In 2003 Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, having completed his residency and graduate training in cancer immunology, moved to advanced training in medical oncology: cancer medicine. The young doctor and former Rhodes Scholar began taking notes for what he “had initially envisioned being a journal of that year a view from the trenches of cancer treatment”. Mukherjee went a considerably more arduous route, eventually developing his journal draft into this superbly written, profoundly moving, and thoroughly compelling book. Mukherjee, who is currently an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a cancer physician at Columbia University Medical Center, is richly endowed with a truly masterful and creative command of the English language. His highly detailed, comprehensive narrative is, in a word, brilliant. With such a richly potent text before him, narrator Stephen Hoye is at his descriptive and expressive best. With robustly articulated pacing, Hoye moves Mukherjee’s stellar history as biography forward, keying into the expressive, poetic cadences of The Emperor of All Maladies. Hoye, joining forces with the author, consistently lights up the literary neurons throughout his performance.
The charged-up literary neurons is no metaphor. A 4,000-year history of cancer written by a medical doctor, delivered as a 20+ hour audiobook: well, its sounds quite daunting and dry. But The Emperor of All Maladies is the exact opposite. It is great storytelling. And Mukherjee’s craft and creative art of writing, along with Hoye’s superb narration, shape this otherwise difficult subject into a highly informative, great listening experience. David Chasey
Pulitzer Prize, General Nonfiction, 2011
Written by cancer physician, researcher, and award-winning science writer Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies is a stunning combination of medical history, cutting-edge science, and narrative journalism that transforms our understanding of cancer and much of the world around us. Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist's precision, a novelist's richness of detail, a historian's range, and a biographer's passion. The story of cancer is one of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also of hubris, arrogance, paternalism, and misperception, all leveraged against a disease that, just decades ago, was thought to be easily vanquished in an all-out "war against cancer." It's a story of science and scientists, of centuries of discoveries, of setbacks and victories and deaths, told through the eyes of Mukherjee's predecessors and peers, training their wits against an infinitely resourceful adversary.
From the Persian Queen Atossa, who instructed her Greek slave to cut off her malignant breast, to the radical surgeries of the 19th century, to the first recipients of primitive radiation and chemotherapy, to Mukherjee's own leukemia patient, Carla, The Emperor of All Maladies is a story of people---and their families---who soldier through toxic, bruising, and draining regimens to survive and to increase the store of human knowledge.
Riveting and magisterial, The Emperor of All Maladies provides a fascinating glimpse into the future of cancer treatments and offers a bold new perspective on the way doctors, scientists, philosophers, and lay people have observed and understood the human body for millennia.
©2010 Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D. (P)2010 Tantor
"An inspiring account of a very personal battle against 'the plague of our generation." (Kirkus)
“Mukherjee's sweeping biography of cancer stretches from its earliest mentions in the historical record to the latest in treatments and covers many advancements and missteps along the way…Hoye presents even the more complicated medical procedures with a clarity of speech that allows for easy understanding by any listener, even one not well versed in the science of cancer. This is an ambitious work but one that is very accessible and is made even more so by Hoye's narration.” (Audiofile)
"Mukherjee recounts cancer’s first known literary reference—hence its birth, so to speak—in the teachings of the Egyptian physician Imhotep in the twenty-fifth century BCE, in which it is clear that Imhotep possessed no tools with which to treat what appears to be breast cancer…this is not a posthumous biography, but it is nonetheless a surprisingly accessible and encouraging narrative." (Booklist, Starred Review)
As a Pathologist for 45 yrs I remember a few of these discoveries and changes, this book puts them in perspective. "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" reminded me of the PBS series "America" and "Connections", but from a oncological orientation. The book should be required reading for all practicing Oncologists and Pathologists perhaps all medical students. Cancer patients would also benefit knowing that miracles can happen supporting what Coach Valvano once said: "Never, never, never give up". The book supports my view that all patients with cancer should be strongly encouraged to enroll in cancer in protocols, for this is the only way we can speed up discoveries. It is disheartening to know that so few patients are in these studies and many of the patients that I have diagnosed with cancer in the past could be alive today if only these discoveries could have been made a few years earlier. The book also documents how advances in basic science can have unforseen effects on applied clinical science. I began as a student working in an organic chemistry lab in the late 1950's making organic compounds for my professor to test their effects on tumor growth in mice. I had no idea what an important job we were doing at the time. When I present patients at my cancer conferences and show before and after treatment results I am often left spechless. But these advances are not cheap from both a human and monentary perspective. Even once acheived, they are often very expensive to utilize. Unfortunately the public sees only the end product cost, can't appreciate why so much. Medicine needs to do more PR and let the press know what we have acomplish. Finally I was impressed with Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee aproach to his patients. He reminds me of physicans I have known and respected including my father. I am glad to see we are still graduating young men like him from our Medical Schools.
Love the book as a window. Shocked by the number of definitions for the word "turn". Widowed and sad, but thankful. Trying hard to be useful. Have 28 years as a step-father to a fantastic grand-daughter and a not so fantastic drug addicted, step-daughter. Oddly focused on the fun of preparing to die well, and help those left behind, while eating, hot springing, and reading for pleasure.
My wife is in the fight of her life. We both felt like she brought cancer, ugly life ruining cancer, to our home. The guilt was almost as bad as the disease. Thanks to this fantastic page turner of a book, we now know and understand at least 131 reasons why cancer kills (a slight attempt at humor, there are thousands of reasons), and none of them were chosen by us. We also know the fight is doable and many people, with lots of help, win the cancer battle. Not only is this book important, it is actually a pleasure to read. I listened to the audio version, then bought a hard copy and am halfway back through it. In my mind this is a GREAT BOOK.
This is surely one of the most miserable subjects to write about. The history of cancer, as this book so vividly portrays, is a history of repeated ignorance, desperation and failure. Victories are rare.
The author is almost frustratingly good at presenting that world of pain and desperation by patients and doctors and scientists alike.
I could not say it was enjoyable, but a book on this subject was never going to be. It is a tough book, but one which provides a thorough understanding and perspective on this disease that will be with us for a long time yet.
Very well written and extremely well narrated.
This book is THE antidote to all of the fear, willful ignorance and half-baked speculation which surrounds the myriad of diseases commonly known as cancer.
For those out there who harbor the belief that the cure for cancer is a simple proposition that would've been settled long ago if not for the evil machinations of big pharma and government funded medical research, you should read this book and educate yourself as to the bafflingly complex nature of these diseases, the inherent difficulties in finding treatments for them, and the amazing efforts made by researchers and clinicians who are busting their asses trying to learn more about cancer in order to fight it effectively.
While the chapters highlighting the brutal over treatment regimens of the radical surgery era as well as early chemo and radiation therapy,(and the ignorance and hubris which fueled them), are a little depressing, the final third of the book is very optimistic about the present and future of cancer treatment.
We now know what cancer is and what sort of things cause it, there are forms of cancer which are curable or highly treatable with methods which are being more and more targeted and refined to mitigate side effects.
Cheers to the author for making this book so entertaining as well as informative.
Runner, Commuter, Dietitian with a passion for U.S. History.
If there is another book as comprehensive and detailed as this one about any illness, I'd be amazed. This book was suprisingly engrossing. After years as a clinical RD working with cancer patients and specialists, I now work only on the periphry of health care. Nonetheless, It was fascinating to learn the backround of all that I had seen years ago. Who knew that all the bone marrow transplants for breast cancer that had generated such hope and optimism and cutting enthusiasm in the 80's and 90's were based on fraudulant medical reporting and doomed to failure. I did really well with the book until the third section on cell biology. While a fascinating topic and very detailed, I couldn't listen without getting sleepy on my commute. I'd recommend especially if you are a patient, loved one, physician or nurse.
Excellent, interesting, entertaining, and educational. Books like this bring science to life. As a cancer survivor, the subject was even more engaging.
As a non-oncology physician, I thought the book was well written, pretty engrossing, and a nice history of a disease and medicine's attempts to treat it. I find medical history fascinating so hearing about the original discoveries that led to some targetted therapeis and association studies linking smoking to lung cancer is amazing. The author is a very good story teller. As a clinical researcher, its nice to see in press balanced discussions about the impact of other strategies such as prevention on cancer. As a non-oncologist, however, it always amazes me how cancer grips people, even though there are many other diseases with even worse prognosis and impediments on life style.
However, i find that narration awful. I listened to flags of my fathers by this narrator, and his voice may have been appropriate for a book that is that maudulin, but this is painful. Every word is so syruppy and slow. It makes you sort of sick listening to him after a while.
audio book junkie
It is terribly rare isn't it? An author who is brilliant, technical and can make an educational book on a scientific topic into a read you can't put down. Siddhartha Mukherjee does just that. This book follows the story of cancer from the earliest known cases into the present day. 'The Emperor of All Maladies' is fascinating and eye opening. We should all thank our lucky stars we didn't come down with cancer before the time of Anesthetic. We have come so far in our treatment of cancer but in a way it feels like we are just scratching the surface in treating many forms of this disease. After listening to this book I found myself smarter about cancer. This disease is so prevalent in our world today and I am grateful to be more educated about it. I think everyone should be.
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.
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