The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

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Simon and Schuster, Aug 9, 2011 - History - 573 pages
5 Reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and now a documentary from Ken Burns on PBS, The Emperor of All Maladies is a magnificent, profoundly humane “biography” of cancer—from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence.

Physician, researcher, and award-winning science writer, Siddhartha Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist’s precision, a historian’s perspective, and a biographer’s passion. The result is an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with—and perished from—for more than five thousand years.

The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also of hubris, paternalism, and misperception. Mukherjee recounts centuries of discoveries, setbacks, victories, and deaths, told through the eyes of his predecessors and peers, training their wits against an infinitely resourceful adversary that, just three decades ago, was thought to be easily vanquished in an all-out “war against cancer.” The book reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist.

From the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave may have cut off her diseased breast, to the nineteenth-century recipients of primitive radiation and chemotherapy to Mukherjee’s own leukemia patient, Carla, The Emperor of All Maladies is about the people who have soldiered through fiercely demanding regimens in order to survive—and to increase our understanding of this iconic disease.

Riveting, urgent, and surprising, The Emperor of All Maladies provides a fascinating glimpse into the future of cancer treatments. It is an illuminating book that provides hope and clarity to those seeking to demystify cancer.

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a must read

User Review  - mroseseattle -

this book was very well written i loved the well researched history regarding cancer. honestly i could not put this book down once i started reading it. it is a must read for everybody! Read full review

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This book didn't grab me right away. Though the first part of the book, dealt with a subject I am intensely interested in, leukemia, it began as a 3 star book. The history of the disease was interesting. As the author began to talk about the tactics used by the American Cancer Society and the like, I became more interested. But what made this book a 5 star book was the discussion about the war between big tobacco and science. That section alone made the book worth the read. In fact, I would like to have read an entire book about how science and big tobacco fought it out over the years. First rate history!
The biochemistry of cancer covered in this book was a great read also. If you have any familiarity with the genetic pathways in oncogenes (RAS- RAF) or enjoy learning about mutations, this book will be a satisfying read. The section on biochem is short but excellent.

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An Impatient War
Will you turn me out if I cant get better?
Prevention Is the Cure
A Distorted Version of Our Normal Selves
The Fruits of Long Endeavors
Atossas War
An Interview with Siddhartha Mukherjee

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About the author (2011)

Siddhartha Mukherjee is the author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction, and The Laws of Medicine. He is the editor of Best Science Writing 2013. Mukherjee is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a cancer physician and researcher. A Rhodes scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford, and Harvard Medical School. He has published articles in Nature, The New England Journal of MedicineThe New York Times, and Cell. He lives in New York with his wife and daughters. Visit his website at:


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