The Emperor of All Maladies

Published:  2010 by Scribner
Source:  Borrowed from the library
  Why would anyone want to read a book about cancer?  It’s a terrible disease that has affected most of us in some way  (disclosure:  my dad is a colon cancer survivor) — how can a writer create a readable narrative that is accessible to those of us without any science background?
  Though still a bit heavy on the science, Siddhartha Mukherjee has for the most part succeeded in this task.  A cancer specialist who works in both clinical and experimental arenas, he traces not only the scientific evolution of diagnosing and treating various forms of cancer but also the politics involved.  Cancer has been around since essentially the beginning of time and was viewed as an age-related disease.  As life spans extended in the nineteenth century, cancer appeared to become more prevalent; but where some doctors said that civilization caused cancer, Mukherjee argues that because people were living longer civilization merely unveiled it.

   What was fascinating to me as a decidedly non-science person was the fact that though the term cancer is used broadly, the disease presents itself in a wide range of forms depending on where on the body it is affecting; and as a result, the types of treatments vary widely as well.  What works to treat leukemia will not necessarily work to treat lung cancer, and vice versa; however, many examples are given where treatments for a particular cancer (especially leukemia) lead to research and discoveries of treatments for others.

   In addition, Dr. Mukherjee provides some anecdotes about his patients and, with one of them specifically, he writes the story (spread throughout the book) almost like a novel where you really want to know how their story turns out. 

  No book about cancer can be without sadness and this one is no exception, but there are happy endings too and it is hopeful for future treatment and prevention.

  Highly recommended.

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