The Emperor of All Maladies – A Review

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Dark Arts are many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible.”

Professor Severus Snape, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince

According to the author, Cancer is also “an unfixed, mutating, indestructible many-headed monster” that cannot be defeated, unless you change the meaning of defeat.

“We might as well focus on prolonging life rather than eliminating death. This war on Cancer may best be “won” by redefining victory”

This incredible book on the history of cancer helps you understand not just the disease, but the political, sociological implications of it over the years and science as a whole. It was fascinating to peek into the world of researchers, oncologists, radiologists, surgeons and therapists. The difference in the way they think about a disease and the low regard in which they hold each other was surprisingly familiar.

I don’t know how many diseases are out there that are not yet curable. But Cancer enjoys the title “Emperor of all maladies” because of the way in which it turns the very foundations of human physiology against itself. It is a disease that is at once deadly and, as the author reluctantly describes it, beautiful.

“If we, as a species, are the ultimate product of Darwinian selection, then so, too, is this incredible disease that lurks inside us”

The way the author created nail-biting lead ups to big breakthroughs was so thrilling that I sometimes forgot that this was non-fiction. I kept expecting an evil villian to pop up and thwart the good scientist.

This book has a lot of details – dates and names – but it is written for laymen. I could understand most of what the author was saying and I recommend it to anybody who is curious about cancer or science itself.

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