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. 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 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.
Pages: 571 (Hardcover)
Rating: 9 out of 10
Source: Originally checked out from the library and then given to me by Partner as a second anniversary present
I started reading The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee in May and I cannot recall exactly why I picked up the book. I think it was a combination of curiosity and a need to have a book that would count towards many challenges. The book is really long and dense, so I created a strategy which would give me a built in break. I checked it out from the library and there was a long waiting list. I figured that I would read the book as much as I could for the three week period, then return the book and enjoy other things while I waited to return to the top of the list. My sweet Partner changed that approach when he gave me my own copy for our second wedding anniversary. I read the book during the last trimester of my pregnancy. This impacted my reading time because things got very hectic towards the end and then I had very limited reading time with a newborn. I wish I could say that the extra time gave me the chance to develop a more insightful review, but the reality is that I am writing the review in bits and pieces. Much like my reading, it will be sporadic and hopefully filled with at least something useful :)
What amazed me most about the book was how it is a combination of history and personal stories. At various points, I felt like I was reading a soap opera as I was learning about the various people who changed the approach to cancer treatment and diagnosis. Some aspects of cancer treatment are timeless-- fear, panic, and hope that a particular approach will work. Another common theme running through the book is that all the researchers, fundraisers, and doctors who had a breakthrough were both persistent and imaginative. They kept seeking an answer to various questions and then were open to novel ways in which to seek answers.
My favorite parts of the book were reading about the evolution of the patient doctor relationship. I liked the correlations and crossovers between the feminist movement and cancer patients. I also liked the links made between those who were advocating for better HIV/AIDS treatment and finding a cure for cancer. Patients as partners in the health care decision making is certainly a change of which I am supportive. I wanted to know more about the relationship between traditional medicine and "alternative approaches." The book did not discuss much about the emphasis on healthier diets and exercise on the battle against cancer; although, I imagine that more detailed discussions would have made the book much longer.
I was hoping for a happy ending or some type of resolution at the end of the book which went something like this, "We do not have a cure for cancer yet, but it should be coming in the next year." Instead, there is more uncertainty about when and what breakthroughs will come. What makes battling cancer so complicated is that there are so many variations and types of cancers. Each one responds to slightly different approaches. What is universal among all cancers is the genius with which the disease morphs and the hypnotizing hold it has on those who study it.
In addition to being the last book I read in 2011, I am counting the book for the following challenges:
- What's in a Name Four: I am counting it for the evil category as "maladies' is evil
- 2011 Global Reading Challenge: The book takes place all over the world, so I am counting it as the seventh continent.
- South Asian Challenge 2011: The author is South Asian
- Chunkster Reading Challenge 2011: The book is 570 pages.