary that will be airing on PBS stations this Spring. ( )
  dickmanikowski | Feb 18, 2015 |

I had been willing to read The Emperor of All Maladies for quite some time, but never got to it before.

At University I follow classes from Biomedical Sciences, so I found it really interesting to read about this. The book is not only about cancer, but mostly about all the different ways scientists en doctors have tried to defeat cancer. Many ways to so have (unfortunately) failed, but it also shows that through more and more research we are coming closer to a better solution.

Personally I liked to see so many things I've heard in college be mentioned in this book. ( )
  Floratina | Jan 4, 2015 |
This is a great book. I've just been reading a section about tobacco as a carcinogen, the research that went into that and the involvement of the tobacco companies and the government. It reads almost like a thriller and the deceitfulness and amorality of the tobacco companies seems so familiar: the kind of dishonest, bad faith behavior that seems to rule the day, both in business and government. I was struck that the connection between cigarettes and lung cancer was already in play as early as 1953. Pretty amazing! ( )
  jdukuray | Dec 31, 2014 |
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It's time to welcome a new star in the constellation of great doctor-writers. With this fat, enthralling, juicy, scholarly, wonderfully written history of cancer, Siddhartha Mukherjee - a cancer physician and researcher at Columbia University - vaults into that exalted company ...
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Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell. to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place. --Susan Sontag
To Robert Sandler (1945-1948), and to those who came before and after him.
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(Prologue) On the morning of May 19, 2004, Carla Reed, a thirty-year-old kindergarten teacher from Ipswich, Massachusets, a mother of three young children, woke up in bed with a headache.
In a damp fourteen-by-twenty-foot laboratory in Boston on a December morning in 1947, a man named Sidney Farber waited impatiently for the arrival of a parcel from New York.
In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backwards. That is a very useful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but people do not practice it much.- Sherlock Holmes, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet
Physicians of the utmost fame Were called at once; but when they came They answered, as they took their Fees, "There is no Cure for this Disease." - Hilaire Belloc
Its palliation is a daily task, its cure a fervent hope. - William Castle, describing leukemia in 1950
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A magnificently written "biography" of cancer--from its origins to the epic battle to cure, control, and conquer it.

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