Book Review – The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

Brian’s Note: With yesterday’s announcement that Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies had won the Pulitzer for General Non-Fiction, I thought it might be appropriate to rerun this review from last December 5, 2010.


The opening page of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies begins with a quote by Susan Sontag that is so on-point, yet so rare and fresh, that one can’t help being excited by the prospect of what’s to come.

Emperor of All MaladiesIllness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.

Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.

You open the book with great expectations. It is weighty, yes – 570 pages, 100 of which are end notes – but beginning, you immediately find its expansive scholarship wrapped in a writing style so fluid and lyrically engaging that it instantly dispels any hesitancy, and you are captured.

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Siddhartha Mukherjee – The Cancer Puzzle

Yesterday I had a conversation with a physician colleague who is reading Dr. Mukherjee’s spectacular “biography” of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies,” reviewed here about a month ago. He commented that the book was so broad and deep in its ambition as to be almost incomprehensible, especially from an author still so young and while conducting all the duties associated with being a newly minted doctor.Then I ran across this 20 minute presentation by Dr. Mukherjee. It’s a worthwhile glimpse into the mind of this very impressive author, as well as an interesting update on the status of cancer knowledge.