Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

I’ll bet when author Siddhartha Mukherjee first sent his manuscript for this book to Simon & Shuster the title was A Biography of Cancer. Whoever came up with The Emperor of All Maladies probably got a huge raise!  By any name, it is a very detailed history of a disease that has evaded cure, seemingly since the beginning of time. Even now, in spite of billions of dollars in research and treatment, “the big C” is still our most feared boogieman. I’m usually all over anything remotely related to science, but this book was much like the disease– complex, unrelenting and exhausting!

Publishers Weekly called it “a sweeping epic of obsession,” and that’s on point. I could only read for 20-30 minutes at a sitting without my brain feeling like it was going to spontaneously combust. When I just couldn’t absorb another minute, I’d switch to something lite, like The Biography of Genghis Khan.

I did learn a lot more about the horrendous evolution of mastectomies and chemotherapy; how the immergence of AIDS was intertwined with the fight against cancer; the battles between the treatment and prevention camps; and the never ending “miracle cure” bunny trails. I also learned that Dr. Sidney Farber, Charles E. Dana and Mary Lasker established the first clinic that specialized in cancer care and research, the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston, and spent their lives chasing down this “serial killer”. Click on Read More Below...

Did I hate it? Yes, but only when I didn’t love it. As I listened to hours of cellular biology detail, it felt like the Gary Larson joke about what dogs hear when their masters are talking to them, “Blah, blah, bone. Blah, blah, toy. Blah, blah, bacon.” Every now and then a delightful nugget of info would pop out –like the fact that there’s probably no “magic bullet,” and the realization that the book had no ending because neither does cancer.

Oh yes, I should probably mention that it won a $10,000 Pulitzer Prize (not $1MM) for “a distinguished and appropriately documented book of nonfiction by an American author that is not eligible for consideration in any other category.” Yawn.


  1. Must be an enjoyable read The Emperor of All Maladies, A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.

  2. The kind of book I wanted to read for a long time but hadn't laid my hands on. Dr. Sid's writing is sheer magic as he hand holds you through a journey that takes you to all nooks and crannies of the landscape of efforts by scientists, doctors, clinicians, researchers in trying to decode and find a cure for the scourge that is cancer. And yet all along, the book never fails to tell you why Dr. Sid choose to call it the Emperor of all Maladies - the one malaise that refuses to be tethered down by mankind's relentless efforts, the one disease that constantly reinvents itself to break free of the shackles that is imposed on it....Brilliant riveting piece that is sprinkled with doses from history and present of true life accidents, miracle drug discoveries, stories of benefactors, etc. A must read for anybody who wishes to enlighten themselves while also marveling at the power of both the hunted and the efforts of the hunter.