This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of…

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

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,2681572,539 (4.29)1 / 299

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

English (153)  Italian (1)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (156)
Showing 1-5 of 153 (next | show all)
4.5 A thorough and reasonably elegant introduction to cancer; how we know what we know. A point for the scientists in the eternal expert vs. writer non-fiction conflict. Very slightly overwritten at parts, the book covers a great deal of difficult ground with pleasant speed. Worth it for the chapter quotes. ( )
  Eoin | Jun 3, 2019 |
Wow. Excellent. I cannot recommend this book enough. I was reading this book to take a break from my usual regimen of social sciences. When I started, I was concerned with the length (at almost 500 pages), I thought I would be drawn from my regular reading for too long. I couldn't have been more wrong, I breezed through the book, almost unable to put it down. It's a masterpiece, one of the best genre blending books I've ever read. Mukherjee combines history, biology, epidemiology and personal memoir into one emotional rollercoaster.

Mukherjee tells the story of cancer without simplifying, detailing the complex rise and falls of various treatments and theories of cancer. It stuck out to me, how the story of the battle of cancer was influenced by chance, politics and humanity (in both its good form and bad form). For me, Mukherjee details the advancement of science not as calm and orderly, but filled with ups and downs, deadends and suddenly revived dead theories. So many discoveries were caused by chance and error (in particular the discovery that mustard gas could be a chemo drug, the discovery of the ulcer causing bacteria, the discovery of cellular staining) only to be later connected to some formal use. Politics play a huge role, in particular the War on Cancer, the various lawsuits filed, the vested interests of the tobacco lobby. The shifting paradigms regarding research and cancer. The war on cancer being seen as programmatic research that would cure cancer like it landed us on the moon (in contrast to basic research questions). The difficulty of figuring out that cancer was heterogenous and required different treatments, only for that elusive one size fits all solution to rear its head again with the discovery of octogenes and anti-octogenes. The traits of humans of course play a huge role in the battle against cancer. Be it pride and dogma that harden intuitions into institutions that are overturned and naive in hindsight (prominent examples are radical surgery, radical chemotherapy, transplants and the idea that all cancer was caused by viruses). On the other hand, it's also human to be inventive, to be resilient. In particular the last part detailing with the discovery of octogenes and anti-octogenes Mukherjee shows us the leaps in imagination, the conjectures people made. From the statistical discovery of anti-octogenes (twice as unlikely since it required the inactivation of two chromosomes) to piecing together the function of chromosomes from sea urchins, it seems so obvious in hindsight but must have been a herculean task looking forward.

Lastly, Mukherjee's story enforces (at least to me, philosophically) the power of empiricism over rationalism. In particular, radical surgery, radical chemotherapy, high-dose chemotherapy and transplant, viral cancer and one cure for all of cancer were all ideas that "made sense". Each told a story, and became dogmatic in the field for embarrassingly long times. Radical surgery, to cut out all possible sources of the cancer. Radical chemotherapy to cleanse the body as much as physically possible. High-dose chemotherapy and transplant, to replace the destroyed bone marrow and be able to push dosage more. Viral cancer that all cancer had a pathogen cause that would be preventable. However, they all fell when actually tested. With proper clinical trials and randomization, none of the methods could face the cold hard facts of reality. To me, that indicates that all ideas need to be tested, no matter how "sensical" they may be. In particular, I enjoyed the various different challenges to empirical testing. For radical surgery, it was that surgeons in the tradition didn't want to challenge their dogma. For the smoking to lung cancer association, it was because nearly everyone smoked it was hard to find a control group. For high-dose chemotherapy it was certain AIDs-related activism that pushed for experimental medicine to be available to all which made no one want to take placebo measures required for a clinical test. In the end, inventiveness and luck allowed those claims to be tested.

The science itself is fascinating, I was blown away in particular by the rous virus and emerging understanding of octogenes. It was crazy that the existence of the rous virus created the idea that all cancers are caused by viruses. To disprove the idea, ultimately required the discovery of reverse transcriptise (since the rous virus is a retrovirus) and the understanding of the role and origin of the sac gene. Even leukemia's relative susceptibility to chemotherapy may be due to the relatively low mutations in octogenes. The more we learn, the deeper we dive into the complexity of life and our own lack of knowledge. The book ended on a hopeful note, discussing the new paradigm of treatments based on a better molecular understanding of cancer (in particular in disrupting signal pathways and cancer related kinases). I almost wish it never ended at all. ( )
  vhl219 | Jun 1, 2019 |
This is a page-turner. About the history, sociology, treatment and impact of cancer. If that sounds impossible to do, read the book. If it sounds interesting, read the book. I haven't read a more profound, well-researched or engaging non-fiction work in ages.

I'll leave it to other reviewers to give you more details, but I cannot recommend this one strongly enough. You'll be more empathetic and far better informed on the ongoing war on cancer. ( )
  patl | Feb 18, 2019 |
engulfing history of cancer throughout the ages, errors and breakthroughs ( )
  Oleksandr_Zholud | Jan 9, 2019 |
This is the history of cancer, from its first mention in ancient Egyptian texts to today. It includes the history of how we understood it and how we treated it to what we know about it now and how it's treated. It is the most spectacular book about cancer that I can imagine could be written. ( )
  ffifield | Nov 6, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 153 (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 ...
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
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.
First words
Diseases desperate grown
By desperate appliance are relieved
Or not at all.

—William Shakespeare,

Cancer begins and ends with people. In the midst of
scientific abstraction, it is sometimes possible to forget
this one basic fact. . . . Doctors treat diseases, but they also
treat people, and this precondition of their professional
existence sometimes pulls them in two directions at once.

—June Goodfield

On the morning of May 19, 2004, Carla Reed, a thirty-year-old kindergarten teacher from Ipswich, Massachusetts, 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
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Book description
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

A magnificently written "biography" of cancer--from its origins to the epic battle to cure, control, and conquer it.

» see all 11 descriptions

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (4.29)
1 2
2 13
2.5 1
3 71
3.5 25
4 245
4.5 71
5 288

Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

» Publisher information page

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 135,569,385 books! | Top bar: Always visible