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The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer Paperback – 29 Sep 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 164 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; 1st edition (29 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007250924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007250929
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (164 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 8,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


‘Mukherjee calls this great and beautiful book a biography, rather than a history, because he wants his reader to understand his subject not just as a disease, a scientific problem or a social condition, but as a character – an antagonist with a story to tell. His intensely vivid and precise descriptions of biological processes accumulate into a character, fully developed and eerily familiar. The notion of "popular science" doesn't come close to describing this achievement. It is literature.’ Observer

‘This is a riveting book…profound, eloquent and searching’ John Carey, Sunday Times

‘”The Emperor of All Maladies” is the book that many will have been waiting for. This elegantly written overview allows us to look a once whispered-about illness squarely in the eye.’ Independent

‘So beautifully written; this is literature, not popular science. “The Emperor of Maladies” empowers us, makes it clear that we really do know this enemy, and so brings us another step closer to victory.’ Evening Standard

‘Mukherjee never condescends, yet he manages to write lucidly and tellingly about complex experimental, technological and theoretical matters’ Will Self, New Statesman

About the Author

Siddhartha Mukherjee M.D., Ph.D., is a cancer physician and researcher. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a cancer physician at the CU/NYU Presbyterian Hospital. A Rhodes Scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford, and from Harvard Medical School and was a Fellow at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and an attending physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He has published articles in Nature, New England Journal of Medicine, Neuron, the Journal of Clinical Investigation, The New York Times, and The New Republic.
He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Cancer is an enormous subject: its influence on the history of medicine, on society, on politics... can't be over-estimated. Somebody was bound to take the risk of trying to capture all of this in one book. `I started off by imagining my project as a "history" of cancer. But it felt, inescapably, as if I were writing not about something but about someone. My subject daily morphed into something that resembled an individual - an enigmatic, if somewhat deranged, image in a mirror.' So Siddhartha Mukherjee, cancer physician and researcher, redefined his project: it became `a biography of cancer' - although `a thrilling piece of sublime literary non-fiction' captures the book just as well.

Mukherjee starts off the book on familiar ground: a woman being asked to return to the hospital as soon as possible, because something has shown up in the tests she underwent. This something is leukemia, a liquid cancer, and it catapults us back in time: to 1847, when the term leukemia was coined.
The first chapter is dedicated to the earliest known cases of cancer. We consider cancer a "modern" illness (and it is, because only in the last two centuries have we started to grow old enough for cancer to become the second most common cause of death) but there are some freakishly ancient occurrences. Atossa (550 > 475 BC), queen of Persia, had her breast cut off - a breast cancer that even made an army change direction. (I'm not going to explain this: it's one of the mesmerizing anecdotes you have to read for yourself.) And then there's the Peruvian mummy with a thousand year old preserved cancer. `It is hard to look at the [mummy] tumor and not come away with the feeling that one has encountered a powerful monster in its infancy', Mukherjee observes.
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By M. K. Burton VINE VOICE on 21 Sept. 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The struggle to understand and to cure cancer has consumed medical researchers throughout the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries. Mukherjee takes a deeply in-depth look at the illness throughout history in this biography of an illness, where cancer is often visualized as a crab scurrying and burrowing away from all reach of therapy. The author adds his own experience to a years-long study of cancer to provide a definitive, insightful book on the way this illness has gripped our modern day lives.

I think almost everyone I know has lost someone near and dear to them to cancer. I have; my brother died at only eighteen from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. If anything, the fact that we've all been touched by this horrible illness in its many incarnations makes a book like The Emperor of All Maladies an even more important read. Reading this book was always going to be difficult, but it is on a subject I wanted to understand. After it won the Pulitzer Prize, and unending praise from many of my favorite bloggers, I simply had to read it, no matter how uncomfortable the subject matter.

I'm really glad I made that choice, because this book was excellent in so many ways. Mukherjee skilfully weaves together his own years treating cancer patients, ensuring that we get an up close and personal view of what it's like to fight cancer today, with a thorough history of the illness, including its ancient manifestations, early treatments, and continuing right up to the medicines and techniques used to treat various kinds of cancer today. I learned so much from this book, certainly things I never even thought about, like how the War on Cancer got started in the first place, what the Jimmy Fund is, and so on.
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Format: Hardcover
First, I have to declare an interest in the subject - I have been diagnosed with leukemia since 2003, have gone through five chemotherapy regimes and remission for me only seems to last months rather than years. However I am (morbidly) fascinated by the subject and here is a book written by a doctor and researcher in a plain English literary style that does not confuse the general reader with too many scientific names or jargon. Dr Mukherjee is certainly to be congratulated for producing such a lucid and understandable account of the disease. Starting from records of cancer in early history, the book concentrates on the developments of detecting and understanding cancer and its treatment, with special emphasis on the stirling work performed by Sid Farber after the Second World War and the rapid development of treatments to first try to control the disease, up until the last twenty years with the development of specialised monoclonal antibodies to actually target specific types of cancer.

The subject itself is fascinating with such topics as how discoveries of scrotal cancer among boy chimney sweeps in the 19th Century have led to the cause of lung cancer being convincingly stated in the 1950's and the adverse reaction this would have on the powerful tobacco industry. Everyone has probably heard of a "Pap-smear" but who knows where the word "Pap" originated? The book describes the work of George Papanicolaou, over many decades in developing the smear technique but only realised in 1950 that it could not detect cancer - but could find its precursor so allowing cervical cancer to be treated in a preventative manner before the disease took hold. There are far too many highlights to mention in this brief review.
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