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The Secret History of the War on Cancer
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The Secret History of the War on Cancer

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  238 ratings  ·  70 reviews
From the National Book Award finalist, author of "When Smoke Ran Like Water," a searing, haunting and deeply personal account of the War on Cancer
ebook, 525 pages
Published November 1st 2007 by Basic Books (AZ) (first published January 1st 2007)
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Books Ring Mah Bell
After some reflection, I think my original 5 star rating was a bit much. Those 5 stars were an emotional rating on my part due to a recent and devastating diagnosis that hit way too close to home.

But look, there is something to this. The author wanted to write this book 20 years ago while employed by the National Academy of Sciences. When she told her boss that several institutions and research academies wanted to publish papers she had written on the war on cancer, her boss told her, "it had be...more
Carol Hunter
Having recently finished a very long series of treatment for breast cancer I found this book riveting. Devra Davis is a renowned expert in the field of environmental oncology. She makes a very strong case that we have been fighting the wrong battle because we have targeted the disease rather dealing with cancer's causes, including the environment. Our leaders of industry have worked hard to avoid dealing with the cancer-causing materials they have generated. The emphasis has been on making the d...more
I heard Dr. Davis on a conference call and was excited with her observations and command of the issues.

Now after reading her book, I believe that my observations and conclusions are needed.

The reading was not medically detailed, well documented and laid out in good order. The epilogue was very pithy and sobering.

What catches my attention is that the concerns about cancer are about to escalate to new heights, since more and more cancer is being experienced by scientists, researchers, academia and...more
This book should have been titled "Why Corporations Are Even More Evil Than You Thought." There is a lot of interesting information here, but it is presented repetitively and sometimes with annoying personal stories about Davis' family and friends and their varying experiences with cancer as well as some of her own rather New Age-y beliefs about God and death and other things. Some parts were confusing because the same people kept popping up and being re-introduced in each chapter. I found mysel...more
This is a thorough and well-researched history of research on cancer, written by a renowned epidemiologist. In particular, this is a history of the difficulty of studying the effects of the environment on the development of cancer. Partly, this is due to the fact that, in today's world, it is nearly impossible to analyze the effects of any one particular element in isolation from others. But it is also due (1) to the fact that the industries which produce possibly toxic substances, and profit fr...more
Steven Magee
The primary cause of cancer is incorrect human environmental conditions. Devra Davis has done a wonderful job of documenting the known causes of cancer and the extensive web of corporate and government deceit in this area. She states "Most people have no idea that OSHA is a ghost and has been so for years". Having had my health damaged by a large utility solar photovoltaic system in 2009 and interacted with the OSHA system regarding it, I have to support her statement. I was glad to see that ele...more
Jul 29, 2014 Karan marked it as cannot-finish-it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
About two-thirds done and don't think i can finish this one.
Very poorly footnoted, too many personal anecdotes (eg, "My husband's uncle says, based on his experience in WW2 Alabama war munitions factory ..." "When my cousin Mark worked in the Nixon Administration's War on Cancer ..."), a lot of vagueness that didn't need to be vague ("a relatively recent study" - isn't it easier to say 2001?) and the little jibe about her mom going to see an art exhibit in Russia instead of coming to her daught...more
This was such a hard book to read. My range of emotion jumped frequently between extreme sadness and extreme anger, with a sense of defeat somewhere in the middle. I'm not ignorant to a lot of what she touched on, however, to have it come from such a well respected, credible and experienced epidemiologist was a big affirmation to what I've heard. What was also new to me is that the powers that be have been far from ignorant for a very, very long time and have chosen to ignore the repercussions o...more
Kathleen Hagen
The Secret History of the War on Cancer, by Devra Davis, borrowed from the National Library Service for the Blind.

This book comprised 18 hours of audio time. Devra Davis is an epidemiologist from the University of Pittsburgh, who published in 2007 a very comprehensive history of the checkered history of searching for a cancer cure-primarily hindered by the fact that many of the same companies that pay for the research and/or cancer drug experiments, also create the problems of pollution. This bo...more
The lack of regulation of chemicals that are used to produce our shampoo, cosmetics, plastic toys, plastic bottles, artificial sweetners and many more common everyday products is frightening. Devra Davis, an epidemiologist, conducts a comprehensive review of clinical trials, published and unpublished research (found in old archives) that demonstrates how government sides with business in an effort to preserve profit rather than protect the consumer from the known risks associated with exposure t...more

I've been around the block. I'm far from naive. Especially when it comes to the excesses that power brings and allows. But this book? It blew me away. Every chapter a revelation of the systemic depravity of corporations and governments and even medical/charitable organizations. Everyone out to make a buck. Choosing again and again to guard their own wealth rather than safeguard the public.

Yes, I knew about the naked self-interest of the tobacco industry. I didn't know the depth or the impli...more
Sep 17, 2008 Christina rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all of you people
This book is important. While not as pleasant and easy-going of an important read as a book like the Omnivore's Dilemma, it is clear, impeccably researched, and excruciatingly relevant. I don't even know what to say here, because every chapter could inspire pages of reactions. I wish this review could include a picture of how many page corners I dog-eared, for starters -- just about every page contains either clarification/validation of something I suspected already or a tidbit that makes me sto...more
3.5 stars
It was interesting reading this book after having finished The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee recently. Both books are fascinating, in depth, and have completely different looks at cancer. While both books are about a depressing topic - cancer - Mukherjee's book left me feeling upbeat and hopeful while Davis's book left me feeling angry and cheated.

The Secret History of the War on Cancer explains in great detail why cancer is so pervasive and why we are told that tr...more
Bill O'driscoll
Davis is an internationally known epidemiologist and her subject here is the way research on cancer -- specifically on the dangers of smoking and industrial pollution -- has been suppressed or ignored over the decades. (The Germans, for instance, had proved smoking caused lung cancer by the late 1930s. But no one listened because ... well, because they were Nazis, but also because it was more convenient for the American tobacco industry, which kept health officials here from acknowledging the fa...more
Oct 04, 2008 Maya rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
I don't even know where to start; I can't review this book in the sense of "here's what was good and bad about it." For me, this book is too big and important for that.

Dr. Davis recounts in almost excruciating detail the painful facts about when scientists knew that cigarettes, benzene, and asbestos caused death and why and how that information was kept hidden for decades. At that point in the book I was thoroughly depressed (for one thing, how could all those company officials, scientists and...more
Rebecca Kaye
Nov 05, 2007 Rebecca Kaye rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who isn't sure if their consumption is healthful
After hearing the NPR interview with the author of this book: ,

I suddenly ended my long-term relationship with aspartame. Her point isn't that aspartame causes cancer... it's that every strong cause of cancer we know of is a combination of different compounds like cigarette smoke and air pollution.

After, I bought the book (which I don't do often, being a library enthusiast.)

She argues brilliantly that the FDA has accepted "scientific research" to approve s...more
Being a anti-cancer warrior, I figured I should read this book to get the inside scoop. I found the the first couple of chapters hard to read but eventually decided to skip ahead and the rest of the book was actually engrossing. The first chapters represented what I liked least about the book: a style of writing that involves drifting in and out of detailed backstory, personal anecdotes, and historical vignettes. For instance, she starts a chapter describing the travels of a pathologist from Chi...more
Scary... we already know the tobacco companies covered up and disseminated doubt about the harm of cigarettes for years, but it was much longer than anyone thought. Manufacturers of artificial sweeteners have followed this successful model to prolong lack of liability, and Devra Davis is alluding to the fact that we will witness a similar scenario from the cell phone companies.

She also chronicles the first documented incidences of cancers in textile workers, chimney sweeps and chemical workers,...more
This book tells about the other "inconvenient truth"--that the war against cancer has been woefully mismanaged with a greater focus on protecting profits, rather than people's health. It was frightening to confirm what I already suspected, which is that the environment, the workplace, the water we drink and the food we eat (among a long list of factors) are linked to cancer. The burden of proof about what causes cancer has been on the scientific community rather than those who produce toxic fume...more
Maya Rock
I've read parts of this so far and it's pretty brilliant (this is one of my boss's clients) and very ambitious. Takes on government, scientists and business and shows how their interplay has ensured that the war against cancer is pretty ineffectively waged. Will make you paranoid about chemicals. Very big on how treatment is emphasized instead of finding out cause.

Sort of like w/DRINKING: A Love Story, I feel like this book has changed the way I look at cancer as well as health and medicine in g...more
This is one of my favorite books this year - while it seemed somewhat academic in nature in the early chapters, I found that each subsequent chapter was more easily read, and my passion for the subject matter built readily.

This book opened my eyes to strides made to uncover corporate, governmental and scientific treachery with regards to concealed information about cancer-causing agents affecting the general public as well as employees. I have subsequently (but not fearfully) decided to make som...more
Early in her career the author was told to stay clear of writing/studying the environmental causes of cancer because it would ruin her career. It's pretty much the same old story. Industry/oligarchs have known about the environmental causes of cancer for years. They pay for most of the research and control the results. This includes the American Cancer Society. It was known for years smoking caused cancer. It was years before pap smears became routine because Dr.'s wanted to keep control over pt...more
This book presents the major failing in the 'war on cancer'. The efforts have focused on treatments and avoided causes (with a few exceptions such as smoking).

We live in a chemical soup of many cancer causing compounds. This is made worse by the interaction of these and other compounds in our environment to increase the rates of cancers.

Treatment is important but it is an 'end of pipe' solution. We would all be better off if the causes were addressed and we had less to treat in the first place....more
Feb 08, 2010 Abby marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Hmmm. Why do we spend so much money and time on finding a cure for cancer, and so little on just preventing it from happening in the first place? Am I the only one who thinks we have it backwards? I think I turning into a hippie. I am getting interested in alternative medicine and going organic (well, thinking about it) and not relying on doctors too much anymore. And I never, ever, want to take any medication again. Unless I have too, then I probably will. But I would like to avoid it at all co...more
Fascinating account of government and industry's favoring of profit over human health - written by a Ph.D. Epidemiologist that knows how to write for the general public...I learned that cigarette companies once tried to convince the public that their new filtered cigarettes were safer - they used asbestos to create these filters. And I also learned not to let my kids use cell phones...this was a very good book, but definitely not fast reading for me...
I have not finished this yet because it had to go back to the library, but it is super compelling. Thanks Angela for the suggestion. It has this huge scope and history about cancer and cancer research...or lack of research. It all totally parallels the increased development of coal plants, chemicals, etc. Really tragic and sometimes terrifying histories. I am only half way though, and in the 1950s...i can't imagine it gets any less dire.
This book provides a great deal of historical background to explore how it came to be that many environmental toxins are allowed into our environment even when the knowledge exists that they are harmful. It causes one to think carefully before using anymore chemicals if they can be avoided. Even before I read this book, I was unhappy about the amount of lawn chemicals that are in general use.
A bit dry and academic, but still critically important for its information. You can read (and thus avoid) the causes of most cancer: radiation, heavy metals, magnetic fields, smoking and many others. Most everyone can avoid these to an extent. It's depressing to read about the corporate and government interests that 'pretend' to want to cure cancer but still want business as usual to prevail.
I can't put it down- I'm gonna have to add this one to my "collection". Fascinating! An extensive look into cancer and tobacco and other cancer causing agents. For parents, it informs the reader about a chemical (PEG) used widely in baby products sold in the US that is known to cause cancer. Europe bans and recalls any baby product with the chemical in it. Knowledge is power- a great read.
my aunt sent this book my way and it's quite hefty compared to the young adult books i'd grown accustomed to breezing through. this book is low on the medical jargon and high on environment as foe. for those of us from postindustrial western pennsylvania and from the ohio river valley there are many recognizable locales, factories and mines namedropped.
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Devra Davis is an American epidemiologist and writer. Her book When Smoke Ran Like Water, which begins with the tale of the Donora Smog of 1948, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2002. Davis's second book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, was published by Basic Books in October 2007.

She is currently the director of the Center for Environmental Oncology of the University of Pitt...more
More about Devra Davis...
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