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‘The Emperor of all Maladies’ by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Written by: Suba Subramanium

Book cover
‘The Emperor of all Maladies’ by Siddhartha Mukherjee

‘Cancer’ the dreaded word is raring it ugly head all around us with uncanny frequency, thatone has started living in constant fear of it.

The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee is all about cancer - a magnificent,profoundly humane "biography" of cancer.

Siddhartha Mukherjee is a staff cancer physician at Columbia University MedicalCenter. I his book he examines cancer with a cellular biologist's precision, a historian'sperspective, and a biographer's passion.

The book starts on familiar grounds, a woman being asked to return to the hospital at theearliest, because something has shown up in the tests she underwent. It is leukemia. Thenarrative then takes us back to the early 19 century when leukemia was first discovered.From the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave cut off her malignant breast, to thenineteenth-century recipients of primitive radiation and chemotherapy to Mukherjee's ownleukemia patients, the book talks about people who have battled against this dreadeddisease in order to survive.

The Emperor of all Maladies goes on to talk about the perception of science by politiciansand the public, about the first attempts at chemotherapy, patients demanding visibility andabout the slow process of finding the correlation between smoking and lung cancer and theeven slower process of accepting this scientific fact.

Mukherjee recounts centuries of discoveries, setbacks, victories, and deaths, told throughthe eyes of his predecessors and peers to increase our understanding of this alarmingdisease. Finally, the book returns to the cellular level and we learn more about the natureand origin of cancer and about the working of DNA.

Mukherjee’s exploration of cancer - from a factual, historical, biological and poetic point ofview - changes our way of thinking about the disease. The book is loaded with informationthat everyone should know as it provides hope and clarity to those seeking to throw light oncancer.

Dr. Mukherjee's excellent narrative on the human experience with cancer is a hugecontribution to the lay public understanding. The stories and narrative are excellent.The author’s clinical wisdom never undermines the personal tragedies, he recounts withmeticulous clarity and profound compassion the beautiful hope buried in cancer's ravages.

In the book, Mukherjee does not offer any false hope, he says, “No single, universal cure isin sight – and is never likely to be.” “This war on cancer,” he concludes, “may best be ‘won’by redefining victory.”

Spellbinding, insistent, and astounding, The Emperor of All Maladies provides afascinating glimpse into the future of cancer treatments. The book is almost like a literarythriller with cancer as the protagonist.

A must-read book for cancer patients, their family members, and medical providers.

"It's hard to think of many books for a general audience that has rendered any area ofmodern science and technology with such intelligence, accessibility, and compassion. TheEmperor of All Maladies is an extraordinary achievement."

-- The New Yorker

"It's time to welcome a new star in the constellation of great writer-doctors. With this fat,enthralling, juicy, scholarly, wonderfully written history of cancer, Siddhartha Mukherjeevaults into that exalted company, inviting comparisons to ... Lewis Thomas and ... StephenJay Gould."

-- Washington Post

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