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The Emperor of All Maladies

4.27  ·  Rating Details ·  46,935 Ratings  ·  4,371 Reviews

Winner of the Guardian First Book Award 2011

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Non-fiction 2011

Shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize

Shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize

Now, as cancer becomes an ever more universal experience, the need to understand it, and its treatment, has never been more compelling. In this groundbreaking and award-winning account Siddhartha Mukh

Kindle Edition, 597 pages
Published (first published 2010)
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Rosalie I've read other long, rich histories (science, medicine, general history, etc), but have not lost my way in the middle so much as I did with this…moreI've read other long, rich histories (science, medicine, general history, etc), but have not lost my way in the middle so much as I did with this book. As you say, it is incredibly well-researched, but it does seem to suffer from a 'too slow in the middle' syndrome. I haven't reviewed the book, but only because I've put it aside unfinished. Your question helped me to understand why. It's more about the storytelling pace, than the amount of information. Thanks.(less)
Deone It actually resembles both. There is definitely some hardcore scientific verbiage in it, but the case studies, the histories of the researchers and…moreIt actually resembles both. There is definitely some hardcore scientific verbiage in it, but the case studies, the histories of the researchers and doctors, and much of the writing does resemble a novel. I would classify it as narrative non-fiction...(less)
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Community Reviews

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Riku Sayuj
Sep 12, 2014 Riku Sayuj rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Riku by: Rohini
Anna Cancerina

What a masterpiece. With beautiful metaphors, poignant case studies, breath-taking science and delectable literary allusions, Siddhartha Mukherjee takes us on a detailed yet panoramic trip spanning centuries. Probably one of the best science books I have ever read.

My favorite parts in the book are the literary allusions that capture the depth and feeling of what is being described so well, such as Cancer Ward, Alice in Wonderland, Invisible Cities, Oedipus Rex and many more.

The mo
Petra X
This book took me over a year to read. I kept it on the kitchen counter and as the left-hand page pile got bigger there was me standing on the right, getting smaller. It was my diet book. A couple of pages and a pound or so every week. What I was doing was either boiling the kettle or making my own concoction of a fat and cholesterol-busting mousse that involved just holding an immersion whisk for a couple of minutes. I have such a low threshold for boredom I had to do something, so I read Emper ...more
Feb 27, 2012 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
Every year there's always one non-fiction book that the entire literate world raves about and that I hate. In 2009 it was Richard Holmes's "The Age of Wonder", the following year it was "The Emperor of All Maladies".

Universally admired, winner of a Pulitzer prize, this book annoyed me so profoundly when I first read it that I've had to wait almost a year to be able to write anything vaguely coherent about it. The flaws that I found so infuriating a year ago seem less important upon a second read
As someone with a budding interest in diseases- whether chronic, acute, or intermittent- I immediately purchased this book for my library as soon as it was published. I anticipated a similarity to a favorite book of 2010, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but this book dives much deeper into the history of cancer, while interweaving personal accounts of patients the author treated. This biography is different from anything I have read this year; poignant, lyrical, accessible- and most of all ...more
Jul 13, 2011 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: my brilliant scientist friend emily, who i hope cures cancer before i get it
I am a big blubbery crybaby when I'm reading a book, but I'm gonna have to get over that if I'm going to get through The Emperor of All Maladies. I almost bailed at page five because it was obvious that reading this would involve an intolerable amount of weeping on public transit, but then I realized that what I must do is master myself.

I'm too old to be crying all the time! It's ridiculous! I'm going to read this book and I'm going to put a wrench to the waterworks! I'm gonna save my tears for
Nov 07, 2015 Christina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Deep breath. This book is elegant, extraordinarily insightful, and most of all important. Despite the big words and the complicated science, Mukherjee had me riveted from start to finish. I thought I had a knowledge of cancer before this book, but now I understand it, in all of its feverish complexity and horrifying beauty. In the history of cancer research, there have been bright flashes of brilliance combined with truths that are stupidly rediscovered centuries too late (such as the carcinogen ...more
Oct 30, 2014 Warwick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, medicine

I've been wanting to read this since it first appeared, but I was just too nervous. Call it superstition. This is far scarier than any of your Barkers, your Kings or your Koontzes: there are no such things as zombies or bogeymen, but cancer is out there. Waiting for us.

In The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell talks a lot about the irony of the First World War. Cancer, in the same way, is a deeply ironic disease. As Peyton Rous said, ‘Nature sometimes seems possessed of a sardonic humor.’
Julia Hayes
Mar 15, 2011 Julia Hayes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
This is personal. Cancer entered my life uninvited trying to consume the body of my daughter, Aria. It was January 2008 when I heard the words, “We think she has leukemia.” She was four years old.

In the prologue of “The Emperor of All Maladies—A Biography of Cancer” by Siddartha Mukherjee, he wrote, “…the arrival of a patient with acute leukemia still sends a shiver down the hospital’s spine—all the way from the cancer wards on its upper floors to the clinical laboratories buried deep in the bas
Nick Black
Sep 01, 2013 Nick Black rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nick by: Steven Shapin (The New Yorker)

Hyperliterate, scientifically savvy, a hot-boiled detective novel spinning along axes of surgery, chemical and radiative therapy, molecular biology, bioinformatics, immunology, epidemiology and supercomputing -- there's a little bit here for every NT (and if you aren't NT*, then to hell with ya!). Suffers noticeably from a lack of editorial quality control -- several passages are repeated almost word-for-word (why does this happen so often in high-grade po
It currently dominates the news in The Netherlands: the suspicious deaths of several people with cancer, who were treated with the drug 3-Bromopyruvate (3BP) in an alternative cancer centre in Germany. It’s likely that those that were treated at this clinic had no other treatment options available in conventional medicine, and so turned to alternative medicine as a last resort. Therefore, a high death rate seems unavoidable either way. Yet, authorities have reason to believe that patients at thi ...more
May 26, 2011 Cee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Informative. The first hundred pages trace cancer's history, even way back to the Egyptian civilization. The next two hundred pages are about the long struggles in surgery, radiation and chemotherapy to fight cancer. Then the last two hundred pages launch into prevention, genetics and more pharmacology.

With the scientific terminology toned down and explained as best as the author could, I felt I was reading a quasi-textbook. Before the topic would become monotonous there were breaks in form of s
May 23, 2015 Carol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Carol by: my friend Barney
I’m debating whether I should forgo the star system on my reviews. My stars make more sense when you align them with genre or category than title perhaps.

Take a book like The Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. How do the 5 stars I’m going to rate this book stand along side a butcher thriller that I’ve rated this highly too?

This was a book group book and I worried that some would find the topic overally depressing to read or that others, cancer survivors themselve
Dec 03, 2015 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Done!! Phew!!

Everything you've ever wanted to know, and didn't want to know about cancer. While this is not light reading, it's interesting reading.
Anna Balasi
Mar 04, 2011 Anna Balasi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So far, I'm completely enthralled/moved/disturbed! I never realized that a book about the history of Cancer could keep me reading on. I'm not a doctor or a nurse, though I've had a close member of the family pass away from Cancer, and perhaps that's what keeps me going, since I've been morbidly fascinated and terrified of the disease since.

The chapters I've read have been so hard to get through (it has so far covered childhood Lukemia (lord, the tears!), mastectomies, surgery without anesthesia,
Andy Perdue
May 18, 2011 Andy Perdue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cancer
This was a mammoth undertaking of research and writing. As a survivor/thriver, I found the book fascinating - and glad I live in the age I do. I think those who read this should also read "Anticancer: A New Way of Life" by Dr. David Servan-Shreiber. He's a two-time survivor who uses science to show how we can avoid/mitigate cancer, and it shows a side of the disease that isn't covered in this outstanding work.
Jul 04, 2012 Meetu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first heard about this book a year back and was sure I would never read it. Medical non-fiction is not something I want to wrap my head around. So finally when I did pick it up from the library it was because a young acquaintance was undergoing chemotherapy and I thought it was perhaps "important" to understand cancer.

I am surprised at what a gripping read the book turned out to be. I ran through the initial 100 or so pages that chronicle the first instances of cancer in history. Mukherjee's
Rebecca Foster
This magisterial history of cancer won a 2011 Pulitzer Prize, though not for History (that went to a new book about the Civil War) or, as Mukherjee more whimsically categorizes his own book, Biography (that went to a biography of George Washington); instead, he won in the General Nonfiction category, which, though prosaic, is certainly appropriate for a work of scientific journalism. The Emperor of all Maladies reminded me most of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the previous year’s popular ...more
Apr 19, 2015 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: cancer survivors, cancer patients, potential future cancer patients
In 2001, I suffered from increasing shortness of breath over a period of several weeks. At first I thought I was just out of shape, then I thought it was a recurrence of childhood asthma, then I went to the clinic of the university where I was attending grad school at the time to get chest x-rays, and the next day someone was sent to pull me out of class and tell me I should go see a doctor like, now.

They thought I had pneumonia, but in fact, it turned out to be a grapefruit-size tumor pressing
Lisa Vegan
I am not sure what to say about this book except that I think it’s a masterpiece. Though I took over five months to read it, I found everything about it fascinating.

I have to say that I felt an urgency to read this book before receiving a cancer diagnosis. My mother died of cancer before my twelfth birthday, and ever since then I’ve enjoyed reading books about cancer (fiction, biographies, general non-fiction, medical textbooks, all of them) and have been terrified about getting it. In fact, wit
Sep 22, 2011 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, medicine
This is an elegant, well-written book. Parts of the book read like a detective story, and are very engrossing. However, I really take issue with the short shrift that the book gives to research on cancer prevention. Now, the author readily admits that big strides toward conquering cancer will not occur by only finding cures--prevention is just as important. But, while the book has several chapters on the connection between smoking and lung cancer, no attention is paid to research related to othe ...more
Aug 30, 2012 Bruce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is subtitled “A Biography of Cancer.” Mukherjee is an oncologist at Columbia University, and he writes well; the text reads less like a history than as a novel. Yet Mukherjee is scrupulously factual. This history, with a few gestures toward the confusions and mysteries of cancer and treatment in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, really begins with the research of Sidney Farber at Boston Children’s Hospital in the late 1940’s, when Farber began approaching the treatme ...more
Abubakar Mehdi
Oct 10, 2015 Abubakar Mehdi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report on February 4th, 2015 stating that in 2012 an estimate of 8.2 million deaths were due to cancer. In 2030, this number is expected to rise to 13 million people around the world (mostly in economically developing countries). Cancer is expected to surpass heart disease to become the most common cause of death in coming years.

It is against this backdrop that I started this book, the colossal significance of cancer baffled me and
Aug 09, 2016 Alex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
A terrific, comprehensive look at the history and mechanics of cancer, starting at Imhotep and ending at the no-longer-quite-literal bleeding edge of science. Mukherjee is an engaging and very careful writer; you get the sense that he pored over each sentence to make it as clear as possible. It worked, too.

For we book nerds, he's scattered references to a wonderful variety of books throughout: Herodotus, Italo Calvino and Joan Didion all make their way in here, as well as this sentence, to which

I really wanted to be intellectual enough for this book. I loved walking around with it, carrying it into my pediatrician's office -- see, doctor? I may be a lowly layperson, but I too can read doctor books! (He didn't notice.) And for the first 100 pages, I was excited. Yes! I can like this! It's interesting and engaging, and I'm learning a lot!

But at 150 pages, my attention started to flag, and so did my enjoyment. Thank God, I'm just not that curious about cancer. Not enough to slog thro
Arun Divakar
Jul 20, 2014 Arun Divakar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
From even the minor irritation of the common cold to a sprained muscle, anything that affects our normal body functioning is always something we grumble about or wish away quickly. These little imbalances of the bodily functions fade into obscurity when a human being comes face to face with the non-contagious, lethal killers. A harmless looking lump somewhere in the body, a little pain while swallowing food or water are all precursors of the most dreaded aberration of them all : Cancer. Siddhart ...more
Marc Kozak
Oct 07, 2015 Marc Kozak rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Sometimes I'll get excited when I read science-related articles that suggest that some time in the future, we will know so much about our body that we'll be able to cure anything that's wrong, and replace anything that's old and worn down. Some have even suggested that immortality is an actual possibility. Heart not working? 3D-print a new one. Brain shutdown? No big deal.

It's hard not to believe this when constantly confronted with sensational articles that come out on an almost daily basis: 10
Jun 08, 2011 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ed
I don't have time to write a full review at the moment, but I must say that The Emperor of All Maladies is an absolute must read for anyone who works in cancer research, prevention or treatment and anyone who is or has a family member being treated for cancer. In fact, I recommend it for everyone. This is an incredibly honest accounting of where we've come from in cancer treatment and where we stand now while also succeeding in a feat rare to such works: Mukharjee capably demonstrates compassion ...more
Solid, sweeping, informative, and uplifting. Like Gawande, who influenced him, the author is a rare practicing physician who has great writing talent. He covers well the bases on the history of cancer science and treatment while rendering the enlightening personal experiences of his own patients and the political context of the enterprise. Written with a journalist's flair for story and drama and an educator's gift for conveying complex scientific and medical issues for the layman and savvy read ...more
Jan 24, 2015 Emily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm late coming to this book, but it was a great read that significantly updated my view of a difficult topic. Mukherjee pursues the history of three ways of attacking cancer: eradication through surgery or toxic medicines, prevention, and thwarting cancer's progress with targeted molecular drugs. He marshals an incredible amount of historical, biographical, and scientific information, and it's only in the last part of the book where the weight of the complexity bows it down. There's no way for ...more
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  • How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter
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  • Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality
  • The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance
Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff cancer physician at Columbia University Medical Center. A Rhodes scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford, Harvard Medical School. He has published articles in Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine, The New York Times, and The New ...more
More about Siddhartha Mukherjee...

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“History repeats, but science reverberates.” 55 likes
“The art of medicine is long, Hippocrates tells us, "and life is short; opportunity fleeting; the experiment perilous; judgment flawed.” 53 likes
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