The Emperor of All Maladies

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The Emperor of All Maladies

A Biography of Cancer
by Siddhartha Mukherjee
★★★★

This ambitious, nonfiction book chronicles the history and development of cancer and its treatments. It provides a complete overview of the disease, which people have battled for the past 4,000 years.

I connected with some of the personal cases, but the constant stream on scientific minutia, tests, studies, etc. lost my interest a few times. Mukherjee opens and closes the book with the case of a young kindergarten teacher, Carla Reed, which provides the perfect bookends to the onslaught of info.

I don’t know how much of the detailed info will stick, but it was so interesting. There were certainly some graphic parts, which is to be expected with a medical topic. I couldn’t believe some of the medieval methods used as treatments for years. Bleeding patients, loping off body parts, acid burns, etc. were all acceptable, which is horrific.

I also couldn’t believe how long cancer has been around. There are fossils and mummies with cancerous tumors. There are even texts describing breast cancer in ancient Egypt and a Persian queen.

It’s unbelievable how many advances have been made in the past couple decades. It wasn’t that long ago that many refused to believed smoking cigarettes could in anyway cause cancer.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the book is learning how common cancer is becoming. The author notes that one day soon we may not wonder IF we will get cancer, but instead we’ll wonder WHEN. As someone who has watched both of her parents struggle with different cancers and losing one to Leukemia, I see his observation in a very real way. To me, this book was incredibly meaningful because it was a chance to better educate myself on the topic and I would recommend it to anyone else interested in doing the same.

“Cancer makes some families and breaks some.”

For another view, visit Devourer of Books.

10 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've seen alot of good things about this book, and ordered it from the library on audio but dummy me couldn't figure out how to get the mp3 version of it on my iPod. I think the reason this book has been so popular is because to dispel the fear of cancer the best course of action is to learn as much as you can. That is all we can do I think.

Jenners said...

I've heard so much about this book and i am so curious about it. I need to read it as cancer does seem to touch everyone in some way.

Avid Reader said...

Sandy - Agreed, cancer is such an intimidating thing. Learning more about it seems to make us believe we're more in control of the situation when we know someone who is struggling with it.

Jenners - It's not a quick read, but it felt like an important one to me.

Alexandra said...

I also feel that cancer happens more often. I've commented on this with several people and most tell me this happens as you grow older or because I'm just more aware of it. I'm not convinced, I do believe in the "cancer epidemic".

Does Mukherjee give reasons for the increase in cancer cases?

Kristi said...

I think you're right that it is more prevalent. I doubt there is a single family that hasn't been affected in some way by cancer. I guess I never really thought about there being evidence of it in ancient times, but it makes sense. It sounds like something I should read.

Teacher/Learner said...

Wow, this sounds like a highly important book to read. I'm glad that there is a central figure (Carla) in the book to put a human face on the story, otherwise all the jargon and medical facts would get overbearing. I'm sorry to hear that you've had encounters of cancer in your family. It has also touched mine close to home but they are all survivors. It's a difficult topic to read about, I'm sure. Thanks for your review.

Avid Reader said...

Alexandra - He doesn't really get into that, unless I somehow missed it. I was curious about that too because it's increased so much!

Kristi - It is disturbing how common it is now.

Teacher/Learner - I actually wish there had been a bit more personal cases because there is a lot of jargon. Thanks for your kind words too.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

i liked reading this book as well. I thought it was pretty fascinating. Nice review.

Swapna said...

I really enjoyed this book as well, so I'm glad to see you did! I hope it's okay if I add a link to your review to the South Asian Review Database.

Avid Reader said...

Swapna - Absolutely, thanks for the link!