The book on cancer, cancer patients and cancer survivors- a biography by Siddhartha Mukherjee MD, published under the name “The Emperor of all Maladies – A Biography of Cancer”, is nothing less than a Hollywood movie – spiced with a colorful and fascinating star-cast of eminent scientists, oncologists, cancer patients & survivors, and most importantly an invincible and morbid villain in the form of Cancer. In this book the author, an oncologist who is an Assistant Professor in Medicine at Columbia University, takes the readers on an epic journey about the history of Cancer, from the first mention of the disease, by an ancient Egyptian physician, to its present incarnation as the most complex and deadliest disease confronted by humankind.
It has been over 4000 years, since cancer was first mentioned in medical history, since then it has claimed millions of human lives, and scarred numerous more survivors for life. While several of the once dreaded diseases like bubonic plague, influenza, cholera, and tuberculosis have wilted in the wake of medical advancements, the web of cancer has only bloomed and spread its reaches far and wide. Writing a book on cancer, its treatment history, patients, and survivors, that too in form of a biography is not an easy feat, but cancer specialist Siddhartha Mukherjee MD, accomplishes this task with élan.
The book covers several facets of the disease and its victims. Dr. Mukherjee starts off with the story of an ancient Persian Queen who died of symptoms very similar to breast cancer (probably the first recorded case of cancer death). He then moves on to give us a glimpse of the life of the prominent researchers, chemists, doctors, and some unexpected common men who brought about some of the biggest breakthroughs in the war against cancer. However, the focus and highlight of the book seems to be the section where Siddhartha Mukherjee takes a look at some of his individual patients, their struggle to fight cancer off, and their motivational stories of survival.
This book entwines all these individual stories into an interesting story of human struggle to survive the murkiest and deadliest malady of our times whose treatment, can be as toxic as the disease itself. Siddhartha Mukherjee is truly a talented writer, who presents all the technical and scientific information in an interesting layperson’s language that is not only easily understandable but also gripping. As mentioned in the preface, the book came out from Dr. Mukherjee’s initial interest in maintaining a journal while doing advanced studies in cancer at the Massachusetts General Hospital after completing this residency in medicine at
This is surely a book that one must read, in order to get a better understanding of cancer, its effects on human life, the advances that have taken place in its treatment process, and the people (such as Mary Lasker and Sidney Farber, who the authors credits in the acknowledgment specifically) who made these advances possible.
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