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

4.26 of 5 stars 4.26  ·  rating details  ·  23,028 ratings  ·  2,813 reviews

The Emperor of All Maladies is a magnificent, profoundly humane “biography” of cancer—from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence. Physician, researcher, and award-winning...more
ebook, 592 pages
Published November 16th 2010 by Scribner (first published 2010)
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The Ghost Map by Steven JohnsonThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootThe Hot Zone by Richard PrestonThe Great Influenza by John M. BarryThe Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
History of Medicine
5th out of 107 books — 48 voters
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You Read a Book about What?
42nd out of 759 books — 324 voters

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Community Reviews

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Riku Sayuj
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...more
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
Ms Bubbles SockieP
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 Empe...more
Jul 13, 2011 Jessica rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
Nick Black
Sep 01, 2013 Nick Black rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
May 16, 2011 Christina rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Cancer fucking sucks.
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...more
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...more
Andy Perdue
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.
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...more
Anna Balasi
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,...more
Julia Hayes
Mar 15, 2011 Julia Hayes rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
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...more
The cancer researcher and oncologist Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee has written THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES: A BIOGRAPHY OF CANCER from a question asked by his patients, "What is it that I am battleing?"

The purpose of the book, then, is to write the history of the disease from 2500 BCE to the present with a prognosis of the malady that has evaded understanding and cure, intersecting science and humanity in a deadly way.

The arc of the story is two or three tales: Dr. Mukherjee's coming of age as an onc...more
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
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
Written as a narrative, this book takes on two challenges: outlining the history of cancer as perceived and treated by humans; explaining the science and scientific method behind not only the disease, but also the various forms of therapy and industries that have affected oncology.
Ambitious in scope, The Emperor of All Maladies not only effectively communicates the scientific and socio-economic events involving cancer - no small feat in themselves - it also employs a "human" component to the nar...more
Next spring marks ten years since my mother passed away from Ocular Melanoma, a lesser-known yet deadly cancer variant. I was in college at the time. Having spent almost my entire childhood under cancer's shadow--she was first diagnosed when I was two, though was "cured" for roughly fifteen years--I finally feel enough distance to approach the topic of cancer from a more removed vantage-point.

I try not to give out 5 star reviews very often. Usually I save 5-star reviews, not just for excellent b...more
Jan 27, 2012 Carol rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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...more

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...more
This book won the Pulitzer for best nonfiction in 2010, and I can see why. Mukherjee shadows researchers in their Ahab-like quest to find the origins and the cure for cancer. We learn about the early developments for the cancer treatments of surgery, radiology and chemotherapy and the subsequent refinements for each. Mukherjee does an excellent job portraying the character of several cancer researchers, showing how science is dynamic, interested and perspectival. Much of the book traces the hist...more
This is a spectacular book. I read 100 books a year and this is definitely in the top 10. It is very, very well written and, in some ways, it is like a mystery. The way the book is written, we follow the stream of research and clinical medical treatment over 150 years. It's like feeling around in the dark for a bomb that we know will go off. It is simultaneously horrifying and compelling. I am a doctor and think I am compassionate towards my patients. This book increased my compassion 10X. What...more
Excellent. And exactly as a friend described it – "exhaustive, exhausting." This is pitched perfectly for me, the well-educated not-a-doctor. And like the very best nonfiction, this book is clearly written from a place of deep passion for the subject. He has the exact right balance here between cool, researcher's zeal, and human grasp of the "charring, personal war" each of his patients is fighting. This book made me tired and sad and amazed and hopeful and scared, and then everything all at onc...more
“This book is a history of cancer”. And so it begins! From this rather straight and simple introductory line, 'The Emperor of all Maladies - A Biography of Cancer' unravels the mysteries of the dreadful disease, tracing its path since around 4000 BC until today and the incessant war humanity has waged against it. A war in which for most time the enemy was barely understood; its shape, size, roots, cause, effect, likes and dislikes, lurking as mysteries for most people!

As I do with any non-fictio...more
M. Salahuddin
Fantastic! Rarely have I encountered an author with such a capacity for engaging eloquent prose. Add to this the daunting nature of the subject and it makes Mr. Mukherjee's achievement all the more remarkable. With the deftness of a fiction writer, this book grips all but the most moribund of minds in its beautiful, often poignant, never dull descriptions of mankind's enduring struggle with the fearsome illnesses we collectively call cancer. Frequently dealing with scientific concepts and the se...more
Tiffany Reisz
Fantastic book. I won't be able to write anything coherent about it. An extraordinary biography of cancer. I was moved, of course, by the suffering and struggles of those afflicted with cancer, but strangely more deeply touched by the healthy doctors and scientists who risked their careers (one researcher's quest for a breast cancer cure made him a pariah) and their health (one doctor infected himself with a cancer-causing virus to study it) in the quest for a cure for a disease they did not the...more
'The Emperor of All Maladies' is a comprehensive review of cancer and the quest to find treatment and a cure. The author discusses the first known observations of the disease and describes the evolution of research over the years. The range of cancer topics is broad and includes fund raising, turf fights among different physician groups, scientific minutiae, legal cases, among others. The span of the book is impressive and I walked away with a deeper understanding of the disease and the reasons...more
This is a biography of an unlikely subject: cancer. I have a particular interest in this topic as one of my sons is pursuing a PhD in molecular biology and genetics to become a cancer research scientist. This book helped me understand his field. To be perfectly honest, I had to overcome many generations of familial hypochondria to read this book and once I shoved those fears aside, I found the history of the diseases that make up cancer, its treatments and discoveries very interesting. The autho...more
Fred Moramarco
Let me get this out of the way right away. Siddhartha Mukherjee's "The Emperor of All Maladies" is probably the most important book you'll read this year, and maybe this decade. Unless you're an oncologist, you will certainly learn an enormous amount about this terrible disease that affects almost everyone on the planet if not directly then indirectly through family, friends, and so on. And what's truly amazing about it is that the book is almost compulsively readable--actually a page turner, de...more
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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
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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013 Granta 124: Travel

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“It remains an astonishing, disturbing fact that in America - a nation where nearly every new drug is subjected to rigorous scrutiny as a potential carcinogen, and even the bare hint of a substance's link to cancer ignites a firestorm of public hysteria and media anxiety - one of the most potent and common carcinogens known to humans can be freely bought and sold at every corner store for a few dollars.” 30 likes
“The art of medicine is long, Hippocrates tells us, "and life is short; opportunity fleeting; the experiment perilous; judgment flawed.” 24 likes
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