Reading Room

Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer prize for general nonfiction.

The Emperor of All MaladiesThe Emperor of All Maladies
A Biography of Cancer
by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Is there any one of us who hasn’t been touched by cancer in some way? I suspect not–especially in light of the statistic that physician and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee begins his eloquent “biography” of one of the most virulent diseases of our time with:

“In 2010, about six hundred thousand Americans, and more than 7 million humans around the world, will die of cancer.”

Staggered, sobered, frustrated, saddened and infuriated were the range of emotions I felt when I read this statistic…a statistic that the author correctly guessed would keep me reading.

This is one of those great books of non-fiction that reads like a novel. As the author takes his readers through a comprehensive account of cancer’s origins, he illustrates how modern treatments–multi-pronged chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, as well as preventative care–came into existence thanks to a century’s worth of research, trials, and small, essential breakthroughs around the globe.

But what would compel someone to want to read this book? Why do I recommend it so highly?

While The Emperor of All Maladies is rich with the science and history behind the fight against cancer, it is also a meditation on illness, medical ethics, and the complex, intertwining lives of doctors and patients.

Siddhartha Mukherjee’s profound compassion–for cancer patients, their families, as well as the oncologists who, all too often, can offer little hope–makes this book a very human history of an elusive and complicated disease.

This book is an absolute must read.

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