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The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery
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The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  654 Ratings  ·  120 Reviews
When the woman he loved was diagnosed with a metastatic cancer, science writer George Johnson embarked on a journey to learn everything he could about the disease and the people who dedicate their lives to understanding and combating it. What he discovered is a revolution under way—an explosion of new ideas about what cancer really is and where it comes from. In a ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 27th 2013 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2013)
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K. Lincoln
Dec 20, 2013 K. Lincoln rated it it was amazing
I am now a month out from finishing surgery/chemo/radiation for invasive ductal carcinoma of the right breast. I am reading a bunch of memoirs and more scientific books (best one before this so far is Emperor of Maladies) trying to get a scientific and historical perspective on a disease that has affected me so very invasively and personally.

That's what the author, George Johnson, did, too in this book. He is a science writer, and uniquely situated with academic background, contacts, and assignm
...more
Mal Warwick
Dec 28, 2013 Mal Warwick rated it it was ok
A story already told better

If you’re looking for an introduction to the painful subject of cancer — its history, its origins, and the efforts of science to combat it — I suggest you read the authoritative and compelling book, The Emperor of All Maladies, by the oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee. The Cancer Chronicles treats the same subject in a similar way but with far less success. George Johnson’s unrestrained use of medical and scientific jargon left me reeling, page after page, and I suspect
...more
David Quinn
This book is the equivalent of talking to your teenage son (minus the technical jargon):

So, Junior, how was school today? I don’t know.

Do you have any homework? I don’t know.

The author seemed almost curmudgeonly gleeful that cancer’s causes are mostly unknown and scornful of the fundraising efforts for cancer research. And I have absolutely no idea where the subtitle came from (Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery) as nothing could be further from the truth. No medical mysteries are unlocked. If
...more
Deirdre
May 13, 2014 Deirdre rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the easiest books on cancer for me to read. I found it informative and in certain ways comforting. The concept that there's more cancer these days because we're not dying from other diseases and that there are dinosaur skeletons with signs of cancer.

I was a cancer patient, I was lucky, I responded in a textbook fashion to chemotherapy regime I was put on. My lottery ticked may have been stamped by the glandular fever I had earlier in my life (apparently all patients who have Hodg
...more
Rebecca Foster
From prehistoric times to current developments, Johnson surveys the phenomenon of cancer, all along blending personal anecdote with cutting-edge research. He started his journey into cancer when his wife, Nancy, was diagnosed with a rare uterine variety. He took it as an opportunity not just for personal soul-searching (why her? why now?), but also for a wide-ranging odyssey into research about what causes cancer and how long it has been with us.

Ultimately, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-
...more
Torytory
Jan 06, 2014 Torytory rated it it was amazing
This book is a refreshing detour from the ubiquitous "let's cure cancer" mindset. It explores different theories about how and why we get cancer and why it might just be inevitable and impossible to cure. While this may sound rather negative and hopeless, I actually found it to be a relief. Those of us who have had cancer can spend way too much time agonizing over what we did wrong and why we were afflicted and I felt that this book gave me permission to take a break from that mentality.
it's als
...more
Jose lana
Oct 13, 2016 Jose lana rated it really liked it
Shelves: meicine, cancer
Written when motivated by a personal tragedy the author makes a brief biography of cancer fron tumors in the bones of dinosaurs 150 million years ago to to day and explains the last theories and treatments in chemoterapy,the last drugs, and radioterapy.

He explains as the mutations of certain genes, the oncogenes, that control the reproduction of the cell, forces it to a runaway reproduction following through darvinian selection thousands of evolutionary paths, and learning to force the cooperati
...more
Mary
Jan 03, 2014 Mary rated it liked it
George Johnson is a science writer,and when his wife gets a rare form of cancer, he begins his investigation into the history of cancer and the complexity of the disease.

Lots of very understandable science in this book and very interesting reading. Johnson immerses himself in the study of cancer. He reads books and cutting edge articles, not just about the type of cancer his wife has, but a wide range of cancers. He attends conventions of scientists and interviews researchers.

He shares his wif
...more
Happyreader
Mar 29, 2014 Happyreader rated it really liked it
Radiation may not be as deadly as we thought and no single food or food category will definitively cut your cancer risk. Try not to smoke, be fat and/or sedentary, age, or have diabetes – and still, it’s kind of a crap shoot who gets cancer or why. Then again, this book is less about what causes or prevents cancer but more an exploration of the complexity of cancer and the frustrations of diagnosing and treating cancer in its many shapes and forms. We are such complex organisms with so many ...more
Ahmed Xahabi
Sep 21, 2016 Ahmed Xahabi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nccal
واحد من افضل الكتب التي كتبت عن مرض السرطان و تاريخه

تجربة مو غريبة علي، فا من الطبيعي انه يحوز الكتاب على الاهتمام و التعاطف مع المحاربون الذين يدخلون الحرب مع عدو خفي من غير سابق انذار

تحية لهم على شجاعتهم.
Jason Fella
Aug 09, 2013 Jason Fella rated it really liked it
Having had cancer myself when I was 21, I've been devouring every bit of info on health, nutrition, and cancer since then. This book certainly tackles things fairly comprehensively and brings up issues and viewpoints I never thought of, or heard. He talks about why many previous studies were flawed or nearly useless, and how new studies will remedy those errors.

Ironically, the chapter on metabolism and cancer was the one I was looking forward to the most, but turned out to be the most disappoint
...more
Holly
Aug 13, 2016 Holly rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013-reads
Johnson is such a good science writer. He covered a lot of territory in this book - the inevitable comparison is to Mukherjee's Emperor of All Maladies but the two writers didn't have the same objectives (one a "biography" and the other a wide-ranging survey). In my review of Mukherjee I took issue with his reliance on the war/battle metaphor - and Johnson is clearly uncomfortable with that metaphor. Without relying on that war drumbeat Johnson explores the varied approaches to cancer (how we th ...more
Mustafa Soliman
لا يهتم السرطان بما إن كنت ذكيا أم لا ولا يهتم ان كنت جميلا ومتعلما أم لا
ولا يتهم ان كنت ذا مكانة في المجتمع ام لا
هل الفكرة ان السرطان مكتسب ام تنتجه الخلايا هل تناول الفواكه والخضروات تقينا من الإصابة بالسرطان هل التدخين والمسكرات تسرع الإصابة به
ليس هناك دراسات واثقة من ذلك
يجب التعامل مع السركان انه عملية وليس شيء ان الخلية تتسرطن وليست تصاب بالسرطان
شفانا الله والجميع ورزقنا الصحة والعافية
Lara Santoro
Dec 29, 2013 Lara Santoro rated it it was amazing
Yet another great book by a great writer -- a "poet", as The New York Times just called him, despite his resolute focus on science. What is cancer? How far back does it go? What do we actually know about it? Which assumptions are starting to look old and tired? In the hands of a lesser writer, the subject might either scare or tire, but Johnson's ability to simplify the most hermetic truths and entertain us as he does so, is a gift from start to finish.
Rossdavidh
Dec 11, 2015 Rossdavidh rated it liked it
Shelves: brown
Different eras have different bogeymen. We live in an era that scoffs at werewolves, ghosts, and the Devil. But you know what we don't scoff at? Cancer. Previous times were scarcely aware of its existence, but it looms large over the modern First World. I notice that a lot of people say the word "cancer" in a soft voice, even if they are the sort to let loose with profanity with gusto. We don't especially like talking about it, hearing about it, or thinking about it. Or, one might suppose, ...more
James
Sep 11, 2013 James rated it really liked it
George Johnson opens his book, on the page preceding chapter one, with an epigraph from Reynolds Price's memoir about his own struggle with cancer that left him in a paraplegic state. I mention this because I was moved by my reading of Price's book almost two decades ago and, while it was an eloquent expression of the experience of cancer it did not, as I remember, inform me significantly about the nature of the disease itself. With The Cancer Chronicles George Johnson, a writer whose book Fire ...more
Bob
Feb 10, 2014 Bob rated it liked it
The Cancer Chronicles by science writer George Johnson is a well written, well researched book. As the writer describes his wife’s battle with cancer he takes us on a quick journey through the history & recent research concerning cancer.

It was interesting to discover that dinosaurs had cancer and that fossils provide inconvertible evidence. I also had no idea that today's cancer researchers had moved away from the idea that toxic environments (e.g., breathing polluted air, working in chemic
...more
Douglas
Jan 17, 2014 Douglas rated it it was amazing
"Things are rarely as simple as they seem, and what appears to be complex may be no more than ripples on the surface of a fathomless ocean," writes NY Times science writer, George Johnson, in this nearly perfect chronicle on the complexities of cancer.
Despite the mission accomplished messages of the 1970's War on Cancer and the media's promise to eradicate the disease in our lifetime, there are still no guarantees. It's not that we have no hope, we should at least have some with the knowledge th
...more
Todd Martin
Feb 03, 2015 Todd Martin rated it really liked it
Some people enjoy books about vampires, or hobbits, or bondage … but if there’s any truth to the adage ‘hold your friends close and your enemies closer’ I’d recommend you read about cancer. Here’s a cheerful fact … according to the American Cancer Society 40% of people are diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetime and of those diagnosed it will be fatal to about half. Not to put too fine a point on it but there’s a very good chance that cancer is going to kill you or someone you ...more
Julie
Jul 09, 2013 Julie rated it really liked it
The Cancer Chronicles by George Johnson is book that delves into the mystery of cancer. The book begins with the discovery of tumors in dinosaur bones and ends in the modern day. Throughout the book, the author flips between past and present and intertwines them to help paint a clearer picture of this disease.

I very much enjoyed reading this book and found the subject matter fascinating, though alarming. No one wants to read about cancer (or even think about it, for that matter) but at the same
...more
Kathy Rudd
Sep 27, 2013 Kathy Rudd rated it it was amazing
A cancer book written by someone who does not have cancer. Refreshing take on what makes a cancer cell go rogue. Based in science and explained in lay terms (mostly), the author explains that our fears of what we think causes cancer are misguided. We don't really understand cancer, nor are we even close to understanding the intricacies of this myriad of diseases lumped under the word "cancer". George Johnson explores the topic while adding his perspective on what he saw as his wife and then his ...more
A.
Sep 13, 2013 A. rated it did not like it
This book was so disappointing. There is no comparison between this book and The Emperor of All Maladies.

The author of this book brings in a lot of personal information about himself, his wife and their life. That information did not help the book. Finding out that - through his own admission - he made his wife miserable, did not allow her to have any children, and then his repeated statements about his stance as an atheist... Well, I would have divorced him too. It all detracted from his book.
...more
Lynn
Dec 29, 2013 Lynn rated it really liked it
A fascinating exploration of how cancer works and some of our misconceptions about the disease, (which one person in the book says "is not a disease but a phenomenon). The science is excellent and very understandable, and the work is made much more compelling by including the parallel story of his wife's battle with a particularly nasty form of the illness.
Robert
Oct 05, 2013 Robert rated it it was amazing
Excellent, succinct exploration of what science knows about cancer and how it acquires this knowledge. The book contains two accounts of cancer patients--the author's former wife and his brother. The author's writing style makes the information accessible to the layperson.
Jacob
Jan 04, 2014 Jacob rated it really liked it
This is a great companion read to Siddhartha Mukherjee's Emperor of All Maladies. Whereas Mukherjee's book approaches cancer from a more modern, clinical stance, with a narrative based on understanding and improving treatments against a human disease, Johnson approaches the question of cancer from a deeper fundamental and questioning level. He spends much more time on early instances of cancer, because he is less concerned with how they weave into a tapestry of battling a human disease versus ...more
Heidi
Sep 15, 2016 Heidi rated it really liked it
What do we know about cancer? What is it? Where does it come from? What does chemotherapy actually do? What do we still have to learn?

Such are the question George Johnson sets out to answer in The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Cancer's Deepest Mystery.

Combining science and personal narrative of his wife's battle with a rare form of ovarian cancer, Johnson straddles the divide between information and inspiration.

The book focuses much more on science and research than on personal experience. John
...more
Kdashti78
يوميات السرطان
(إن كنت مصاب بالوسواس تمهل و اثبت أثناء قراءته )
.
..إن ما يمثل أزمة بالنسبة إلى المريض هو إجراء روتيني بالنسبة إلى الطبيب 50
..يمكن للمرء أن يجد المواساة في الإيمان بالقضاء و القدر و من ثم الإعتقاد أن السرطان يمثل جزء لا يتجزأ من العملية البيولوجية لكن هناك أيضا نوعا من السلوى في الإعتقاد أن البشر بحيلهم الخاصة قد زادوا من احتمالات الإصابة بالسرطان 55
.. مسببات السرطان إما إشعاعي أو عامل كيميائي أو فيروسي 95
..إن الحس الملتوي للفكاهة كثيرا ما يفقد معظمه في الترجمة عندما يخبر أشخاص ي
...more
J.S.
Sep 04, 2015 J.S. rated it liked it
Shelves: vine, history-medical
Science-writer George Johnson and his wife heard three words that changed their lives - "you've got cancer" - when she was diagnosed with a metastatic uterine form of the disease. As a result, Johnson embarked on a quest to learn everything he could about cancer and has written an interesting overview of what is known, which turns out to be less than you might hope. Cancer has been around a long time, and evidence of different kinds of cancer have even been found in dinosaur fossils. In fact, it ...more
Mike
Aug 07, 2013 Mike rated it really liked it
I won an advance copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. It's the first book I've read by George Johnson.

The write-up for this book is pretty much spot on; the term "elegiac" is particularly apt. Although that aspect did not appeal to me very strongly, Johnson's prose is of high enough quality to make it work most of the time. Occasionally I felt the personal thread overshadowed the book's informational value, but I'm disinclined to criticize the author too severely on that front. That which
...more
Stefanie
Feb 25, 2016 Stefanie rated it really liked it
Shelves: e-reader
Definitely one of the better-written science books i've come across. Obviously, whilst reading this, I often was thinking about The Emperor of all Maladies. But while that book covered the actual treatment of cancer in a very detailed way, Johnson covers a broad range of topics. He does so very competently. It never feels overly-detailed (gene and drug names are kept to a minimum, no pathways involved, he doesn't try to force a chronological narrative) but you still get a thorough background on ...more
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George Johnson (born January 20, 1952) is an American journalist and science writer. He is the author of a number of books, including The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments (2008) and Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics (1999), and writes for a number of publications, including
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