Book Reviews

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

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Siddhartha Mukherjee. New York: Scribner, 2010. 592 pages. ISBN 978-1439181713

 

 

 

Cancer is an expansionist disease; it invades through tissues, sets up colonies in hostile landscapes, seeking “sanctuary” in one organ and then immigrating to another. It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively—at times, as if teaching us how to survive. To confront cancer is to encounter a parallel species, one perhaps more adapted to survival than even we are.
―Siddhartha Mukherjee

This book is a chilling read and brings cancer into a light most of us don’t want to think about it in. “Out of sight, out of mind” is quickly dismantled after reading this book, as it goes into detail regarding one of the deadliest diseases known to mankind. As someone without a heavily scientific or medical background, I found this book a lot to take in and comprehend but well worth it in the end. Several sections I had to read multiple times to digest fully, and it was one of the most difficult books for me to sit down and read.

There are many words that come to mind after reading this book, including long, detailed, intense, thought provoking, upsetting, and informative. The word that I think is most accurate, though, is informative. Siddhartha Mukherjee filled the pages of this book with all of his cancer knowledge and many of his experiences. To read this book is to gain a better understanding of cancer and to see how far medicine has come.

The start of the book pulls you in with a story of a mother who learns she has cancer, and it vividly shows the emotions that come from such a discovery. From this first story, Mukherjee dives into the history of cancer, discussing and reveling in all of the old theories and procedures, much of which would be considered astonishing if practiced today. He reveals cancer has been around much longer than even we can imagine, with examples of exhumed corpses from ancient Egypt showing signs of cancer. Once mankind realized cancer was fast moving and could take over the body, the historical treatments were zealous and intense, with the goal of removing as much of the body affected as possible.

The Emperor of All Maladies captures the interest of the reader and has proven to be a book I will always remember and think back on—it sticks with you even after you finish it. Siddhartha Mukherjee refers to the battle with this disease as “the war on cancer,” and in a society where more cancer diagnoses are being made every year, this is something most of us can agree with or relate to in some way. Science and medicine have come a long way in the past few decades, and new treatments continue to be discovered and tested. This war is far from over, and with the knowledge from this biography, we should feel more equipped to face it head on.

Carolyn deCourt is a Managing Editor and Marketing Assistant at J&J Editorial, LLC.