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The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer [Paperback]

Siddhartha Mukherjee
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (819 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 9, 2011 1439170916 978-1439170915 Reprint
WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE

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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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2010: "In 2010, about six hundred thousand Americans, and more than 7 million humans around the world, will die of cancer." With this sobering statistic, physician and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee begins his comprehensive and eloquent "biography" of one of the most virulent diseases of our time. An exhaustive account of cancer's origins, The Emperor of All Maladies illustrates how modern treatments--multi-pronged chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, as well as preventative care--came into existence thanks to a century's worth of research, trials, and small, essential breakthroughs around the globe. While The Emperor of All Maladies is rich with the science and history behind the fight against cancer, it is also a meditation on illness, medical ethics, and the complex, intertwining lives of doctors and patients. Mukherjee's profound compassion--for cancer patients, their families, as well as the oncologists who, all too often, can offer little hope--makes this book a very human history of an elusive and complicated disease. --Lynette Mong


--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Mukherjee's magisterial history of cancer research is poorly served by Stephen Hoye's impersonal, tone-deaf narration. Mukherjee is a practicing oncologist, and his is a deeply personal account, replete with stories of his own patients and practice, that begs for an intimate reading. But Hoye is pedantic, dry, stentorian-everything that this book isn't-and his newscaster's delivery cannot convey the author's compassion for his patients or the suspense and thrill of scientific discovery that the book so brilliantly describes. A Scribner hardcover. (Nov.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (August 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439170916
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439170915
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.6 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (819 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff cancer physician at the CU/NYU Presbytarian Hospital. A former Rhodes scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford (where he received a PhD studying cancer-causing viruses) and from Harvard Medical School. His laboratory focuses on discovering new cancer drugs using innovative biological methods. Mukherjee trained in cancer medicine at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute of Harvard Medical School and was on the staff at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He has published articles and commentary in such journals as Nature, New England Journal of Medicine, Neuron and the Journal of Clinical Investigation and in publications such as the New York Times and the New Republic. His work was nominated for Best American Science Writing, 2000 (edited by James Gleick). He lives in Boston and New York with his wife, Sarah Sze, an artist, and with his daughter, Leela.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#92 in Books > History
#92 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1,021 of 1,072 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OFF THE CHARTS November 11, 2010
Format:Hardcover
You remember the scene in the film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"? From the top of the bluff looking into the distance at dusk, Butch sees the lights of the pursuing posse which doesn't stop tracking them even at night and says "How many are following us? They're beginning to get on my nerves. Who are those guys?" In the same threatening way cancers have been dogging human beings since the dawn of time, and although we now know quite a lot about cancer we still don't really know "who are those guys" or how to shake them. And they sure are "beginning to get on our nerves" as Butch said. Almost one out of four of us will eventually wrestle with cancer -- the defining illness of our generation -- and lose our lives in the process. Until it catches up with us most of us will try to ignore this fact, just as when we were very young children alone in our bedroom trying to go to sleep at night we tried to ignore the monster that we sometimes feared might be lurking in our bedroom closet.

Enter oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee who almost parentally takes us by the hand to give us the courage to open with him the door to that dark and foreboding closet in order to see what is really lurking inside. Since eventually most of us are going to have to wrestle with this monster anyway -- either as a victim or as a loved one of a victim -- looking intelligently and closely into that dark closet does diminish fear and enhance wise perspective. And on this incredible journey into the depths of that darkness, what an absolutely marvelous guide is this modern day Virgil called Siddharta Mukherjee as he leads us on this long and often harrowing journey through the swarth that cancer has cut through mankind throughout time.

Mukherjee is a veritable kaleidoscope.
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208 of 224 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Burden, The Mass, Onkos November 13, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
**I am pleased that Dr. Mukherjee has won the Pulitzer prize in general non fiction for this book, 4-18-11

In the United States one in three women and one in two men will develop cancer in their lifetime. Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee, a medical oncologist, has written a definitive history of cancer. It may be one of the best medical books I have read. Complex but simple in terms of understanding. A timeline of a disease and those who waged the wars. In 1600 BC the first case of probable breast cancer was documented. In the thousands of years since, the Greek word, 'onkos', meaning mass or burden, has become the disease of our time. Cancer. The title of the book, is "a quote from a 19Th century physician" Dr Mukherjee had found inscribed in a library book that "cancer is the emperor of all maladies, the king of our terrors".

As a health care professional and as a woman who is six years post breast cancer, Cancer has played a big part in my life. I used to walk by the Oncology clinic, and quicken my pace. I used to give chemotherapy to my patients, before it was discovered that the chemo was so toxic that it needed to be made under sterile conditions and given by professionals who specialized in Oncology. Dr Mukherjee, wisely discusses cancer in the context of patients, those of us who suffer. After all it is because of the patients, the people who have gone before us, who have contracted some form of cancer, they are the base of this science.

Dr Mukherjee started his immersion in cancer medicine at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. He relates the beginning of the study of ALL, Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, by Dr Sidney Farber in 1947. Dr Farber, a pathologist at the time decided to change his focus and start caring for patients.
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175 of 196 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Everyman Book of Cancer November 12, 2010
By Prasant
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The brilliance of this book is the effortlessness with which the author draws the reader into the world of cancer and keeps him there as a tourist or witness. Dr. Mukherjee's engaging style, precision of prose and overwhelming compassion imbue this work with an energy that carries the reader along a ride like none other.

Whether the reader is a basic scientist or sociologist, a patient or healthcare provider, a philosopher or philanderer, this book will appeal, entertain and educate.

A remarkable achievement.
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56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Cancer was an all-consuming presence in our lives." November 20, 2010
Format:Hardcover
Siddhartha Mukherjee's monumental "The Emperor of All Maladies" meticulously outlines the trajectory of cancer (derived from the Greek word "karkinos," meaning crab) over thousands of years, starting in ancient Egypt. In 2010, seven million people around the world will die of cancer. Many have experienced the horrors of this disease through personal experience. The author provides us with a global view of this "shape-shifting entity [that is] imbued with such metaphorical and political potency that it is often described as the definitive plague of our generation."

In "The Emperor of All Maladies," we meet a variety of patients, doctors, scientists, and activists. We also hear the voices of such iconic figures as Susan Sontag, author of "Illness as Metaphor," and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose "Cancer Ward" is a desolate and isolating "medical gulag." Cancer is such a complex subject that it can only be understood by examining it in all of its facets: through myths, the anguish of its victims, and the untiring efforts of its adversaries, both past and present, some of whom were well-meaning but horribly misguided. Mukherjee says in his author's note that he has made an effort to be "simple but not simplistic." In this he has succeeded.

Ancient physicians thought that such invisible forces as "miasmas" and "bad humors" caused cancers. Many years of experimentation, studies of human anatomy, laboratory work, and clinical trials have shown cancer to be a "pathology of excess" that originates from the uncontrolled growth of a single cell. Cancer is "unleashed by mutations--changes in DNA that specifically affect genes that incite unlimited cell growth." What treatment to use--surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of these approaches--is rarely an easy decision.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthwhile and informative read
Fascinating and informative, and quite the tale of adventure. There is so much talk of cancer being a man-made disease and yet the author details references to it down through the... Read more
Published 1 day ago by V RANDALL
4.0 out of 5 stars If this is an area of interest be sure to read this excellent book
A worthwhile read. Certainly among the best books on the subject.
Published 1 day ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Cancer is us ...
Cancer has been with us as long as there has been an us. We have studied it, theorized on it, treated it, cured it, and died from it - and, as we live longer, more and more people... Read more
Published 3 days ago by Caitlin Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars I am still impressed of this amazing book. It is the well told story...
Since I have heard about the Emperor of all Maladies three years ago I've been waiting impatiently for enough time to read it. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Lesebegierde
5.0 out of 5 stars This is one of the best books I have read
I am a physician and was given this for my birthday by my physician daughter, along with her high recommendation. Now it's my turn to pass on the high recommendation. Read more
Published 4 days ago by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Section on Sidney Farber is Bull and not researched thoroughly
Absolutely inaccurate section on Sidney Farber! How can we believe the rest?
Published 4 days ago by Glenn Tisman
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and terrifying book
i found this book absolutely fascinating. I loved the history behing the Dana Farber Institute. I was also fascinated by the changes in a cancer prognosis in 1970 vs. Read more
Published 6 days ago by limone
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An amazing work. So informative!
Published 6 days ago by barb
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should read this.
Written perfectly. I am sure someone everyone knows has suffered from this. This book gives you the knowledge for a fighting chance.
Published 7 days ago by Dawn
5.0 out of 5 stars A new perspective about cancer
I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest about cancer, and its medical, scientific,personal implications, and history. Read more
Published 9 days ago by ronald chacon jimenez
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