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

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
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's review
Mar 16, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: from-fresh-air, recommended-non-fiction

(4.5) Impressively informative history of cancer, with a few teeny faults

I was so impressed to see all of cancer's history (and essentially all of the questions I could possibly come up with answered) all in one engaging book. A very thorough and impressive work that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. We go down many of the dead end approaches to diagnosing, treating and curing cancers, as well as see the main thrusts of research that have led to great breakthroughs in oncology (not to mention epidemiology, evidence-based medicine in general). Most readers can come away with a ton of awareness of the many diseases that are cancer. And best of all, we're actually left with a sense of optimism: there is hope (even history demonstrating) that we can and will continue to make headway in understanding the complex interaction of Genes Gone Wild! that is malignancy.

There a few minor faults that were enough to bump this from a 5.0 to 4.5:
* I felt he wasn't consistent in his assumptions about his audience. At times, he assumes no scientific or medical knowledge at all (going into great detail about cell biology and explaining what fellowship is in medical training, for example), but at others he assumes a familiarity with medicine, the medicine hierarchy and science that is inconsistent with the former examples.
* On two occasions he makes oblique references to the use of HeLa cells in his lab, but fails to acknowledge the source. Not sure why.
* He alternately referred to the AIDS ward at SF General in the 80s as Ward 5A and 5B. I believe the famous ward is just one of the two. ;)
* One typo in my hardcover edition: 'criteria' where 'criterion' was appropriate.
* UPDATE: NIck Black reminded me of a few instances of repeated passages and re-explanations (I agree; why is this so common in pop science?), which I noticed but forgot while writing the review....

And not really a fault, but he makes endless references to Susan Sontag and her comments on illenss, and seemed a bit out of place. Almost all other frequently quoted authors are actual researchers or physicians.

But the fact that these minor faults are the only criticism I have (and that I was paying THAT close attention because the read was so riveting) is a testament to how good this book is. It goes on my recommended non-fiction shelf for sure!

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Bill recently read it and loved it!

Brian Certainly loving it so far! Learning a ton too!

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