Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book Review: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Yes, this book is long. Yes, it's about cancer. But the book is terrific.

Dr. Mukherjee is himself an oncologist. He set out first to write about his own experiences, and then to write a history of cancer, and when he discovered the scope of the history, it became all that and more. Some of the history, going back to ancient times, is astonishing. And the science, while very accessible, is occasionally dry and technical. But that doesn't happen too often and isn't too pertinent to the overall story. Anyone can read this, regardless of science background, and science interest. Personally, I loved the stories of the different people involved, not only patients, but also researchers, doctors, fundraisers, and activists. It's interesting how often we hear names, such as the Dana-Farber Cancer Center, and don't think that there was really once a Doctor Farber who was a monumental cancer researcher.

The book is riveting. I thought about it all the time whenever I put it down. And of course cancer comes up quite a bit in everyday world, and I found myself referencing the book a lot (which I expect will continue for some time!) It gave me hope for the future of cancer treatment, and also hope overall for the science of fighting disease. Supremely well-written, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Twice he almost mentions the HeLa cells, recently made famous in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. But he doesn't mention them by name or Ms. Lacks, just refers to her obliquely, I'm not sure why.

I bought this book online.


B said...

This sounds really good. I picked it up at the bookstore a month or so ago and decided it seemed top daunting. After reading your review I think I'll have to give it another chance.

Harivansh Rai said...

Mr. Mukherjee yanks you by the elbow and takes you through a roller coaster of a ride through the troughs and peaks of failures and successes in man's quest for the holy grail of medicine, the elusive cure for Cancer. Spanning almost 4000 years from the first references during the times of the Pharaohs to 2008, the epic journey covers the attempts to eradicate Cancer by the surgeons, the chemists, the radiologists and lastly the geneticists.

Every blind alley has led to small openings, which have helped to unravel the mystery of this malignant disease and the recent successes with genetic research and early detection has helped increase the survival rates. But the battle is far from over, if one is to go by Mr. Mukherjee's passionate account.

An excellent example of how to take medical science to the layman, I hope that this book will also inspire a large number of India's youngsters to pursue careers in research related to cancer.