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Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us

4 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520276574
ISBN-10: 0520276574
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Editorial Reviews


"Brilliant."--Barbara Kiser"Nature" (10/09/2013)

"A whip-smart read."--Becky Lang"Discover" (10/23/2013)

From the Inside Flap

"The writing is marvelous and the scholarship is incredible -- but you aren't prepared for the disarming humor, or the delicate dissection of the psyche that Jain achieves. I could not stop reading this book."
– Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of Emperor of All Maladies, Pulitzer Prize Winner

"Malignant is a beneficent book, a tough gift for all of us. I—we—need this scholarly, angry, intimate, objective, smart, moving book that teaches us how to endure and even maybe thrive in the ‘rubble.’"
-- Donna Haraway, author of Simians, Cyborgs, and Women

"Malignant is the most important book about cancer in decades.  Lochlann Jain brilliantly compels us to look straight into its metastases and cultural malignancies.  In cancer's claws we find, not just the limits of existence, but also a poetics of resistance."
-- Jonathan Metzl MD, PhD, author of The Protest Psychosis

“I found myself entertained, informed, surprised and ultimately transformed by this wonderful narrative.”
-- Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (October 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520276574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520276574
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #510,198 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lochlann Jain is an Associate Professor in Stanford's Anthropology department, where she teaches medical and legal anthropology.
Jain's first book, Injury (Princeton University Press, 2006), analyzed injury as a civil rights issue and product liability law as a place to better understand how Americans value physical health. The book was praised as: "a first-rate work of critique" (American Bar Foundation), "a provocative, sophisticated, and ambitious analysis" (Law & Politics Book Review), and "an impressive feat of interdisciplinary scholarship" (American Anthropologist).
Trained as an interdisciplinary scholar, Jain has used literature in oncology, law, history, and literature, as well as anthropology and memoir to analyze and explain how cancer has become definitive of life in the United States.
Jain is the recipient of numerous prizes and fellowships, including grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, the National Center for the Humanities, the Stanford Humanities Center, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I'm a one year, post-treatment (surgery, chemo, radiation) woman "living in prognosis" with the specter of breast cancer.

This is a must-read for anyone diagnosed with breast cancer. Although, I can't decide if I would recommend it before you go through the whole treatment-decision making process or after. After reading it, I felt empowered, angry, sad, betrayed, and scared that this is only one of two books that I've come across so far (the other one being The Truth in Small Doses) that calls out on the carpet the way cancer research, pink fund-raising, and the "brave survivor" box breast-cancer patients are forced into are complicated, messy, frustrating things.

So yeah, reading it beforehand might give you the gumption to call into question doctor's opinions on chemotherapy or a too-short breast exam, or feel unwilling to demand test results right away because you're a "good" patient, but it also might leave you feeling depressingly frustrated with the complicated truth behind diagnosis, questions of prognosis and life expectancy, and options for treatment.

But this book is also a must-read because Jain is an anthropologist, and her perspective on the cancer industry in this book comes from some unexpected directions-- stances I had never considered or come across in other books: that of a misdiagnosed, potential malpractice suit plaintiff, queer, and politics of fertility (In Vitro) etc. And the prose is eloquent and dense.

Jain starts by acknowledging the shifting, complicated meanings inherent in the word "cancer" itself. Something I began to realize half-way through my own process.
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Format: Paperback
Lochlann Jain's willingness to expose her private thoughts and fears so publicly, about such an intensely personal scary time is truly admirable. It's her vulnerability and underlying strength woven throughout the story of the "business" of cancer that makes her book so powerful. Lochlann brilliantly puts into words what so many cancer patients (me included),were afraid to question, and for various reasons didn't have the voice, ability or courage to articulate. Her book is thought provoking; scaring me in parts with her insight into the chemicals used to treat cancer patients, reminding me of the conveyor belt feelings of being a patient, the conflicted feelings towards money making "pink" campaigns, and how grateful I am to have experienced excellent physicians and care. Reading Lochlann's book validated some of my feelings towards the treatment process and the business of fundraising for cancer. It's also prompted me to question the ethics of a society that produces masses of carcinogens while spending billions to treat cancer. I hope her book is widely read, and acts as a catalyst for discussion and change.
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Format: Paperback
It is a book by someone who suffered the worst of the desease, neglect by the specialist when the cancer was growing, several extensive surgical operations, chemotherapy, radiation, you name it. She survived, not to tell the tale so the reader would commiserate with her, but to thoroughly research Cancer in multiple fields and write a masterpiece; not just for academics but for the physicians, lawyers, politicians concerned with the welfare of their voters and not the least patients. A great work, it will be read and reread for years to come.
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Format: Paperback
This book is so intense, wide ranging, and deeply probing that I don't know how to write a review which begins to do it justice. If your life has been touched by cancer or you fear that it might (these two categories encompass nearly everyone), this may be a book you need to read, provided that you have the prerequisite concentration and stamina, and can withstand hearing about how truly malignant the 'cancer problem' is on many levels, ranging from renegade cells and tumors, to wounded psyches and bodies, to grieving families, to dysfunctional institutions and societies.

For me, being honest, I can't say the book was uplifting or encouraging in any way, but it certainly clarified, crystallized, amplified, and expanded many of my thoughts and feelings related to cancer, derived mainly from losing my mother and others to cancer and subsequently investigating the cancer problem for many years. I suspect that the effect of reading the book would be similar for many other readers, which makes the book uniquely worthwhile, since confronting such a complex and multifaceted problem does require getting some realistic and firm handles on it, and I know of no other book on cancer quite like this one.

So of course I do highly recommend this book, but with the caveat that the reader shouldn't expect anything resembling a textbook or any other conventional type of nonfiction. The book is as much personal as scholarly, written by an author who is both wide awake and highly articulate, and the many topics are covered in a continuously interwoven narrative which is conversational but powerfully dense, so the reader needs to be up the task of being an attentive and reflective listener. That shouldn't be a problem for so many whose lives have been profoundly changed by cancer.
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