A "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.
Mukherjee manages to convey not only a forensically precise picture of what he sees, but a shiver, too, of what he feels ... The yoking of scientific expertise to narrative talent is rare enough, but the literary echoes of The Emperor of All Maladies suggest a desire to go further even than fine, accessible explanation ... It takes some nerve to echo the first line of Anna Karenina and infer that the story of a disease is capable of bearing a Tolstoyan treatment. But that is, breathtakingly, what Mukherjee pulls off ... the scene is set for a monumental scientific, political and human struggle. Mukherjee assembles a teeming cast of characters: from ancients such as Atossa, the Persian queen who in 500BC self-prescribed the first recorded mastectomy, to Mukherjee's own patients. There are tales of grizzly surgical techniques and astonishing medical discoveries. But, as with any epic narrative, the central drama marches towards a war ... Mukherjee is doing more than providing an account of medical developments, scientific discovery and human suffering. The underlying structural dynamic of his book turns out to be the riddle of progress itself, the application of reason and science to chaos and disease – the uber-project of modernity that, even if it has achieved too much to be called a failure, can never finally succeed ... intensely vivid and precise descriptions of biological processes accumulate into a character, fully developed and eerily familiar. The notion of 'popular science' doesn't come close to describing this achievement. It is literature.
... a story of pioneers and mavericks; of serendipity, risk-taking and wild leaps of faith; of meetings of minds that changed medical history and obsessive experiments conducted in solitude ... feels like essential reading ... The full palette of human nature is revealed here ... The book's six sections are well-balanced, spread between medical strides of the past, more recent challenges, case studies, and current research. It is heartening, and daunting, to read of our deeper understanding of the cancer cell's biological make-up ... De-mystifying the disease, rendering the science accessible, and wearing respect for the patients uppermost, The Emperor of All Maladies is the book that many will have been waiting for. This elegantly written overview allows us to look a once whispered-about illness squarely in the eye.
Few books deftly yet thoroughly cover a wide range of topics in a single volume ... Dr. Mukherjee gracefully discusses the development of early chemotherapeutic agents, the first clinical trials, and the changing standards of surgical care for women with breast cancer. Paralleling the increasing importance of understanding cancer cell characterization in research, Dr. Mukherjee describes the discovery of the key cancer cell properties that many researchers may now take for granted. Critical connections and conclusions are carefully described, and each discovery is treated with care and respect. No part of this book is boring or dry; Dr. Mukherjee leads the reader through a masterful discussion using engaging, interesting language, which often borders on the poetic ... readers will feel what can be imagined to be only a fraction of the pain and hope/hopelessness of cancer patients and their families, and will feel excitement, amazement, and respect at the lengths that cancer research has taken over the past few decades ... an amazing, definitive, intelligent book.