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

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  88,025 ratings  ·  6,960 reviews
Alternate Cover Edition ISBN 1439107955 (ISBN13: 9781439107959)

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-
Hardcover, 571 pages
Published November 16th 2010 by Scribner
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Rosalie I've read other long, rich histories (science, medicine, general history, etc), but have not lost my way in the middle so much as I did with this book…moreI've read other long, rich histories (science, medicine, general history, etc), but have not lost my way in the middle so much as I did with this book. As you say, it is incredibly well-researched, but it does seem to suffer from a 'too slow in the middle' syndrome. I haven't reviewed the book, but only because I've put it aside unfinished. Your question helped me to understand why. It's more about the storytelling pace, than the amount of information. Thanks.(less)
Jahnavi Pulitzer prize winning - yes, moving account - in parts, yes, but it is also excruciatingly detailed in its recounting of events.
The focus is not on c…more
Pulitzer prize winning - yes, moving account - in parts, yes, but it is also excruciatingly detailed in its recounting of events.
The focus is not on cancer patients, neither is it on oncologists - rather its the telling of our journey wading through cancer - a biography, like the tagline reads, with due to attention to all those involved.
It is easy to understand, i'd say - but not an 'easy read' - it'll definitely take multiple sittings, unless you're the kind to devour scientific facts on the go.
Should you pick up to read the book, I'll say you'll have plenty of revelations - it's well-written from literature's stand-point as well, and a book I quite like!(less)

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Dec 11, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2010
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
Riku Sayuj
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Riku by: Rohini
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
Petra Kiss
Jun 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 Emper ...more
Always Pouting
Feb 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this is a really good and accessible book about cancer that traces the history of our understanding of it. I'm not sure if it qualifies as a biography of cancer per se and I only mentioned this because I kind of feel ambivalent about the anthropomorphizing of cancer through out the book. I feel like it wasn't really even anthropomorphizing really, especially not when compared to the way a lot of biologist speak of things like genes, but more metaphorical and a way of relating cancer to a ...more
Julia Hayes
Mar 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Simon Clark
Apr 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I wanted to dislike this book. For personal reasons that I'm not quite ready to talk about yet, I really wanted this book to fall apart, to fail in its communication of the science of cancer. The longer it went on, the harder I looked for reasons to deduct a star from its rating. But I simply couldn't find any.

This is a meticulous account of the multifaceted research to beat cancer. It's quite possibly the best bit of written science communication that I've ever read. In my opinion you can brea
Diane S ☔
Feb 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
The author is a cancer physician and researcher,. I don't think anyone else could take on the challenge of writing about cancer, from the first rearing of its ugly head. He gives us a sweeping look at the beginning treatments, trials, operations, and research. Leukemia, breast cancer, Hodgkin's, and other cancers flit in and out throughout this book. Reading about children with this horrible disease always tears at my heart, I think this was the hardest part. Although it was all quite hard, but ...more
Dec 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, medicine

I've been wanting to read this since it first appeared, but I was just too nervous. Call it superstition. This is far scarier than any of your Barkers, your Kings or your Koontzes: there are no such things as zombies or bogeymen, but cancer is out there. Waiting for us.

In The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell talks a lot about the irony of the First World War. Cancer, in the same way, is a deeply ironic disease. As Peyton Rous said, ‘Nature sometimes seems possessed of a sardonic humor.’
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I knew before I had finished The Gene: An Intimate History that I would have to read this earlier work by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Yet I waited over two years, a reading eternity for those who know me. See, I tend to the obsessional in my reading, and I do not need hypnosis to be suggestible. Oh, you can't sway me with your opinions -- I'm too contrarian for that. But if I was drinking Pinot Noir and I offered you a glass of it and you said, no, that Pinot Noir made your mouth too dry, then my mou ...more
Jun 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Stephanie *Eff your feelings*
Done!! Phew!!

Everything you've ever wanted to know, and didn't want to know about cancer. While this is not light reading, it's interesting reading.
Nick Black
Nov 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
It currently dominates the news in The Netherlands: the suspicious deaths of several people with cancer, who were treated with the drug 3-Bromopyruvate (3BP) in an alternative cancer centre in Germany. It’s likely that those that were treated at this clinic had no other treatment options available in conventional medicine, and so turned to alternative medicine as a last resort. Therefore, a high death rate seems unavoidable either way. Yet, authorities have reason to believe that patients at thi ...more
May 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, medicine
This is an elegant, well-written book. Parts of the book read like a detective story, and are very engrossing. However, I really take issue with the short shrift that the book gives to research on cancer prevention. Now, the author readily admits that big strides toward conquering cancer will not occur by only finding cures--prevention is just as important. But, while the book has several chapters on the connection between smoking and lung cancer, no attention is paid to research related to othe ...more
Éimhear (A Little Haze)
Fascinating and deep insight into the history of cancer research dating all the way back to an Egyptian text from 2500BC describing a 'bulging tumour in the breast for which there was no treatment'.
A fairly comprehensive explanation of cancer biology that I believe can still be understood by the lay person. However, diagrams involving the targeting of proto-/oncogenes and diagrams explaining the signalling cascade of some kinases could perhaps have helped those without a science background to un
Sonja Arlow
For me the word CANCER has always felt like that weird little creature in the movie Beetlejuice. If you say its name too often it may just manifest in front if you. Especially because both my parents are cancer survivors and my extended family is also riddled with cancer cases.

And I know I am not alone in my fear of this disease. The stigma around cancer is mentioned frequently in this book.

But knowledge is power, and I was determined to tackle this Beetlejuice head-on. Yet it seems the more we
Jan 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Michael Perkins
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
How other developed countries see the U.S healthcare system (short video)....


“Doctors 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.”

This may seem harsh, but diagnosis is a lost art. Primary care doctors spend a mere 11 minutes per patient in an office visit, according to a new analysis. The history of the patient used to be seen as
Rohit Enghakat
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star, history
"Cancer changes your life" a patient wrote after her mastectomy. "It alters your habits...Everything becomes magnified."
This statement is so terrifying that it always rings in your subconscious mind while reading this book. The book is beautifully written and an epic tome on cancer. Full marks to Siddhartha Mukherjee for his detailed analysis and extensive research on the disease. Each chapter starts with quotes by people associated with the disease and about half-way down the book, you realise
Jan 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
María Alcaide
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, non-fiction
A great compilation on all cancer related, from history to biology, treatments, future perspectives and clinical cases. Though a big dense book, with tons of information, it is greatly written and explained in a way everyone can understand. For those not much into science or medicine it can be a bit hard. As said, it is huge and tells so many things, but worth reading anyhow. From my point of view, the view of a trained scientist with some cancer knowledge, and a lover of medicine, science and h ...more
Lisa  (not getting friends updates) 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
Anna Balasi
Jun 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
May 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
A terrific, comprehensive look at the history and mechanics of cancer, starting at Imhotep and ending at the no-longer-quite-literal bleeding edge of science. Mukherjee is an engaging and very careful writer; you get the sense that he pored over each sentence to make it as clear as possible. It worked, too.

For we book nerds, he's scattered references to a wonderful variety of books throughout: Herodotus, Italo Calvino and Joan Didion all make their way in here, as well as this sentence, to which
Andy Perdue
Apr 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cancer
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. ...more
May 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
This magisterial history of cancer won a 2011 Pulitzer Prize, though not for History (that went to a new book about the Civil War) or, as Mukherjee more whimsically categorizes his own book, Biography (that went to a biography of George Washington); instead, he won in the General Nonfiction category, which, though prosaic, is certainly appropriate for a work of scientific journalism. The Emperor of all Maladies reminded me most of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the previous year’s popular ...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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