The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee - Available in print (616.994 M953)
The Emperor of All Maladies is a difficult book to read, both thematically and structurally. Oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee has taken on the task of writing a “biography” of today’s most feared and undiscriminating of diseases: cancer. For the largest part, Mukherjee has tried to organize his book topically, sharing with the reader the changing ideas about what cancer is, how to detect it, and how to treat it. Although the author attempts a chronological narrative within each topic, the change of subject necessitates frequent, confusing skips back in time to visit the origin of a concept or method. Additionally, even though Mukherjee has been a practicing physician, he is also a self-described “lab rat,” making his prose and interests more technical than reader-friendly.
Although the book has its flaws, Mukherjee has written a highly informative work about many types of cancer, as well as the personalities of the scientists and advocates behind the “advances” in cancer research. My greatest disagreement lies with the title of his book, rather than the content of it. With the words The Emperor of All Maladies, Mukherjee clearly means to humanize—if not demonize—a medical condition. However, an emperor is a ruler due a measure of deference, if not outright veneration, with the support of innumerable vassals. The author manages easily to show how one should respect abnormal cell growth, in the same way one esteems a formidable enemy. However, he neglects to demonstrate how such a mutation is entitled to dominate others’ lives.
I, for one, have no intention of ever bowing down before the malicious parasite that is cancer.