Reviews for Emperor of All Maladies : A Biography of Cancer

Booklist Reviews 2010 September #1
"*Starred Review* Apparently researching, treating, and teaching about cancer isn't enough of a challenge for Columbia University cancer specialist Mukherjee. He was also moved to write a biography of a disease whose name, for millennia, could not be uttered. The eminently readable result is a weighty tale of an enigma that has remained outside the grasp of both the people who endeavored to know it and those who would prefer never to have become acquainted with it. An unauthorized biography told through the voices of people who have lived, toiled, and, yes, died under cancer's inexorable watch. Mukherjee recounts cancer's first known literary reference--hence its birth, so to speak--in the teachings of the Egyptian physician Imhotep in the twenty-fifth century BCE, in which it is clear that Imhotep possessed no tools with which to treat what appears to be breast cancer. His cryptic note under "Therapy:" "There is none." Throughout cancer's subsequent years, many more physicians and scientists with names both familiar and obscure attempted and occasionally succeeded in deciphering or unlocking keys to many of the disease's mysteries. Alas, this is not a posthumous biography, but it is nonetheless a surprisingly accessible and encouraging narrative." Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2010 July #1

The story of cancer, as well as a coming-of-age tale of a renowned oncologist.

Cancer physician Mukherjee (Medicine/Columbia Univ.) began this book in 2003 while completing a residency in medicine and graduate work in cancer immunology. He shapes the narrative as a heroic contest between two adversaries—cancer and the brave patients who fight for their lives, despite horrendous nausea from chemotherapy and other painful effects of the disease and the treatment. Only since the 1950s have cancer victims had a reasonable chance of surviving and returning to normal life, and even then surgical treatment often left patients disabled while halting but not stopping the spread of metastatic cancers. In addition, researchers had to consider the effects of radiation in destroying healthy tissue and causing leukemia and pernicious anemia. The side effects of both radiation and chemotherapy were frequently deadly. Mukherjee traces the refinement of treatments over the past 50 years and the development of early detection, as well as the growing understanding of the relationship between genetic abnormalities and environmental carcinogens in causing cancers. In 2005, significant advances and progress were noted by the scientific community. "The mortality for nearly every major form of cancer," writes the author, "had continuously dropped for fifteen straight years." Mukherjee also looks optimistically to the future when the Human Genome Project completes "The Cancer Genome Atlas," which will become "a compendium of every gene mutated in the most common forms of cancer."

An inspiring account of a very personal battle against "the plague of our generation."

Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2010 April #1
A leading cancer specialist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University offers a history of cancer and its treatment, starting all the way back with the Persian queen Atossa. Not for folks who want how-to or memoir; this is deep. With a three-city tour. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 September #4

Mukherjee's debut book is a sweeping epic of obsession, brilliant researchers, dramatic new treatments, euphoric success and tragic failure, and the relentless battle by scientists and patients alike against an equally relentless, wily, and elusive enemy. From the first chemotherapy developed from textile dyes to the possibilities emerging from our understanding of cancer cells, Mukherjee shapes a massive amount of history into a coherent story with a roller-coaster trajectory: the discovery of a new treatment--surgery, radiation, chemotherapy--followed by the notion that if a little is good, more must be better, ending in disfiguring radical mastectomy and multidrug chemo so toxic the treatment ended up being almost worse than the disease. The first part of the book is driven by the obsession of Sidney Farber and philanthropist Mary Lasker to find a unitary cure for all cancers. (Farber developed the first successful chemotherapy for childhood leukemia.) The last and most exciting part is driven by the race of brilliant, maverick scientists to understand how cells become cancerous. Each new discovery was small, but as Mukherjee, a Columbia professor of medicine, writes, "Incremental advances can add up to transformative changes." Mukherjee's formidable intelligence and compassion produce a stunning account of the effort to disrobe the "emperor of maladies." (Nov.)

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