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The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  3,437 ratings  ·  361 reviews
Essential, required reading for doctors and patients alike: A Pulitzer Prize-winning author and one of the world’s premiere cancer researchers reveals an urgent philosophy on the little-known principles that govern medicine—and how understanding these principles can empower us all.

Over a decade ago, when Siddhartha Mukherjee was a young, exhausted, and isolated medical res
Hardcover, 96 pages
Published October 13th 2015 by Simon Schuster/ TED (first published September 1st 2015)
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Petra X in quarantine again with her kitties
This is a very short book, but deep. It makes you reflect on the practice of medicine and how it might affect you if you had to make decisions for yourself or another. The first law of medicine, according to the author is “A strong intuition is much more powerful than a weak test.” Or, what you think you are seeing is more likely the case than what the computer spits out if you've been doing all the wrong tests or don't know the true circumstances.

Mukherjee uses as an example a man, a conventio
Diane S ☔
Oct 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
How does the saying go? Sometimes big things come in little packages. Which certainly proved true with this book. A TED talk on medicine by the noted cancer physician. Unfortunately I have had more than my fair share of dealing with the medical profession, so I always have an interest in books such as this. Learned much about the tests that are ordered, how doctors make their decisions, drug trials and what they actually mean. Some interesting cases were presented in an easy to understand format ...more
India M. Clamp
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: surgery
The encomiums are copious concerning creations by Oncologist/Pulitzer Prize winner Siddhartha Mukherjee. Having read his “Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” to “The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science.” Both teach us law one: “A strong intuition is much more powerful than a weak test.”

Though not as involved or page heavy as previous works; this TED talks book helps us understand the reality that confronts all physicians having to make faultless decisions from im
Sep 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Law One: A strong intuition is much more powerful than a weak test.
Law Two: "Normals" teach us rules; "outliers" teach us laws.
Law Three: For every perfect medical experiment, there is a perfect human bias.

Well, interesting, sort of. I would have probably really liked this in the early days of medical school. Each 'law' is illustrated with a few examples that give the reader a peek into his medical world. You know, the sort of godly laying-of-the-hands-and-the-noble-art-of-medicine world. Not th
Oct 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a very short book and makes for a quick and easy read. It gives color and light to the concept of priors in Bayes theorem. And also reviews a bit more about Bayesian reasoning. The author points out why outliers are more important than inliers in current medicine and are the future of medical theories.

So, we have two very important concepts being put forward in crystal clear language: Bayesian reasoning and "outliers" as the perfect ones to study when crafting a law of medicine. The ana
Jun 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
I liked this for the short read it was, and for the interesting cases included.

There's not a lot this book tries to prove; there's nothing that it's arguing about. It isn't a thesis to explain how medicine should be fundamental science among the crowed three. Nor is it a historical rendition on the birth of medicine.

What this book does do is give a little more insight into the world of medicine. And change the way you perceive the vital science. (See what I did's a little weak, I'm
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medicine
Please let Mukherjee develop this into a full size book! In this extremely short book, Mukherjee offered a much needed perspective in medicine. It seems to me that when considering this and other recent books from MDs (e.g. Lisa Sanders' Every Patient Tells a Story) who focus on the issue of the difficulty of properly diagnosing a patient, a pattern is forming. Doctors, at least the ones authoring the books I have been reading, are no longer as interested in seeming mysterious or godlike. I like ...more
Oct 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Spaces Between the Facts

Siddhartha Mukherjee is not only a prominent cancer specialist, he is also the author of the beautifully written (but long) The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. In this very short book he tries to distill the essential features of medicine that make it a science. The result is about more than medicine, it is an insight into how all of science works, using medicine as a metaphor that is familiar to the reader.

A doctor is expected to make perfect decisio
Raksha Bhat
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indian-authors, owned
Some professions are passions, more than bread and butter. To cordon and define them by law or a set of rules is no easy task. Medicine is one among them and like Siddhartha Mukherjee says it is the most beautiful and fragile of all. Diagnostics and treatment rely greatly on accuracy and consistency but we always need to be intuitive because the outlier always gives us a chance for research, not to forget like any other people in this world we are prone to bias. These are some laws which he writ ...more
Dec 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Siddhartha Mukherjee and me happen to have a common friend – Thomas Bayes, to whom the book is dedicated. Bringing Bayesian thinking in the world of medicine can make a huge difference there. The author starts with quite an astonishing eye-opening of how the present medicine operates and why there are still so many problems, despite the modern technology and deep theoretical basis.

Part of the problem, as the author points out, lies in the fact that as the tools are getting better and better, th
Zain Ul Hassan
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
"The laws of medicine" is a very interesting and introductory book of medicine by Siddhartha Mukherjee who is Pultizer Prize-winning author, a cancer specialist and well-known researcher. The author has listed his own deduced three laws i.e. priors. outliers, and biases in the uncertain world of medicine which helped him greatly during his tenure as medical student and physician to effectively perceive the diseases and correctly perform the treatment. Presented with a number of examples from his ...more
Aug 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Siddhartha Mukherjee is a wonderful teacher and a truly great science writer. I recently became a fan as I started to get halfway through his masterpiece book The Emperor of All Maladies.

I'm still yet to finish that one and I've already bought Gene - An Intimate History and I've already flown through the significantly thinner The Laws of Medicine.

A cancer physician and researcher, Dr. Mukherjee straddles academia, clinical work and research in a way only America makes possible for people and i
Brad Isaacs
Oct 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: medicine
There is no doubt Mukherjee is an incredible writer. However, there were many times while reading this short book I wish it were a lot longer and more in depth. His description of Bayes' Theorem, and the entire book in general, was intended for the layperson. Overall, a good exposure to biases we all have while trying to make decisions in times of uncertainty, yet not enough to gain more than a superficial understanding. ...more
Alfred Haplo
The Laws of Medicine is a little book with a big impression. It highlights the conundrums of “laws” governing established medical science versus medical-science-in-progress. As a young intern, the author had grappled with bridging the tangible aspects of knowledge with intangible clinical wisdom. What is this X factor that would make him a better doctor?

Those thoughts formulated and crystallized into the titular subject. The three laws outlined are not general laws of medicine, rather, they ar
Mahmoud Ayman
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book satisfied the nerd inside me to the utmost levels I am giving it the full mark. I think this one is important to be read by everyone in the medical profession, it is difficult to find someone stating such laws in the face of everything known to humans despite their very importance.
Highly recommended!

“Doctors,” Voltaire wrote, “are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing.”
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The description of this book weirdly states that one of the laws Mukherjee proposes is that “Rumours are more important than tests.” That’s not what he suggests: instead, he’s talking about intuition and putting two and two together so that you use the right tests in the right circumstances, reducing the number of needless false positives. He gives an example of realising that one of his patients who didn’t fit the profile was actually a drug addict, leading to being able to use a test for AIDs ...more
Joseph Sciuto
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"The Laws OF Medicine" by Siddhartha Mukherjee (acclaimed author of "The Emperor of all Maladeries" and "The Gene") is a short, engrossing, intellectually stimulating discussion that focuses on "medicine" as an uncertain science that despite all the technological advances still needs to rely on a one on one, doctor-patient, relationship to achieve a correct diagnosis and experimental certainty... There are simply too many variables in medicine to rely totally on technology to achieve accurate re ...more
Akshay S Dinesh
Sep 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medical-reads
I pre-ordered the book because Siddhartha Mukherjee's Emperor of All Maladies is my all time favorite and the description of why there should be "laws" in medicine fascinated me.

The only disappointment I had was that the book is just 70 pages and I finished it in one reading.

I got at least one career idea and a lot of inspiring thoughts while going through them.
Nov 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, medical
Brilliant!!! Eloquent writing.. Will surely come back for a reread.
Sep 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I suspect that the vast majority of us know very little about how one becomes a doctor that hasn’t been informed by TV shows. We expect doctors to diagnose like Dr. House or care for us like Dr. Dorian or entertain us like Patch Adams. Anyone who’s gotten a whiff of medical school will be quick to correct our misperceptions, but there are only a few doctors who are bringing the mysterious inner workings of practicing medicine to light for the general public. Atul Gawande is one. The late Oliver ...more
John of Canada
Short but jam packed.Mukherjee is a wonderful writer.There's Bayes theorem,astronomy to explain medical mysteries,Heisenberg theories.Lots of stuff!Anyone who thinks that doctors will be replaced by technology can relax.The human touch is irreplaceable."The medical revolution will not be algorithmized."
For the feminists he reports on bias."Women are notoriously underrepresented in randomized studies.In fact female mice are notoriously underrepresented in laboratory studies."
Years ago I read abou
Katie Bananas
Nov 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have learned so much more information from this man in the past couple of hours than I've ever come close to learn anything so useful in classroom lectures. What an unbelievable experience this man emits to the future of medicine. I seriously wish he was my professor!! What an exemplary genius!!!!

The study of medicine is grueling and challenging. It's an everyday discovery to come up with the laws explained in this little book!! This is a great reminder that everyone is different, just as in
Jul 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting to read this while also reading Thinking, Fast and Slow. He talks about doctors using intuition and that being better than some screening tests with less than perfect sensitivity and specificity. Intuition is the fast thinking built on subconsciously stored information and connections from previous experiences. It's both scary and interesting to think about how much of medicine is an art and still far from a hard and fast science. ...more
Denise Alcaraz
Apr 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-reads
For a non-fiction piece of work, this guy can write and keep me interested almost like a fiction story. I've read The Emperor of All Maladies a few years ago and was fascinated. I am an Oncology Nurse, but they don't teach this stuff in Nursing School. I love how this man writes nonfiction. It is not a dry and boring affair. I have already pre-ordered his next book. ...more
May 01, 2019 added it
This book is fun reading, even for a non-medico.
It is interesting, hilarious and intriguing.

It has interesting anecdotes not only from his life, but from Bayes, Tycho Brahe etc... which makes this book even more interesting and fun to read.
Lien To
Jan 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
3.4 stars****

Loved the talk, wasn't too sure about the book though. I spent too much time looking up medical jargon and losing my rhythm with the book. Overall, a enriching read over a field I've admired afar.

"It's easy to make perfect decisions with perfect information. Medicine asks you to make perfect decisions with imperfect information"
Zheen Khalil Kamala
Dec 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
The laws state that a strong gut feeling and intuition is better than a mere test that has been standardized for the majority, normals don’t always have to be the normal, what is normal for the majority might be the opposite for an individual based on the factors associated with the disease or the patient, and lastly we tend to be biased in our opinions when it comes to unexplainable cases.
What we need to do sometimes is to think out of the box, for each case sheet, each patient has their own st
Dec 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Siddhartha Mukherjee is an annoyingly accomplished human being, a world-class doctor and cancer researcher seemingly affiliated with all the planet's best universities, a man who apparently decided to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning author in his spare time. I suppose if anybody's allowed to publish some idle musings in a grandiosely-titled 50-page TED Talk pamphlet and call it a book, he is. ...more
Laura Hoffman Brauman
Sep 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mukherjee has two big science books that I would like to read, but I was a little intimidated, so I started with The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science. Based on his Ted Talk, this gave me a feel of his writing style and the tone of his work. This was a thought-provoking read that looks at how the science of medicine combines with the principles about bias, outliers, and prior knowledge when treating patients. It digs in to the uncertainty of medicine, how we build upon prio ...more
Sarah Abd Elaziz
Aug 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I was in awe the night i finished this. A truly short yet amazing reading. I hope I'd read all other works by Siddhartha. He's one of my favorite writers now -and the only one till now in the medical field-.
I believe Medicine is the youngest science yet the most fascinating to watch through his first uncertain baby steps. Siddhartha's afterthoughts on the matter were thought-provoking to me even before reading the book.
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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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