Saturday, June 1, 2024

The Emperor of All Maladies - Nonfiction Review

Goodreads:   The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biorgraphy Of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Rating:  Really Liked It! (4.5 Stars)
Source:   Borrowed froma friend

Description:  The Emperor of All Maladies is a magnificent, profoundly humane “biography” of cancer - from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence.

Physician, researcher, and award-winning science writer, Siddhartha Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist’s precision, a historian’s perspective, and a biographer’s passion. The result is an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with - and perished from - for more than five thousand years.

The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also of hubris, paternalism, and misperception. Mukherjee recounts centuries of discoveries, setbacks, victories, and deaths, told through the eyes of his predecessors and peers, training their wits against an infinitely resourceful adversary that, just three decades ago, was thought to be easily vanquished in an all-out “war against cancer.”

The book reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist. From the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave cut off her malignant breast, to the nineteenth-century recipients of primitive radiation and chemotherapy to Mukherjee’s own leukemia patient, Carla, The Emperor of All Maladies is about the people who have soldiered through fiercely demanding regimens in order to survive—and to increase our understanding of this iconic disease.

Riveting, urgent, and surprising, The Emperor of All Maladies provides a fascinating glimpse into the future of cancer treatments. It is an illuminating book that provides hope and clarity to those seeking to demystify cancer.

Genre: Nonfiction

Why I Picked This Book:  It was highly recommended by a friend so I decided to give it a try.  

My Impression:  I feel like the subtitle is a bit of a misnomer.  This book isn't so much a biography of cancer but more of a biography of the fight against cancer.  My son is a year out from his treatment of Leukemia with all signs pointing positive so I am sure my personal experiences have shaped my impression of this book.

For the most part I found this book absolutely fascinating.   I was especially interested in the evolution of treatment for childhood cancers which a lot of the book does center around but the author does cover multiple types of cancer as treatment options and theories progress.  The battle between theories, researchers, and oncologists was interesting and I found it interesting to see how each theory impacted the evolution of treatment.  The origin of several common chemotherapy drugs was also fascinating.  My son was especially interested in where 6MP came from which is a pill he took every day for almost two and a half years.

There were times when the book got a bit into the weeds for me where it really focused on the really detailed bits and pieces regarding DNA, RNA, viruses and other more techincal aspects that I don't truly understand.  I much preferred the case studies and examples that were used throughout the bulk of the book.

My takeaway from this book as the mother of a cancer survivor is that I am incredibly grateful for all the scientists, doctors, researchers and patients who came before us who really pushed for progress in cancer treatment.  I'm also amazed with how fast treatment protocols have progressed as my son's treatment and projected outcome were so much better than they were when this book came out which was in 2010.  

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?  I would.  I found the author's style interesting and engaging and it was one of those books I couldn't resist telling people about as I read it.

Would I Recommend this Book? I would with some reservations.  While I found the book fascinating and absorbing I don't think I could have read it a year ago when the stress and worry was too fresh.  If you have had a personal cancer battle I would make sure you are in a steady place before picking up this book.  


  1. Excellent book and review. Thanks for the warning to readers about the best time to read the book.

  2. Great review and interesting topic.

  3. The Emperor of All Maladies sounds like a very worthwhile read. Thank you for your thoughts on this one, Katherine.

  4. I'm definitely putting this on my TBR. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 📘

  5. Sounds like you were the right person for this book. It is great to think that science and the people who work in the field have made such great strides.

  6. Wonderful review. It's fascinating to see the strides we've made and how far we need to go.

  7. This book has been on my list for years... excellent review!