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

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

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1,889943,634 (4.33)1 / 179
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English (91)  Italian (1)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (94)
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
Cancer has been with us as long as there has been an us. We have studied it, theorized on it, treated it, cured it, and died from it - and, as we live longer, more and more people are living with (or dying from) it. Its history is intricately intertwined with our own, with the history of our ever changing understanding of our own biology and of its. Just as patients are storytellers, so are doctors and oncologist, Siddhartha Mukherjee tells the story of cancer, of patients, of doctors and scientists and of how we look at the world. It is deeply literate, utterly compelling, and a fabulous read.

Dr. Mukherjee's book explicates not only the history of cancer, but also the revolutionary, creative, and very visual process of science. The number of discoveries that occurred because someone could see are astonishing. I was reminded of a woman I knew as a child in Memphis - Dorothy Stern. She taught my father enameling at Memphis Academy of Arts and also did medical illustration. She drew sickle cell anemia for a paper a doctor was writing on the morphology of human blood cells and her illustration is considered a classic because she could see and show others what she saw through her drawings and this led to new thinking about the cells. Likewise amazing things happen when a scientist spreads pictures out on her dining room tables and looks for patterns.

If you read one non-fiction book this year, read The Emperor of All Maladies. It's a fascinating suspenseful story of a disease that we will all be touched by at some time in our lives - directly or indirectly. It is in us, it is us. We should know it. ( )
  kraaivrouw | Jul 6, 2014 |
This “biography of cancer” starts with the first documented cases of cancer, continues through initial attempts at cures, and finishes with descriptions of the most recent discoveries. Intertwined with the historical narrative are the stories of the author’s patients, giving us just a glimpse of what it’s like to live with cancer.

For all of The Emperor of Maladies popular acclaim, this is not a book I would describe as “pop science”. That’s not to say that the science was hard to understand, just that it wasn’t simplified. So often, science books rely on analogies to convey the gist of a scientific concept, but gloss over the details. Mukherjee doesn’t compromise on the details. Instead he takes the time to explain, clearly and simply, the scientific concepts the reader needs to understand. He writes beautifully and elegantly. He uses large words naturally and precisely, never coming across as trying to hard. And while his scientifically precise choice of words is clear in the appropriate sections, his word choice in the personal stories clearly conveys his empathy and respect for his patients.

This first thing several people asked me when I said I was reading a book on cancer was “isn’t that depressing?”. Fortunately, no. Of course there were research setbacks and not every patient survives. Each of these tragedies were deeply moving. The author makes you feel very strongly the hopes and disappointments of patients, doctors, and scientists. Overall, however, this is a story of progress. A story of the amazing ways in which scientists have built on the successes of those that come before them. A story which has moved on from the early expectation that we will easily defeat cancer, but still a story that ended not with depression but with hope. Highly recommended.

This review first published on Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Jun 29, 2014 |
My guess is I'm not the first person to use the term "magisterial" to describe this so-called "biography" of cancer. In fact I would be surprised if many people had not used the term in their description. It begins with Imhotep's description/diagnosis of cancer and the stark statement that there is nothing that can be done about it. And then it moves forward charting our understanding of the disease, the evolution of the main types of treatment, how we think about the disease, all interspersed with a few stories of his own patients that illustrate many of the larger themes in the book.

I initially thought it was poorly organized and like any historical survey took too long to get to the modern understanding and in particular the molecular biological understanding of cancer. But it eventually got there, in a quite fullsome way, and looking back it was a coherent read and actually an exciting page turner. I just wish we knew how it ends--but that chapter has not been written yet. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
This is a hefty book, both in terms of length and content. Mukherjee supplied a detailed history of the knowledge and developments in treatment of cancer, along with his personal experiences with cancer patients that he's treated. The resulting book is fascinating, presenting the fluctuating perception of fatalism and optimism in regard to this disease.

Parts of this were horrifying, most particularly Halsted and his development radical mastectomy as a treatment for breast cancer, which involved removing not just the breast, but the underlying muscles and sometimes parts of the sternum, lymph nodes, and rib bones, horribly deforming women in the name of treatment. Equally horrifying is that even as new studies showed that these radical surgeries did not actually prevent relapse or extend life any more than less invasive surgery, the surgeons clung to the process with passion. It made me very grateful to live in the time period I do with the advances is medical science that have already been made underwriting current technology and understanding.

Other parts of this book made me almost cry, as patients clung to life and continued to persevere through the ongoing war of dealing with cancer.

Cancer looms large in public mind and takes on a kind of dark presence, almost like a super villain, with all the shadowy mystery that implies. I learned so much from this book, enough to caste away some of the obscurity. While it's a heavy read (and probably should be avoided by hypochondriacs), I would recommend this to anyone interested in learning more about the history of scientific and treatment developments for cancer. ( )
  andreablythe | May 12, 2014 |
Excellent. ( )
  Anraku | Apr 23, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
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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Epigraph
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
Dedication
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.
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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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