A brilliant, unlikely history of of one of the things we fear the most - and with good reason. Never would I chose a book like this on my own. It was recommended by someone whose judgment I trust, and will trust even more in the future. This is 500+ page tour de force bya guy who has just completed an intense fellowship after completion of medical school, internship, and a residency. Where was the time to do this? Why isn't the writing riddled with sloppiness because he couldn't give his full attention to whatever was next on his outline? If there were faults, I didn't hear them.
I can't think of another book that takes on such an enormous and amorphous subject and ties the information in way that compels the reader-listener to turn the pages quickly and while checking to make sure there are plenty left to read later.
As a writer Mr. Mukhderjee is in the same league with Tracy Kidder, James Gleick, Simon Singh and even Oliver Sacks
Mukhderjee shines a very bright light on the nature of scientific research and the practice of medicine. What he reveals is applicable to all professions, and Cancer becomes a metaphor for all kinds of phenomena that we've encountered and can't quite make sense of.
The story or history or meta-history is tied together by Mukhderjee's insightful descriptions of very smart people - who are still people and who act in the same ways that we all do - for better or for worse - but they act on a huge stage with lives in the balance.
One of the reasons I bought the book was its length - you know, lots of minutes for the dollar. It turned out to be a good deal by this criteria. Hoye is a journeyman reader who brings the text to life without getting in the way of the story or information. AND listening to him read this book about cancer can be soothing?!? It's going to win a Pulitzer, National Book Award, etc. It is that good.
It's impossible to exaggerate the impact of cancer on the human race; it is the greatest enemy we have ever known. The book is fascinating, highly readable, well laid out, horrifying, gripping, wonderful. The writing is amazing-- organized medical reportage, chronologically sensible history, personal stories of patients, researchers, oncology practitioners, and civilian fundraisers, and no small amount of poetic prose.
The section on lung cancer and big tobacco made me supremely grateful that I recently quit smoking, and made me pray that I can keep the promise to myself.
I listened to this book when I was having a cancer scare with one of my pets. I thought knowing more about the disease might help me to understand how much treatment to pursue and when to let go. Thankfully, he is still doing well almost a year later.
I thought I knew what cancer was until I read this book, and now I have a much better understanding that cancer is not really one disease, and the idea of finding one "cure" is probably a pipe dream.
The history of the disease and its treatment and research are skillfully written and narrated here. It was hard to think of the first children's cancer wards where almost every child died, and learn that the much better survival rate we have now was built from their suffering.
I was afraid that this book would be a painful slog, but it was quite interesting and hopeful. I highly recommend it.
I'm a geologist and I use Audible books to while away long hours on the road... My pickup truck is my reading room!
Brilliant. A "must" read.
The story is compelling, and Mukherjee brings technical expertise, humanistic sentiment and historical erudition to the subject. He relates the battle against cancer as history rather than popular science, and this reinforces his thesis that cancer is an intimate component of the drama of human life. The physical suffering, the intellectual confusion, the clinical frustrations are all part of the dread and drama that envelopes this disease. Mukherjee brings it all into focus, and does it with clarity and eloquence.
Stephen Hoye's narration is faultless.
I rarely give 5 star ratings, but this book deserves them.
As a physician, I particularly enjoyed this book and actually learned a few things myself. The book is a thorough review of the causes, prevention and treatment of cancer. I felt that the writing was only average and the organization of material could have been better. The author also can't quite keep his academic condescension in check, but only in a few parts.
The book is a history of cancer, not cancer patients. Although he does describe several inspirational stories, the majority of the book is about the disease. He takes several common cancers from their discovery through their history and to their modern treatment. This causes a jumping around in time that gets disorienting over 20 hours of listening. But it does allow him to focus on specific aspects of treatment and prevention and deeply explore them.
The writing is average. Most puns and symmetries are explicitly pointed out to the reader (e.g. "you see I am ending with the same cancer I began the book with...") instead of left for the reader to observe.
The final chapters go into the molecular biology of tumors, and will be less interesting for the non-medical reader (I've done chromosomal research and still started to get bored.) At this point the book loses focus and it's had to tell when he wants to sum up and when he wants to keep introducing new material.
The narration is good, but the medical pronunciation is jarringly wrong in places. I'm always surprised how little effort seems to go into correct pronunciation of uncommon words in audio books.
In conclusion, I found the book enjoyable to listen to and very interesting and informative. There were no big flaws, but enough different minor flaws to subtract a star. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the history of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Although it might help a cancer patient better understand their disease, I do not think it would be a source of inspiration for someone with a new diagnosis or actively battling cancer.
I had heard and read great things about this book. However, I felt that it got bogged down in too many details which made for a slow moving narrative. The patient story interwoven into the history was not that compelling. It is very apparent that this is a scientist/practitioner writing this. Probably best appreciated by those in the field.
Telecommuter living outside of San Francisco, CA. I listen to books while walking my dog, quilting, and doing chores around the house.
I probably wouldn't have made it though this book if I had been reading a paper version. (do to the medical terminology and drug names). However, I found this book to be fascinating and well narrated.
Say something about yourself!
I plan to recommend this book to my bookgroup. In this day and age, nearly all of us have been impacted in some way by cancer--either personally or with friends and family. Author Mukherjee is an oncologist who traces breast cancer from an Egyptian mummy to present day cancers of all types in this informative biography of a dreaded disease. Not only is he able to trace the long progression of this disease, but he is able to intertwine anecdotal stories of his patients with the long of history of cellular research and the change in focus from cure to prevention. If you have read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, you are already familiar with some of the early research and "cures." One of the most distressing parts of the book was the discovery of nicotine's links to lung cancer, and the clever methods of the tobacco industry in attempt to stymie legislation to prevent smoking. The author sees cancer as a puzzle. He is careful to denote that it is not a single disease, but a variety--all of which require different treatments--and not all are curable. His discourse on the change from radical masectomies to lumpectomies was especially interesting. His coverage of the evolution of chemotherapy was also very informative. Stephen Hoyle did his best to give life to what might be considered a somewhat dry topic, but it is difficult to give a great performance with such difficult subject matter--which is why he only got 4 stars. If you are interested in learning about a disease that affects so many, you cannot go wrong by using your credit for this very informative, unforgettable biography.
The book gives a great overview of humanity understanding, experimenting and fighting with the disease. Although the writing flows nicely and there are a lot of real human stories and anecdotes, you get somewhat tired by the middle of the book.
The author has a somewhat unhealthy admiration for the enemy he is trying to conquer, and the conclusion that we need to learn how to live with cancer better since it is not going anywhere, is slightly on a philosophically depressing side.
I would not recommend it to readers who fight with the disease right now and have a “religious” outlook on life, or especially their very close and emotional relatives. You have to be a pragmatic and a philosopher to take the book straight.
A REVIEW OF THE AUDIOBOOK VERSION
It is a testament to Mukherjee’s writing that I listened to 20 hours and 49 minutes of this audiobook with relatively little discomfort. Billed as “a biography of cancer,” this book is ambitious. Examining cancer from its earliest appearances in medical history to present day developments, Mukherjee takes his complex and wide-ranging subject and breaks it down into understandable pieces. He also manages to make it personal. Using the case history of one of his patients diagnosed with leukemia as a framing device for the book, Mukherjee never forgets that behind all the technological advances, clinical studies, fundraising efforts, legislation and research are real people fighting for their lives. By putting human stories front and center (just like the Jimmy Fund), Mukherjee makes what could have been a dry and incomprehensible book come alive with stories that each of us can relate to.
I was surprised how fascinating the history of cancer turned out to be. So many scientists, physicians, surgeons and researchers have struggled to understand and “cure” this elusive disease. Hearing about the various breakthroughs that led to our current understanding of cancer was almost like reading a suspense novel. Who would figure out the “cause” of cancer? When would they make a link between smoking and lung cancer? When would surgeons realize that radical mastectomies were not a cure for breast cancer? Aside from the medical issues surrounding cancer research, Mukherjee also spends a fair amount of time on the politics of cancer—from the fundraising and advocacy efforts of Mary Lasker to the radical advocacy of groups like ACT UP. One lesson repeated time and time again is that breakthroughs in cancer treatments often happen because of passionate and dedicated people who won’t take no for an answer.
One downside of reading/listening to this book is that you will come to feel that developing cancer of some form or another is an almost inevitable part of being human. If my understanding of this book is accurate, cancer is essentially a part of each and every one of us—built into our very genes and waiting only to be activated by a combination of triggers that may or may not happen in our lifetime. We can take every precaution we want (not smoking, exercising regularly, eating healthily) but might develop a type of cancer. The good news is that many types of cancer can be successfully treated (even vanquished). The bad news, however, is that a universal cure for cancer is a myth. Like people, cancer has numerous different forms and, in many ways, is adapting and evolving along with our understanding and treatment of it. As upsetting as this may sound, I still think it is best to understand the history and nature of cancer and be ready to fight if and when the time comes. And, with any luck, we’ll each have an oncologist as gifted and humane as Dr. Mukherjee heading up our treatment.
A Word About the Narration: The narrator, Simon Hoye, was certainly given a challenge in reading this book, and he did a pretty good job. However, I felt his voice was ill-suited for such a long listen. I needed a little more color and nuance and expression and often found myself longing for a different narrator.