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

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,6561702,380 (4.3)1 / 311
A stunning combination of medical history, cutting-edge science, and narrative journalism that transforms the listener's understanding of cancer and much of the world around them. Siddhartha Mukherjee provides a fascinating glimpse into the future of cancer treatments and offers a bold new perspective on the way doctors, scientists, philosophers, and lay people have observed and understood the human body for millennia.… (more)
  1. 41
    The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis (lemontwist)
  2. 10
    And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts (DetailMuse)
    DetailMuse: Both are excellent history-of-medicine narratives.
  3. 21
    Illness as Metaphor & AIDS and Its Metaphors by Susan Sontag (caitlinlizzy)
  4. 00
    The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Mutant Gene and the Quest to Cure Cancer at the Genetic Level by Jessica Wapner (hailelib)
    hailelib: Expands on Mukherjee's discussion of the development and testing of Gleevec.
  5. 00
    Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber by Ken Wilber (wester)
    wester: A time-slice of cancer history in a personal story, versus the overview of this same history. Close up and panorama view of the same thing.
  6. 01
    The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (jigarpatel)
    jigarpatel: Given the relationship between cancer and genetic pathways, Mukherjee's later The Gene (2016) is insightful for the layperson, recommend this as a precursor to The Emperor of All Maladies.
  7. 02
    The Wisdom of the Body: Discovering the Human Spirit by Sherwin B. Nuland (fountainoverflows)

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English (166)  Italian (1)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (169)
Showing 1-5 of 166 (next | show all)
I learned a lot about cancer and medicine in general. The book started out readable, but became less and less so as it went on. ( )
  mitchtroutman | Jun 14, 2020 |
Regsla de zDemetrio. Jefe de la UCI Hospital de León ( )
  Crinyesto | Apr 3, 2020 |
Cancer is not a light topic to cover, but Siddhartha did an amazing job in this book. It takes you all the way back to the first recorded cases and on a journey up until recent years. It made me realize I had a great number of misconceptions about the science and medicine behind cancer treatments. The last century has been shaped by this war more than I ever imagined.

What I think is the highest lesson this pursuit for a cure has done is show us that when there is a need for cooperation between generations it can be done and the results will eventually follow. There is hopefulness to it, but what I took most from this was the clarity of it all. Cancer is part of our species. It has and will keep our collective ego in check for years to come. It is here to keep us grounded and humble. ( )
  parzivalTheVirtual | Mar 22, 2020 |
Having been always intrigued by this terrible disease, I had added this book to my to-read list. What got me picking this book up on one fine day was a then-recent breakthrough in trials conducted on mice. Deeming it a good time as any, I started reading this Pulitzer Prize-winning book, only to find myself getting hooked despite some of the negative reviews.

Definition of cancer:
n. any malignant growth or tumor caused by abnormal and uncontrolled cell division; it may spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream.
This definition might technically be true in the dry, academic sense, but it fails to convey the visceral terror it still evokes in the human collective.
Reading about its effects conjures images of an alien disease so horrific, so devious that it is hard to believe it's not the plot of some dark science-fiction novel. It has potential to annihilate masses who don't have any optimistic recourse but to eventually succumb under its might and meet their maker.
Descriptions of patients, victims of this scourge, were deeply moving. This all-consuming malady symbolizes greed, in my opinion. It is the ultimate challenge to the one seeking immortality.

Despite being perhaps the oldest disease in human history, it didn't come into the spotlight due to various reasons:

1. One being, that it is an age-related disease. People in olden times didn't live that long to encounter it
2. In olden times, people might have been diagnosed with a different disease due to lack of the capacity to detect it

The disease was shrouded in mystery and wallowed in neglect with meager research and public awareness.
It was overshadowed by epidemics like tuberculosis, pneumonia, smallpox, and typhus.
Descriptions of crude and unhygienic practices during the olden times were not received well by my stomach. Bloodletting was prevalent, and sterilization unheard of.

Unfortunately, the majority of the efforts went into curing cancer, whereas history is testament to the fact that any formidable disease has been conquered by its prevention rather than the cure. For example, TB rates decreased not by antibiotics, but by better living standards, hygiene etc. The pap smear screening test was one such breakthrough.

As time went by, gradual research attrited away the black box that cancer was.
It felt amazing to read how far we've come. We take antibacterials and anesthetics for granted now, lacking which people used to die.
The discovery of the use of hormones, or anti-hormones, to treat gender-specific cancers was ingenious.
Eventually, in the latter half of the 20th century, cancer was discovered to be caused by the accumulation of defects in genes. This led to the rise of targeted medicines, that would inactivate the cancer-causing genes. Even with all these developments, we're still far from a definite cure, but we shall get there.

The book was all I hoped for and then some. It helped ease my ever insatiable itch to know it all, to some extent.
It ignited in me a burning curiosity to know more about human genetics, especially the DNA which is one awesome marvel of nature.

Sidenote: Shout-out to my favorite show of all time, Breaking Bad, which has cancer at its center. Also, I'd be remiss not to plug in a Jesse Pinkman meme here.

( )
  Govindap11 | Mar 21, 2020 |
This highly acclaimed work (winning a Pulitzer Prize) deserves every one of its adulations. It is not only personal, erudite, and interesting; it is also inspiring and well-written.

Mukherjee attempts to present “a biography of cancer,” starting from its first mention in the historical record (a Queen of Persia). A practicing oncologist, he also ties in patient stories to advance the narrative in appropriate places.

Generally, he tells the tale of how humanity and science has wrestled with cancer over the past several millennia. Obviously, he pays special attention to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as this is where most of the action lies. In truth, with infectious diseases well countered with antibiotics and vaccines, cancer looms as one of humanity’s greatest menaces. And as Mukherjee admits, cancer has indisputably won the war thus far.

He does provide hope because research has provided much insight in the last thirty-or-so years. With an acumen as only a practicing physician can offer, he summarizes the progress of research with personal insights and stories. He divulges the basis for cancer in DNA and what this insight provides in terms of therapy. While doing all this, Mukherjee maintains a basic narrative with the skill of a studied historian. This is a great work to read for anyone interested in healthcare and medicine. ( )
  scottjpearson | Jan 25, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 166 (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.
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
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