Carol's Reviews > The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
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May 23, 2015

it was amazing
bookshelves: book-group-reads, non-fiction
Recommended to Carol by: my friend Barney
Read from January 16 to 23, 2012

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 themselves, might be emotionally upset. I was right and yet, I was wrong too. Yes, some of our group just couldn’t read it, but most did, and found it fascinating and informative. None felt it would have made any difference when they were going through their own illness but thought it might have helped if they had read it cancer free. It also would be useful for family members.

Considering there are few of us who will not either have some form of cancer ourselves, or have a love one in need of treatment, this is a book for to equip you with knowledge. Dr. Mukherjee presents a well researched book, though not easy to read, one in layman’s terms and simple to understand. He begins at the beginning, giving us a timeline over many centuries, of what cancer is, isn’t, what we know, what we don’t, treatment tried, treatment failed, treatment success; taking us on a journey in the war against cancer.

Our group learned much, shed a few tears, ate chocolate and marmite (one concoction used for cure long ago), and laughed as all living people must. In the end we felt hopeful that with dedicated doctors, committed researchers, and palliative treatment, we can live longer and better, if not cured, at least, living with cancer.

Dr. Mukherjee won a Pulitzer Prize in general non-fiction for his effort. I highly recommend this book for someone needing to understand the structure of this disease, and for persons interested in science and medicine.
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Reading Progress

04/22 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Jill (new)

Jill Hi Carol -- You make a great point, one that I've struggled with myself. The way I resolved it was to decide to give stars based on comparisons to others in the same genre. For instance, I gave 5 stars to Defending Jacob, which cannot compare to a weightier or more literary book, simply because it was far better than other legal thrillers I've read. Incidentally, I've heard great things about the Mukherjee book.


Cynthia Great review of a difficult, but well written book.


Carol I'm rading Defending Jacob now and agree with you Jill, both about the book and the stars.


Carol Cynthia and all...I'm really glad I read this one.


message 5: by Kate (new)

Kate This is on my TBR pile. I think I will tackle during the summer, as I have too much to read now!!!


Mary Ronan Drew We are watching the PBS documentary made from this book and it's splendid. The story of cancer, its research and treatment, is heartbreaking and yet always moving forward.


message 7: by Kats (new) - added it

Kats Brilliant review, Carol, as always! I've had the Mukherjee on my TBR for quite a few years, as usual I've been put off by the sheer size of it; I feel intimidated. Your review makes me want to read it asap though. Thank you for sharing!


message 8: by Christine (new)

Christine Just excellent, Carol. I am a recently retired physician and wish I knew about this book when I was still in practice. It would have been helpful for a number of my patients. In regards to stars, I understand completely what you are saying. I think you have to just have to compare apples to apples. A 5 star for a cozy mystery is just that--a great cozy mystery, but not necessarily a great all time book as certain 5 star nonfiction novels may be.


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