The Emperor of All Maladies
A Biography of Cancer - Siddhartha Mukherjee
First paperback edition, August 2011, Scribner, ISBN 978-1-4391-7091-5
This is a very unusual book. Who wants to write a biography of a disease, and cancer to booth? Well, Siddhartha Mukherjee did, and did it well enough to win the Pulitzer price. And believe me, this is a page-turner if there ever was one.
You can read this book as an account of how cancer has been discovered and regarded during the ages, starting with an Egyptian account of what apparently was a case of breast cancer in 2500 BC, until the very recent (a few years ago) state of affairs. It documents the steady increase in understanding and insight in what exactly this disease is, how it manifests itself; leapfrogging with experimental treatments that once in a while turned out to be quite effective, like for instance medieval German textiles dyes, and sometimes just the opposite. It documents the growing understanding that cancer is not just one specific disease, but rather a condition that can manifest itself in many ways, in many places in and on the body, progressing at many different speeds, lingering now, racing ahead next. A disease which cannot be simply classified in a few well-chosen categories.
But you can also read this book as a very personal account of a man, who has dedicated his career to study cancer, find cures, and, most of all, help people to cope with it and if necessary to face the fact that they will succumb to this silent murderer. He discusses cases on a very personal, involved and emphatical level, showing how incredibly courageous common people can be in doing whatever it takes to stay with family and friends as long as possible. Strange as it may seem, many of these stories I found actually uplifting and make me silently hope that I would be as strong should cancer knock on my door in the future.
Yet another way you can read this book: as a tribute to the unrelenting efforts, ingenuity and dedication of many scientists and doctors in their determination to find out what is going on and how they can stop it. Research efforts sometimes spanning decades into one specific attribute of the disease, and then finally solving that particular riddle and putting yet another piece in the puzzle. The author leaves no doubt: he is convinced (and easily convinces the reader) that at some point in the future, we will slay this beast.
A book that is enlightening, entertaining and suspenseful, and which talks about important issues and deep questions that many of us will have to face in life. Highly recommended.
The Emperor of All Maladies - A Biography of Cancer, Siddhartha Mukherjee, First paperback edition, August 2011, Scribner, ISBN 978-1-4391-7091-5