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

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,3971892,218 (4.3)1 / 329
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. 42
    The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis (lemontwist)
  2. 21
    Illness as Metaphor & AIDS and Its Metaphors by Susan Sontag (caitlinlizzy)
  3. 10
    And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts (DetailMuse)
    DetailMuse: Both are excellent history-of-medicine narratives.
  4. 00
    Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon's Odyssey by Bud Shaw (JenniferRobb)
    JenniferRobb: Last Night in the OR discusses early liver transplants; The Emperor of All Maladies details the evolution of cancer treatment
  5. 00
    p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code by Sue Armstrong (rodneyvc)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 02
    The Wisdom of the Body: Discovering the Human Spirit by Sherwin B. Nuland (fountainoverflows)

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» See also 329 mentions

English (184)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (188)
Showing 1-5 of 184 (next | show all)
Much more a history of cancer treatment than of cancer. Not heavy on the science.
  FKarr | May 21, 2022 |
Great medical history of the disease of our times ... except, of course, it isn't. Cancer has been traced back to the ancient Egyptians. Mukherjee relays the trials and triumphs in the pursuit of this killer in a way that reads like a medical thriller. Did I understand all of the medicine? No. Will I remember the details of successful drugs and treatments? No. Does it matter? No. My take-away is that we are making progress against a very complicated enemy whose weapons include altering our very DNA and reacting to certain chemicals in our environment ("carcinogens"). ( )
  mjspear | Apr 9, 2022 |
Excellent book! I worked in a cancer research clinic for some years, and this book was really enlightening. ( )
  dmrabson-7 | Feb 3, 2022 |
This is worth all 472 pages. It was easy to follow, very educational, and it made me appreciate how far cancer treatment has come and the lives that contributed to this progress. Cancer is the world's oldest disease, but it wasn't until vaccines and civic improvements raised the life expectancy that cancer was finally studied. Early attempts at treatment included x-rays, radical surgery and even mustard gas, but until the 1950s it was an unspoken death sentence.

Sydney Farber, a researcher in Boston, decided to tackle leukemia. Why? Leukemia, as a blood disease, can be measured without surgery. Farber performed several unsuccessful tests with antifolates on (unconsenting) children. Eventually his research attracted the attention of the Variety Club of Boston and Mary Lasker, a driven socialite and philanthropist. With Farber in tow, the Variety Club finds a poster child, Einar Gustafson, to exploit for funding. Meanwhile, Lasker runs a much more successful campaign through Reader's Digest, balls and benefits creating the American Cancer Society. But Dr. Min Chiu Li, a Korean immigrant, was the first to cure a cancer with antifolates. He dosed an adult choriocarcinoma patient even after visible symptoms had vanished. A high dose 4-drug combo for leukemia was finally launched in 1961 followed by a series of toxic chemo cocktails of the 1970s, i.e. MOMP for Hodgkin's Disease. It wasn't until the 1980s that the whole system was turned on its head, with the idea of "prevention" being the cure, rather than treatment. Radical surgeries became unnecessary, DNA is tested for mutations, anti-smoking campaigns are run and occupational diseases are finally investigated.

There's so much to unpack for a small review, but it's 5/5 and I've recommended to friends and coworkers as well! ( )
  asukamaxwell | Feb 3, 2022 |
I was pleasantly surprised by how good this book was. Not sure how I came up on it, might have been the Freakonomic MD Podcast that I listen to by Dr Bapu Jena. I like some many have had close family members taken by Cancer and wanted to learn more about its history and this book does a great job of relating mostly in chronological fashion the developments through the years of the battle against cancer from the earliest references all the way till the 80s/90s. Yes is has a primarily pan American view point and yes it does seem repetitive at times but overall one comes away feeling inspired by how far we have come and also knowing the realities of the situation right now how far we still have to go. It is really interesting to read and learn about the different players over the years and how they have contributed to the body of knowledge surrounding cancer as well as how the political, fund raising and marketing aspects of the organizations that were setup. The stories of the patients involved was a great counterpoint to all the technical information shared in the story. Read the book you will not forget it. ( )
  thanesh | Oct 15, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 184 (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 ...

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Siddhartha Mukherjeeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hoye, StephenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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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.

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