A magnificent, beautifully written "biography" of cancer - from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence.
The Emperor of All Maladies reveals the many faces of an iconic, shape-shifting disease that is the defining plague of our generation. The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance but also of hubris, arrogance, paternalism, and misperception, all leveraged against a disease that, just three decades ago, was thought to be easily vanquished in an all-out "war against cancer". 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. The audiobook is like a literary thriller with cancer as the central character.
From the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave may have cut off her diseased breast, to the 19th-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 toxic, bruising, and draining regimens in order to survive - and to increase the store of human knowledge.
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I'm not usually hot on reading nonfiction for pleasure. However, I enjoy reading medical articles and frequently find myself hopping between Wikipedia articles reading about different illnesses. This book is a more legitimate version of my Wikipedia hobby.
I bought this book because my father had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Cancer was on my mind, but I was far too frightened of the emotional response I knew I would have to a biography or memoir. I honestly expected this book to be cold and clinical. I was completely wrong. The author seamlessly blends history, medical fact, and patient anecdotes. The chapters open with some very beautiful and thought-provoking quotes. The patient stories are beautiful and tragic without being saccharine. I also learned a lot about cancer, the functions of which were a mysterious blur in the back of my mind even after my father's diagnosis.
Perhaps the best surprise was how readable and absorbing this book was. I never thought I'd describe a nonfiction book written by a scientist as a "page turner", but here we are. It's a unique and wonderful book.
- Chris Rush