The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
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The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

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by Siddhartha Mukherjee

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ISBN-10: 1439107955

ISBN-13: 9781439107959

Pub. Date: 11/16/2010

Publisher: Scribner

Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction

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.


Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction

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. Physician, researcher, and award-winning science writer, Siddhartha Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist’s precision, a historian’s perspective, and a biographer’s passion. The result is an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with—and perished from—for more than five thousand years. 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 book reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist. From the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave cut off her malignant breast, to the nineteenth-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 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.

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6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.80(d)

Table of Contents

Author's Note xiii

Prologue 1

Part 1 "Of blacke cholor, without boyling" 9

Part 2 An Impatient War 105

Part 3 "Will you turn me out if I can't get better?" 191

Part 4 Prevention is the Cure 235

Part 5 "A Distorted Version of Our Normal Selves" 335

Part 6 The Fruits of Long Endeavors 393

Atossa's War 461

Acknowledgments 471

Notes 473

Glossary 533

Selected Bibliography 537

Photograph Credits 543

Index 545

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The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer 4 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 269 reviews.
Kratz More than 1 year ago
I heard the author on Public Radio and purchased the Nookbook. It is an excellent history of cancer and cancer research that strips away much of the mystery of the disease. I found it compelling and not difficult to read. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has cancer or knows someone struggling with the disease. This is not a how-to book on comforting those with cancer. This is a book that gives knowledge on how the disease exists in the body and the challenges that lie ahead in defeating it. "The Emperor of All Maladies" not only contains facts but passion in fighting cancer and compassion in treating it. A must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a young physician, it was fascinating to hear about a disease that continues and will continue to haunt the human race. Towards the end, the pathways bit might be too much for a lay reader, but overall this is a fantastic book and will hopefully inspire some to cure cancer or to be at least cured.
Mystiflyer More than 1 year ago
Maybe I loved it because I've been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to know more, but I couldn't put this book down. To me, it read like a who-done-it. It answered so many questions for me -- even questions I didn't know I had until I began reading. It gets very technical at times, but its written so that it is still understandable. Very well done.
golfer0197 More than 1 year ago
As a biology student, I can assure you that this book is fascinating and elegant in every way. The way the author describes cancer pharmaceutics in the most elegant and beautiful way possible. He describes cisplatin as a "winged molecule that descends on DNA interrupting replication. If you are at all interested in the history of genetics or oncology, it is all covered in this book from Sidney Farber's discovery of Aminopterin to Thomas Hunt Morgan's work, to the state and future of cancer biology today. A great read.
The_hibernators More than 1 year ago
The Emperor of All Maladies is a sweeping “biography” of cancer covering archeological/ancient history to present-day. It is very well-informed, well written, and thorough. Definitely worth a read for anyone who is interested in the history of cancer or medicine. Well-deserving of the Pulitzer Prize it won in 2011. I think it was written with the popular reader in mind (he DOES tell us what DNA is at the beginning of the book), but the book quickly delves into terminology and topics that I suspect would be very heavy to someone who doesn’t already know a little about biology/medicine. This is especially true in the second half of the book. Mukherjee also is SO thorough that the book becomes extremely long, which is difficult for those of us with a short attention span. Also, I got great amusement out of his formulaically inserted personal patient pieces. It was good that he had them (they broke up the difficult scientific passages) but I could tell that they were written by a scientist and not a journalist (i.e. they were comprised of literal rather than emotive descriptions). Being a scientist myself, this made me chuckle (alas! an emotion). However, I think the personal patient pieces were interesting and elicited enough emotion to engage the readers. They worked for me, anyway
bnagata More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book because I was, and I am sure you are, curious as to the hype surrounding it- I'm sure glad I did! Mukherjee did an excellent job in capturing and sustaining my interest through this chronicle of cancer's history. He was amazing at explaining the biological nitty-gritty details of cancer in a colloquial manner. I appreciate all that I learned from this life changing book.
BobbieCohen More than 1 year ago
You don't have to be a physician or scientist to get into Dr. Mukherjee's excellent biography of cancer. What is fascinating is that he calls this a biography, and as you read the history of this disease, you'll understand why. He treats cancer as if it is a living thing that warrants a biography. He blends history, sociology, psychology, forensic science and good old-fashioned detective work to make a highly readable history of how mankind has been in battle with this disease. He also gives tremendous insight into our modern day war on cancer: what has worked, what has not, and why. The best part of reading The Emperor is the writing style. On every page, Dr. Mukherjee gives an almost poetic description or phrase that makes you realize this man is not just a great doctor, but a great writer as well.
Purr More than 1 year ago
This very lengthy history of the dreaded *C* was quite eye opening. I have been an RN since the late 70's,and it'amazing what leaps and bounds have been made during my career This is not always an easy read and sometimes comes across like a textbook, but it really covers cancer and its treatment with a highly clinical viewpoint. IKept waiting for the human aspect, but those glimpses were few and far between. Still, very educational
room145teacher More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book. So many things I did not realize about cancer and the search for cures and therapies. You'll get up close and personal.
charityl77 More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed every page. By reading the book in its entireity the reader has a deep sense of respect, awe, and frustration towards human nature's 'Emperor of all 'Maladies' Well done.......
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At the recommendation of an oncologist at tumor board, I decided to buy this book & glad to read this during my semester off from school, before I begin my journey in CA biology. It has given me a new insight on a group of diseases that continues to be a mystery, even as we solve one small piece of this large puzzle. Personally, it left me in awe in how far we have come & more enthralled with oncology than I was before. I very highly recommend this book, it is especially helpful as a cancer registrar, knowing how these drugs came about & how they attack cancer.
Minormi More than 1 year ago
The book I needed to have when my young wife was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer three years ago. What informed questions we could have asked!
R-Lowe More than 1 year ago
Wonderful blending of the scientific hunt for cancer cures, the author's personal experience with cancer patients and the evolution of medical knowledge - both as it relates to cancer but generally as well. It explained a lot of the time lag between research and treatment so that even as researchers were discovering tons about the workings of cancer - particularly the genetic components - treatment still consisted of refinements of the brute force chemo, radiation and surgery until well into the 90s for the most part. It's only since then that treatments using the genetic knowledge became available and that continues today. Particularly anyone having to make decisions involving treatment - whether professionally, personally or on behalf of loved ones - this is a must-read to put things in perspective.
C_2112_M More than 1 year ago
This book is very well written and highly informative. By the time I finished I had a much better understanding of what cancer is and why it is treated the way it is. The author does this by tracing the long history of cancer and cancer research up to the modern day. I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants to learn more about cancer or just enjoys science related books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I you've ever wondered about cancer this is a book to read. I study cancer for a living and found this book to be extremely comprehensive and able to illustrate the full scope of cancer and the problem it presents to doctors and researchers. It is great to find a book that is well researched and translates cancer into laymans terms.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very informative and written so that a non medical person is able to understand.
SLB333 More than 1 year ago
This was so complete and so interesting. Can't wait to read the sequel in 10 years.
ABookAWeek More than 1 year ago
Non survivors may not find it interesting, but I was fascinated to read the history of this ancient disease that is so much our part of ourselves.
Hitch22 More than 1 year ago
I found the book educational. It presented a good overview of the history of cancer, it's diagnosis and the medical fraternities attempts at treatment. It is a grizzly subject but the author also reviewed our recent deeper understanding of the causes of cancer and how that is leading to much less deadly therapies. So it ends on an encouraging note.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
These were the words a doctor used one year ago as he explained nmy spouse's C. The first chapter was captivating. Our son who gave it as a birthday gift noted that despite the title it was a very good read. I can confirm his take.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very interesting read concerning a thousand foot view of the history of cancer.
Cycling_Chef More than 1 year ago
This is a biography of an unlikely subject: cancer. I have a particular interest in this topic as one of my sons is pursuing a PhD in molecular biology and genetics to become a cancer research scientist. This book helped me understand his field. To be perfectly honest, I had to overcome many generations of familial hypochondria to read this book and once I shoved those fears aside, I found the history of  the diseases that make up cancer, its treatments and discoveries very interesting. The author's writing style makes medical and scientific information accessible to the layperson. His colorful descriptions of the doctors and scientists who have played roles in cancer's biography, from ancient Egypt to modern times, make the book engaging. He weaves his own experience as a cancer oncologist into the story and he treats cancer patients who play roles in the book with dignity. I often find Pulitzer prize winning books too high brow or intellectual for entertaining reading, but this is a book I would recommend to anyone who is interested in this subject.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the most gripping, interesting, and thoughtful books I have read in 2012.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Persons who suffer, caregivers, and interested observers will all benefit from the study of the history of this malady that continues until the present day. My own personal condition, Multiple Myeloma, does not receive lots of in depth study but the explanations of all of the symptoms and treatments for the various forms helped me to better understand my treatment progression. This work lets the reader in on the "why" of the present day treatment procedures something every sufferer needs to better understand. Surprisingly easy to read considering the large volume of information.
Kensi More than 1 year ago
This was a fascinating book about the history of and man's fight against cancer. I lost a loved one to leukemia, the type of cancer that figures prominently in the medical history of this disease, so it was especially moving to me. My one slight negative is that there is a lot of "science" in this book and there were a few times when I couldn't quite keep things straight. I would have liked to have seen a few more illustrations to accompany the narrative discussion of the biology and chemistry behind cancer.