Book Review: The Emperor of All Maladies – Siddhartha Mukherjee

Title: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
Author: Siddhartha Mukherjee
ISBN: 9781439107959
Pages: 592
Release Date: November 16, 2010
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary:

In this ambitious book, Siddhartha Mukherjee, a cancer specialist at Columbia University, takes on the daunting task of writing a biography of cancer.  He takes the reader from the first mention of cancer, by ancient Egyptian physician Imhotep, and traces it through history.  He chronicles different treatments and shows the reader how cancer, in its present incarnation, came to be.

Review:

I can’t imagine how difficult the process of writing a book like The Emperor of all Maladies must have been.  But I know it must have been time consuming and frustrating because, having read it, I don’t even know how to begin to review it.  This book is so epic, so expansive that it deserves better than the hesitant, cloudy description above.  I’ll do the best I can with this review, but keep in mind that, as good as this review says this book is, it’s actually better.

The Emperor of All Maladies has so many different facets.  It’s a look at some of Mukherjee’s individual patients.  It’s a glimpse into the life of researchers and doctors so desperate to save their patients’ lives that they’re willing to poison them, to increase the toxicity of their bodies to the breaking point.  It’s a peek into the motivations of activists for cancer, the people who brought the disease out of the shadows and put the spotlight on it.  These people raised money for the disease and helped the American public to understand how much of an epidemic cancer is.  Above all, though, it’s the story of a murky, twisting, incomprehensible disease and its ability to defeat almost everything we have thrown at it thus far.

Mukherjee highlights the variable nature of cancer and how one word isn’t really able to capture the breadth of this disease.  Different cancers respond to different treatments – doctors won’t use the same thing to treat leukemia (cancer of the blood) as they would use to fight breast cancer.  Some cancers have high, encouraging 5 year remission rates, while others are death sentences.  It’s so difficult to use just one word to describe all these diseases.  Mukherjee helps the reader to understand the nuances and insidiousness of cancer.

The author also takes the reader through different treatments for cancer, including some horrific ones.  He delivers the information in a fascinating way, showing how treatments evolved and built upon previous discoveries.  He also presents the difficulty of trial and error methods when lives are at stake, especially when researchers try out their ideas on human patients.  And this is where the book shows some ray of light, where Mukherjee ensures that the reader knows all is not hopeless.  There are some amazing discoveries within this book’s pages.  Mukherjee chronicles the setbacks, yes, but also the wonderful advancements in medicine as scientists fight to find a cure for cancer.

Mukherjee’s patients give this epic story a human face.  The reader learns about their situations (of course, their names have been changed to protect their privacy) and their prognoses.  As the book progresses, so does the disease in these patients, as well as the course of their treatments.  The book doesn’t focus on them by any means, but through these few people, Mukherjee reminds the reader that cancer isn’t something “out there” to be studied – it’s affecting real people, right now. 

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of The Emperor of All Maladies.  There is so much to this wonderful book; Mukherjee is a talented writer and he presents information, even when it is very technical and scientific, in an easily digestible way.  This book is long, yet never for a second did it lose my interest.  It’s not a book you want to read when you’re disengaged, but if you try, it will likely pull your brain into the story, making you think as you’re consuming the information Mukherjee presents. 

When I started with The Emperor of All Maladies, I didn’t think that a biography of cancer was possible – it was just too big, with too much history.  Yet Mukherjee accomplished his goal admirably and gracefully.  This is a book that everyone should pick up, in order to understand this vicious disease and what has been, is being, and can be done to halt its rampage.  I hope that Mukherjee continues to write books, as clearly, treating cancer patients is not his only talent.

Affiliate Links:

Buy this book from Powell’s Books
Buy this book from Amazon.com
Buy this book from your local Indiebound bookstore

Comments

  1. Just read another review of this one yesterday…looks wonderful. My husband is a cancer survivor, and I love to hear about all the background stories/experiments/events that affected our life and some many others.

    Glad that you liked it! It is always good to see a 5 out of 5.

  2. Just read another review of this one yesterday…looks wonderful. My husband is a cancer survivor, and I love to hear about all the background stories/experiments/events that affected our life and some many others.

    Glad that you liked it! It is always good to see a 5 out of 5.

  3. I was unable to snag a copy at BEA but ever since hearing about it at the editor’s buzz (I think that’s where it was introduced), I’ve wanted to read it. Owing to my educational background, I think this would be a winner for me.

  4. I was unable to snag a copy at BEA but ever since hearing about it at the editor’s buzz (I think that’s where it was introduced), I’ve wanted to read it. Owing to my educational background, I think this would be a winner for me.

  5. I don’t have any interest in picking this up, but this is a really wonderful review–nice work!

  6. I don’t have any interest in picking this up, but this is a really wonderful review–nice work!

  7. I have been reading a lot about this book, but wasn’t really sure what it was all about. Your review on it was beautiful and makes the book sound super engrossing and like something I would find fascinating. I am going to have to try to get to this one in the new year. Thanks for your excellent review!

  8. I have been reading a lot about this book, but wasn’t really sure what it was all about. Your review on it was beautiful and makes the book sound super engrossing and like something I would find fascinating. I am going to have to try to get to this one in the new year. Thanks for your excellent review!

  9. FYI – the author will be at Politics and Prose this Friday at 7, if you’re interested.

  10. FYI – the author will be at Politics and Prose this Friday at 7, if you’re interested.

  11. I have a copy of this and you’re making me want to get to it soon!

  12. I have a copy of this and you’re making me want to get to it soon!

  13. I snagged a copy at BEA! Woo Hoo. I have not heard one bad thing about this book!

  14. I snagged a copy at BEA! Woo Hoo. I have not heard one bad thing about this book!

  15. Mukherjee must be some author if a book about cancer is that good.

  16. Mukherjee must be some author if a book about cancer is that good.

  17. Your review is awesome but I don’t think I would want to read this book, but you’ll never know

  18. Your review is awesome but I don’t think I would want to read this book, but you’ll never know

  19. A new author to me! I will check this one out. Thank you Swapna.

  20. A new author to me! I will check this one out. Thank you Swapna.

  21. I’ve read a few “professional” reviews of this book that said it was amazing but this is the first “blogger” interview (and believe me, those count more with me) I’ve seen of this book. I think I’ll have to read this … you make a great case for this book.

  22. I’ve read a few “professional” reviews of this book that said it was amazing but this is the first “blogger” interview (and believe me, those count more with me) I’ve seen of this book. I think I’ll have to read this … you make a great case for this book.

  23. I am proud to write a review of this outstanding book by an Indian ,which has portrait the mind status of cancer pt and the doctors (Oncologist) above all the western country mission against war on CANCER .
    After reading the book ,i find out Indian ancestors commitment in cancer medicine are not shown,which is to be explored well by the author being an Indian and others.why not let me too try it.
    Above all the current Indian scenario in cancer biology research is too poor,the reason is not lack of resource ,not lack of knowledge,but the mind status of most Indian scientist in the field of research in Cancer ,which is the hidden message from Indian born American.( Dr.Sidhartha) .Most cancer biologist (Researcher) foot are from western country from the first chemo drug Dr.Farber to the current targeted therapy. Why there is not even single born and brought up INDIAN commitment was not pictured in this book.???? Albeit there are great research work by an Indian in US & UK lab. WHEN you finish reading you will get the answer ….
    Hats off to the author Dr,Siddhartha ..and his team and family .May all the soul RIP who has committed there life for research (cancer war)

Trackbacks

  1. […] The Emperor of All Maladies (S. Krishna’s Books) […]

Leave a Reply

Comment Policy:  I welcome comments and read each one I receive. If your comment needs a response, I will provide it in a timely manner, as I read every comment I receive. Please keep your comments civil and polite! I reserve the right to delete any comments that are rude or inappropriate. Because of spam, I have to moderate comments on old posts. Please be patient - I will approve your comment quickly.

Before the tag in the Genesis footer: !-- Quantcast Tag -->