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The Secret History of the War on Cancer Hardcover – October 2, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


In her devastating, 20-years-in-the-making expose...[Davis] shows how cancer researchers, bankrolled by petrochemical and pharmaceutical companies, among others, collude in 'the science of doubt promotion'....Davis diagnoses two of the most lethal diseases of modern society: secrecy and self-interest. This book is a dramatic plea for a cure. --O magazine

Davis writes with passion, driven by the conviction that premature deaths among her family members resulted from exposure to industrial toxins….a powerful call to action; recommended for most libraries. --Library Journal

...several big ACS [American Cancer Society] contributors, are heavily invested in keeping the public from becoming fully informed of the risks of myriad chemicals to which we and our children are exposed...Money, it seems, trumps all. Treatment and cures are hefty profit generators, and it's expensive to change or eliminate the use of potentially toxic chemicals....Kudos to Davis for stepping up to the plate. --Booklist (starred review) --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

About the Author

Devra Davis, Ph.D., M.P.H., is the Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and Professor of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health. She was appointed by President Clinton to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board in 1994 and also served as Scholar in Residence at the National Academy of Science. She works in Pittsburgh, and lives in Washington, D.C. She is married to Richard D. Morgenstern and has two children and two grandchildren.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (October 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465015662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465015665
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,311,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The purpose of this book was not to document how many people have died of cancer or any other ailment. This book shows that even when epidemiology and animal studies clearly demonstrated the carcinogenic properties of various chemicals that in many cases this data was conveniently forgotten (at best) and actively buried (at worst). Mr. Kaufman says that the war on cancer has always been about finding ways to treat cancer. Perhaps, but anyone who has watched someone suffer from cancer (and who hasn't) would likely agree that preventing cancer would be a much better way to fight cancer than to solely focus on treatment.

Why isn't prevention the focus of the war on cancer? The short version is because industry and government are working together to make sure the money keeps rolling in at the expense of everyone else. Davis cites examples of doctors and others who smoked and were in denial for decades about the fact that cigarette smoking causes cancer. Why? Because they either worked in the industry (and made money) or they simply didn't want to believe it. Just because you don't want to believe something doesn't negate overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

This book shows how industry and government buried information or failed to act to prevent thousands of cancer deaths. What is even more frightening is that this is still occurring. Very few chemicals are tested by EPA before being approved for the market. Phthalates and BPA are in numerous products that we all use every day. Not only are these chemicals possible carcinogens, but as is becoming increasingly observed in both animal studies and also in humans, they disrupt hormone signaling.
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Format: Hardcover
Devra Davis has combined history, personal anecdote and experience, and deep scientific knowledge and research to provide readers with a sometimes chilling view of where we stand in the "war against cancer." She is not afraid to name names of both individuals and corporations who have too often put profit above people. The frightening thing as one reads this is how current the continuing coverups and dissembling are; this is not the story of past misdeeds alone.

There is a lot of information here that needs to be much more widely disseminated and discussed. As we look to a new administration in 2009, this book will be a good one for voters and policy makers alike to read and use for beginning new ways of approaching some of the environmental health issues Dr. Davis raises. As she points out over and over, we need not only to work for better treatments for cancer cases; we need to work to eliminate those carcinogenic factors we can control. As long as factions pit tobacco against pollution against other chemicals, always pointing the finger away from their own actions, the "war on cancer" will continue to be too weakly fought.

Dr. Davis has provided a great service, but I have given this only 4 stars due to the need to tighten the writing of the book. Her history lessons were superb, but too many chapters jumped from one subject to the next without cohesiveness; sometimes I found myself having to go back a couple of pages to review the thread of a topic that she suddenly brought back into her narrative. A little more editing and this would be a standout five star book.

Nonetheless, read the book, buy a copy or two and pass it on to all those you know who are in or outside the field of medicine, whose family members have already been touched by cancer or, as is more and more likely, will be in the future.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After 50 years of seeing cancer causing substances in the workplace and the environment being swept under the rug and causes of cancer being conveniently blamed on tobacco as a smoke screen by mega-corporations (blaming cancer on a person's lifestyle was used to avoid lawsuits). I am ecstatic to see this wonderful expose on how industry has kept the main causes of cancer under wraps and away from the public view and regulations. Working for a large oil company as their environmental chemist I finally resigned in disgust (if you don't record chemical caused illnesses there is no documentation that the chemical in question is hazardous)only to find I was blackballed from industry. I only have one correction to make in this excellent book exposing the cancer cover up of industry. In the first chapter Devra states that industry learned from the tobacco companies how to cover up the hazards of their products. This is wrong--industry had been covering up the hazard of their cancer causing products as soon as they found out they were hazardous--long before cigarette companies began their cover up and later in the 1970's tobacco became a convenient scapegoat for industrial airborne chemicals such as dust-born DDT and gasoline fumes found at the pump. I am amazed she got her books published. I hope she continues her crusade--She has saved thousands of lives by now by revealing to the public the hazards of industrial substances by raising public awareness.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am ordering this book after listening to Devra Davis' interview by Terry Gross on NPR. She provides extremely intelligent, scientifically sound, and reasonable advice about what environmental toxins lead to cancer and why. Recently my older son stated that he had read a summary of research claiming that aspertame was safe for consumption and did not cause cancer. Davis corrects this claim by pointing out that the studies done did not span a long enough period of time to detect cancer. Aspertame often takes up to twenty or forty years to cause brain cancer. This is the kind of essential information we need to know in order to make informed decisions about what we take into our bodies, use in our houses (she also talked about cleaning products), and allow medical practitioners to do with our bodies (for example, it is not wise to allow young girls to have CT scans because of their effect on developing breasts unless health conditions are dire). I highly recommend this book.
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