The struggle to understand and to cure cancer has consumed medical researchers throughout the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries. Mukherjee takes a thorough in-depth look at cancer throughout history in this biography of an illness, where the disease is often visualized as a crab scurrying and burrowing away from all reach of therapy. The author adds his own experience to a years-long study of cancer to provide a definitive, insightful book on the way this illness has gripped our modern day lives.
I think almost everyone I know has lost someone near and dear to them to cancer. I have; my brother died at only eighteen from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. If anything, the fact that we’ve all been touched by this horrible illness in its many incarnations makes a book like The Emperor of All Maladies an even more important read. Reading this book was always going to be difficult, but it is on a subject I wanted to understand. After it won the Pulitzer Prize, and unending praise from many of my favorite bloggers, I simply had to read it, no matter how uncomfortable the subject matter.
I’m really glad I made that choice, because this book was excellent in so many ways. Mukherjee skilfully weaves together his own years treating cancer patients, ensuring that we get an up close and personal view of what it’s like to fight cancer today, with a thorough history of the illness, including its ancient manifestations, early treatments, and continuing right up to the medicines and techniques used to treat various kinds of cancer today. I learned so much from this book, certainly things I never even thought about, like how the War on Cancer got started in the first place, what the Jimmy Fund is, and so on.
I’d also never really understood anything about the biology of cancer. I knew the disease was basically uncontrollable cell division, but Mukherjee goes into depth without becoming confusing or using any jargon that an ordinary reader can’t understand.
While doing all this, he also succeeds in matching the struggle against cancer alongside current events, explaining how certain developments happened and why. I felt like I was getting the full story from all possible angles, which I so appreciated, and so thorough a look that I don’t think I really need to read another book. Adding in the perspectives of his modern patients just demonstrated the strength of the human spirit and the difficulties of treatment.
This truly is a biography; in many ways Mukherjee makes cancer itself a visible part of the book. Cancer is our normal body functions turned inside out and made virulent – and immortal. It’s a surprisingly fascinating read which has really enhanced my understanding of everything to do with cancer. I’d highly recommend The Emperor of All Maladies to almost anyone.
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