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The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

3.2/5, 3.2 from 9 reviews
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Recent Reviews

  1. Sherri
    An okay book
    3.5/5, 3.5 out of 5, reviewed Oct 27, 2018
    Cancer is a word which terrifies even the strongest person in the world. When a person hears that they have cancer and break the news to their family members and support group, the first thing they hear is, “Our prayers are with you.”

    Mukherjee has tried to demystify the term cancer and present it in a manner which is understandable to all, and for that, I would give him a lot of credit. Frankly, his work is fine. What really hit me is that one cannot count author as an optimistic friend. He professes to wage war and to win it by redefining what can be termed as a victory. Not sure if this is the right approach.

    Secondly, the book is full of dates and lots of collected information. There is a fine art between collecting a lot of data and presenting these in a manner which is interesting and understandable, and the author fails in this regard.

    The third and major issue for me with this book was the complete absence of mentioning Rosalind Franklin, whose work had helped to discover DNA and the way in which we understand genetics now. Mukherjee also did not mention Henrietta Lacks, the person whose cancer cells act as an immortalized and one of the most important cell lines for medical research when it comes to cancer. I felt these people should have been given credit in a book which talks about cancer.

    Lastly, the author does not give too much importance to BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which is present in all human beings and the mutation of which can lead to breast cancer and is a major factor in preventive mastectomy.

    All in all, an okay book.
  2. Petter Uncle
    read it if you have nothing else to do
    2/5, 2 out of 5, reviewed Oct 15, 2018
    I have a few close friends who love reading books, and they were pretty pissed off with this book and recommended me not to read this book. Now that got my goat, and I decided to read it. Boy were they true. The book was completely devoid of any interesting tidbits and had quite a few statements that were factually incorrect. The biggest problem that I have with this book is that the subject is so vast that only one person cannot do justice to it.

    Some chapters were downright ludicrous, and the author fails to talk about molecular imaging at all. If he did, then I missed it and I do not want to go through the torture of rereading it.

    I feel the objective of cancer research should be identifying it at the earliest, extract it and destroy it. If a person dies at the ripe old age of 110 due to cancer, then it is not something to be terrified off, but if one dies before reaching 50, then it is a tragedy.

    Summing up, the author makes an honest attempt but unfortunately fails to do justice to the topic.
  3. The Easter Bunny
    Not my cup of tea
    2/5, 2 out of 5, reviewed Oct 5, 2018
    I am not sure why in the first place I got this book. Either I was hallucinating after a drug binge and out of my mind, or I was under some sort of hypnotic spell which made me do things against my will.

    This book is a long, dreadful and boring book. It talks about cancer and the treatment, the research, but fails to provide any prevention strategies. I read about 375 pages before my spell was broken and I was back to my usual self.

    As my friend says, life is uncertain, and when it throws a curveball at you, all you can do is either dodge it or catch it.
  4. Hollie
    A good attempt
    3.5/5, 3.5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 26, 2018
    According to Siddhartha Mukherjee, cancer is a war, and only successful and strong people can fight and win against it. This makes those who succumb to the disease less successful people. This is something which I hate. There are many factors which can result in a person getting cancer and many of them, I am sorry a majority of them, are uncontrollable factors. If one goes by the author’s argument, less successful people did not fight the war valiantly and were weak. This coming from a person who has been working in the field of oncology is unpardonable. Of all, the author should know the best when it comes to cancer since he is a physician who treats this disease.

    Another bone of contention for me in the language used was the anthropomorphizing of the disease. I felt it quite unsettling. The book also had too many epigraphs for my liking. Yes, one or two would have made the things a lot more interesting, but this book had too many of them.

    However, despite its many flaws, this book contains a whole lot of information which is essential when it comes to treating a subject like this. Discovery of cancer mechanism has not been a linear process and the author, in all fairness, tries to present information based on biochemical functions, which makes him go back and forth in time.

    To sum up, a good attempt by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
  5. Kitty Melody
    A painful read
    1/5, 1 out of 5, reviewed Sep 22, 2018
    This book was painful to read, and it took me nearly 75 days to complete it. I am a sucker for non-fiction books, but this was in a totally different league. The book was terribly written. There were many errors in the book. The word “macabre” was sprinkled generously across the book, making me think if the author actually knew the meaning of this word.

    The second issue with the book is the disorganization. There was no link between the two chapters. There was the abrupt introduction of key people to a cancer story who were oddly given a three-letter word, a pattern which is present across the book. The key factors were discussed superficially, and they exited, which was as abrupt as their introduction. Each chapter had the same sequence repeated.

    I was somehow able to complete this book, but trust me, I am not going to recommend it to anybody.
  6. Pink Award
    Amazing book, but the medical terms got me in the end
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Sep 15, 2018
    Everyone knows cancer is terrible and my heart goes out to all those who are fighting it and the family members of the patients. If you are keen on knowing the history of this dreaded disease and can bear with boring books than this is the book for you. I read this book with rapt attention until I reached the last quarter where Mukherjee talks about ras, c-Myc, and Rb. I was amazed at first by the terminology, but slowly things got out of control, and I started getting giddiness and had to put the book down. The terms were way over my head. If Mukherjee had spent a little time on making these terminologies a bit easier to understand that this book would have been great.
  7. Leatherleader
    Should have focused more on prevention
    3.5/5, 3.5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 10, 2018
    The Emperor of all Maladies is a nicely written book, and I was blown away by the detailed research that Mukherjee has put into making this disease more understandable. My only beef with this book is lack of focus on preventing cancer in the first place. Since the author is from academia, the focus is more on research and treatment, and not on prevention.

    I cannot understand why the author does not suggest steps that can help prevent cancer. Yes, steps are obvious, but having some studies that show prevention is better than cure would have been a great thing. That said, the author does not completely shut out prevention. Deep within the layers of pages is a chapter "Prevention is the Cure." Now, this is somewhat ridiculous since prevention has a different meaning than cure. Mukherjee tries to emphasize treatment, but prevention is an essential factor which should have been the focus.

    All in all, a good book that could have been better.
  8. Tattoo Puncher
    A good book but could have added latest advancements
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Sep 7, 2018
    The Emperor of All Maladies is a wonderful book and dissects cancer in the minutest way possible. Having lost a close friend to pancreatic cancer, I wanted to understand the disease in detail. However, I felt the book does not talk about the latest advancements in the field of oncology. How do I know about it? I am a certified medical transcriptionist who does oncology files and get to hear some of the latest advancements in the field of oncology when doctors talk about it. Their talks had inspired me to read the book in the first place.

    That said, the book is not all gloom and doom. The author has painstakingly researched about cancer since its origin in the ancient times till the year the book was published. The way the author uses case studies helps in contextualizing various treatments that are mentioned or are being researched.

    One has to understand that cancer is a very tricky disease. Just when we think that we have conquered it, it rears its head somewhere else. The fight against cancer is a lifelong struggle. An excellent attempt by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
  9. Pogue
    A well-written book
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Aug 27, 2018
    The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee is a well-written book. The book succeeds in making a topic like cancer more accessible and understandable to the common man. I liked the human touch that the author tried to give when presenting case studies. One should go ahead and read this book if they are interested in knowing more about cancer.

Book Summary

  1. 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 cut off her malignant 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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