Jack'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
Jan 12, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: history, science
Read from February 18 to April 21, 2013

Wonderfully written story of cancer. The author manages to make the multi-millenia long history of cancer read like a mystery novel. Throughout the book we learn how our ancestors in Egypt and Europe thought of cancer, but the story picks up around the start of the twentieth century. In the early 20th century, what used to be an untreatable disease began to be attacked by Halsted and his followers by radical masectomies in the case of breast cancers. Most of the book is devoted to the rest of the century in which chemotherapy is established as one of the main weapons against cancer, starting with anti-folates by the work of Farber. The author also ties in the political story of cancer; how Farber, Mary Lasker, the Jimmy Fund and others brought about the national attention and the subsequent national investment into cancer research. We also learn of very recently-developed targeted small molecule drugs which take advantage of the new mechanistic understanding of cancers that was the fruit of the massive research efforts. Throughout the book the author, himself an oncologist, never fails to tie in the human side of this story, giving us insight into the lives of patients and giving the disease a human element that I have often ignored as a biologist.

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