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The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of…

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

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,1691852,229 (4.3)1 / 324
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)
Title:The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
Authors:Siddhartha Mukherjee
Info:Scribner, Hardcover, 571 pages
Collections:Your library

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

Recently added byArina8888, private library, RiceCo, drakeg, Appi, SteveFok, jeremyjsnow, DeborahWoodman
  1. 41
    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 324 mentions

English (180)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (184)
Showing 1-5 of 180 (next | show all)
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 |
Hmm. My friend told me earlier today that I wasn't gonna like Don Delillo because he was "more style than substance," or something like that. I can honestly say that I took one star off this book because it was more substance than style.

What I mean is, I liked this book a whole lot. Information frothed over the top of pages like high tide; I learned so much. I understood almost everything. The humanity of it all really burst through. But I also zoned out some parts of the book, mostly because the writing was so clear, so straightforward, that I just got lost in the history and the science and couldn’t help but gaze down at the page numbers, flip through to see when the next chapter was coming up, then return wearily to the passage I’d found a tad tiresome.

The writing was so clear. It was too clear. The author (who I must say is some divine all-powerful creature, regardless of my momentary criticism) took the tons of research he’d complied and fitted it into a writing canvas that riveted at times, but also seemed repetitive at others. I can’t really blame him that much though, because the history of cancer IS quite repetitive: Scientist sees cancer, scientist studies cancer, scientist thinks of solution, scientist experiments with solution, solution becomes universal, etc. Obviously with some exceptions.

I loved the human anecdotes sprayed throughout. I loved the ending. I loved the tone. This book is so important. I’m basically bound to get cancer someday, I think, with my family history, my perpetual sunburns, my Ashkenazi Jewness. I remember I used to fret about the disease back in middle school ever since this boy a grade above me died from brain cancer. The thought of it haunted me for a while, and there was a period where I’d just walk up to my mom and tell her I felt scared. At least now I know that cancer is not entirely a mystery, and that we’re on the road to uncover the part that remains so.
( )
  Gadi_Cohen | Sep 22, 2021 |
Depending on where you live, if you're in the western world chances are you're looking at a pretty high chance of getting cancer in your lifetime. In the UK it's now 1 in 2, and my nearest geographical neighbour - Ireland - has the third highest rate of cancer per 100,000 people in the world (behind Australia at #1 and NZ at #2). We all know people who have survived it and people who have died from it, and sadly that's often just within our own immediate families. Given that there's no getting away from it I was interested in learning more about it, and this Pulitzer prizewinner from 2011 seemed as good a place to start as any.

It does what it says on the tin, taking us from the earliest known examples of cancer (breast) in BC times to savage surgery in the 1800s, the first use of radiation in the early 1900s, the introduction of the first chemotherapy in the 1940s (nitrogen mustard) and the critical discovery of the first identified oncogene in the 1980s and pursuant biological and clinical strategies in the fight against the disease.

Mukherjee is thorough in relaying this history to us. Although some patient stories are included that area was a lighter touch than expected, but in retrospect I appreciate that. This book is not an emotive, personal account of cancer (although it's clear that patients are front and centre in Mukherjee's mind during his day job as an oncologist) but rather a biological and clinical focus (with the emphasis on the former). It's a complicated subject area, and although a book for the layman Mukherjee doesn't overly dumb it down so some chapters are harder going than others. Overall, however, it was a hugely informative read, and my big takeaway was a much better understanding of the complexity of the cancer war, with not only stark differences between cancer types but also hugely different personal cell mutations even within the same cancer type.

Given that there are so many different types of cancer, this book concentrates especially on leukaemia, breast cancer and lung cancer, where perhaps there have been most marked changes in survival rates over time.

Would I recommend this if you're currently dealing with cancer, either personally or with a close family member? I'm not sure. It's not a depressing read and mostly is a chronological account of development in surgical and biological advancements, but there is the odd line here and there that's pretty sobering. This isn't a book like Atul Gawande's Being Mortal - I don't think there's anything in here that would hugely influence any decisions you'd make around treatment.

Not being from a medical background this book did raise a number of questions in my head. There seemed to be quite a chasm of missed opportunity between biologists and clinicians at various points in this history of cancer, and I wonder if this is still true today (sadly I expect it is). Also, given the advancements that were made in treatment at the cost of early patients' lives, I wondered in this modern day of medical governance and ethics just how free today's oncologists are to try out new ideas with patients, or if the fear of litigation hampers that.

My main gripe with the book was that it's very much an American biography of cancer. Yes, Mukherjee touches on advancements from other countries when it's relevant to the narrative in the States, but it's definitely very much an American political, biological and clinical journey of cancer.

All in all a dense but interesting read. Sorry to be the one to deliver a spoiler, but it appears that the notion of a magic bullet for cancer is the stuff of fairytales, and the best we can hope for are personal therapies that adjust throughout our lifetimes as personal cancer mutations change trajectory.

4 stars - a fascinating journey through what is indeed the emperor of all maladies. ( )
  AlisonY | Aug 1, 2021 |
Winner of Pulitzer Prize
  Lovedogstoo | Jul 17, 2021 |
Cancer is prevalent in our society, so a book covering our knowledge of the disease, its complexities, and it's history is extremely relevant. The ongoing research programs, treatment and prevention techniques, and the history behind them was very informative. It explains a lot about treatment recommendations, including recent changes in mamograph recommendations. Mukharjee did an excellent job in enlightening me on this important subject, and did in a very readable format. ( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 180 (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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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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