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

Siddhartha Mukherjee
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 9 2011

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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From Amazon

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.


“This volume should earn Mukherjee a rightful place alongside Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, and Stephen Hawking in the pantheon of our epoch's great explicators.”—Boston Globe

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Gripping May 10 2011
I came to this book expecting to learn something about a disease that has struck my family and affected my life. It revolutionised my understanding of the disease and brought to life the medical saga that has become a modern marvel. The author writes with style and grace. It is a humane book about real human beings who struggle with a wiley, difficult and vicious foe. It artfully illustrates the tragedy, pathos, ruthlessnes, humanity and realism of those who battle with cancer. Ultimately, we are permitted to glimpse the deep mystery and majesty of the disease and our own complex biological form. Fantastic read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fulfils its mandate completely June 27 2011
This book is gripping, informative, compassionate and comprehensive. But its not out of reach for lay readers. We see the evolution of our understanding of cancer and how modern science and medicine have allowed us to more fully understand this monster, provide some additional cures and help us to realize just how difficult the road to further cures will be. Cancer touches us all in some way or another, so I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone.
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5.0 out of 5 stars ‘This book is a history of cancer.’ Sept. 3 2014
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
People in the past tended to die of other diseases (and in poorer countries, still do), but as our longevity increases so does the incidence of cancer. As we extend our lives, Mukherjee writes, ‘we inevitably unleash malignant growth’. But what is cancer, how can we understand and treat it?

In this book, which I first read a couple of years ago, Siddhartha Mukherjee writes of the first documented appearances of cancer thousands of years ago, of the Persian Queen Atossa (550-475 BCE) who has surgery for a bleeding lump in her breast (as recorded by Herodotus in ‘The Histories’), of primitive radiation and chemotherapy treatments in the nineteenth century, of the new treatments available to patients now.

In addition to discussing treatments (and some of us will remember those who had endured the Halsted radical mastectomy for breast cancer) Dr Mukherjee examines the aetiology and pathology of cancer, and some of those who’ve been involved in the quest for understanding and answers. Our co-existence with cancer over the past five thousand years or so has not been passive: physicians, surgeons and scientists have all sought to understand and hoped to conquer the disease. Dr Mukherjee recounts discoveries and setbacks, deaths and victories. Understanding the journey brings the reader in contact with both the best and worst of humanity: dedicated and obsessive; ingenious and resilient; hubristic and inflexible; arrogant and detached.

‘Cancer, we have discovered, is stitched into our genome.’

Although the topic of cancer is uncomfortable and difficult, Dr Mukherjee has presented a very readable history of the disease and of progress in combatting it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Treatment Nov. 17 2011
This book is a superbly crafted history of cancer. It takes us from its earliest discovery and classification up to the present methods of treating it. The author has first hand knowledge of his topic and provides us with a bedside view of his and other patients. A very empathetic view of the suffering people endure as part of a successful or otherwise recovery and a detailed critique of how this disease has been as is being attacked.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A history of cancer and its treatments. Jan. 18 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
How each generation of doctors refuses to give up old techniques in the treatment of cancer. A very interesting book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Emperor of all Maladies April 18 2011
By Pauline
'The Emperor of all Maladies a Biography of Cancer' by Siddhartha Mukherjee is a well put together book. It is organized and well thought out. It starts at the beginning of recorded history of cancer and ends with our present day knowledge of cancer. The book covers how humans have treated cancer from the beginning to the present.

The book terrified me in some parts; reading how they treated breast cancer, performing mastectomies without anesthetic and how crippled the women would be after the procedure if they survived.

'The Emperor of all Maladies' is a frightening reminder of how little we do know about cancer. One thing I have learned over the years is that knowledge and how we apply our knowledge is always changing. What we believe is true today will most likely be false tomorrow and this applies to the medical field and from reading this book you will see how it applies to cancer.

Cancer is part of our society and as our population ages it well become an even greater part of who we are...with the majority of us living a long life...the majority of us well encounter some form of cancer. What is the best way to beat cancer? More money, it really is that simple...with the money available to the many intelligent individuals out there willing to do research, I truly believe we could have better survival rates and less toxic, less side effect ridden medications. Will we ever beat cancer? I doubt it, but we sure could treat it in a more patient friendly way.

I have always had a love for the field of genetics and this book feeds that passion. The book is informative and interesting and contains enough science to teach the reader about what is the cause of cancer and how can we treat it. I always love a book that teaches me new things and this one succeeds on many levels.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
very interesting
Published 29 days ago by martin b meyerson
4.0 out of 5 stars For a Better Historical Understanding of Cancer and its Evolving...
Very good overview and history of the presence and treatment of this horrible disease. This book is well researched,informative and highly accessible to all readers with an... Read more
Published 10 months ago by
5.0 out of 5 stars Cancer as a character, humanity of cancer researchers
I have written 75 poems to work through my husband's final journey with cancer and considered cancer a character, as Siddhartha Mukherjee does in his heart-wrenching/heartwarming... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Katerina Fretwell
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read
Absolutely impressive in its depth and humanity. A must read for anyone who has been touched, either personally or with loved ones by this affliction.
Published 10 months ago by Francis Dube
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book. Very Readable. Bought as gifts for my oncologist, family...
Excellent read. Fascinating history of our struggle with cancer. Lots of info and human drama. Author has info well researched.
Published 14 months ago by William J Maloney
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, easy read for a complicated topic
Very well presented. I had difficulty putting the book down. It provides a history of the bumblings of early thought and great advances made in this fight for life.
Published 15 months ago by Peter Fraser Howitt
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful history of the pursuit of remedies for cancer
I never knew how long the medical profession has been trying to solve the cancer puzzle. Also the politics involved to mobilize forces to solve it.
Published 18 months ago by George Newman
5.0 out of 5 stars Insighful!
This book is very insightful and interesting. Once you start reading it is hard to put the book down. Read more
Published 19 months ago by jmack
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting!
It very interesting to read about the history of Cancer treatment. We are very lucky to live in this age and benefit from those poor soles that went before us.
Published 20 months ago by atomicboy
5.0 out of 5 stars Just brilliant
I just wish this book had been written ten years earlier. I would have given it to a close family member who suffered with cancer. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Katy Brodsky
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