Oncologist and cancer researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee uses science, history and sociology to document cancer through the ages. Reaching back as far as a thousand years ago to the first oblique mentions of cancer, he uses meticulously researched anecdotes to explain how our understanding of the disease has broadened and sharpened over the years. Greater understanding of the cellular mutations that cause the disease has led to targeted treatments and better prevention, and Mukherjee chronicles the path that lead to some of the biggest breakthroughs in cancer research. Such advances don't come without cost, and Mukherjee also examines the financial, social, and human toll that accompanies medical science's march forward.
Though he covers topics like chemistry and cellular biology in depth, there is nothing dry or clinical in Siddhartha Mukherjee's comprehensive biography of cancer. He interweaves his own experiences with patients with a truly impressive amount of research into the history of how the treatments they undergo came to be. While he touches on some of the emotional toll the disease takes on its victims, what Mukherjee is most fascinated with is the cellular deformities and genetic mutations that fuel and feed the disease. High-level scientific concepts are presented in an understandable way, and Mukherjee puts a human face on the disease not through its victims, but through its conquerors. He makes clear the huge toll cancer has taken on society, from the patients who died in clinical trials to the researchers who sacrificed so much to try to cure them. The Emperor of All Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2011.
Reviewed by BA, 06/16. Other reviews by BA.