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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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1,955953,481 (4.33)1 / 180

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English (92)  Italian (1)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (95)
Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
A recommended gift for a student contemplating a research career, since it leaves out most of the negative biographical gossip about its cast of scientists and practitioners, unlike political and literary collective biographies. Fascinating read; if you like Sherwin Nuland's books you'll enjoy this one. It's a little troubling that so many lay readers find the section on genetics to be a big stumbling block since work in that area has been such an important breakthrough in our understanding of the disease(s). Commendable too that the author addresses the political aspects of scientific and medical research, especially the need to balance the immediate and understandable desire of patients to get the most advanced treatment possible and the need for dispassionate testing to determine whether a protocol actually works. For practical reasons, a new protocol won't be manufactured and widely distributed, and covered by insurance, until it's been validated empirically, so in a sense the needs of current patients are in contention with the needs of
future patients. Both researchers and patients are caught between a rock and a hard place, and it may be that researchers are better off not having the average amount of human empathy. ( )
  featherbear | Sep 24, 2014 |
Siddhartha displays an excellent understanding of cancer and is able to describe it in understandable terms. This book covers the history of cancer and discusses advances, problems, and causes in cancer. Although I have worked in the field for years, I learned quite a bit. Thanks go to Siddhartha for putting this book together. ( )
  GlennBell | Jul 30, 2014 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 92 (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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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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