Mukherjee has undertaken one of the most extraordinary stories in medicine.

Jonathan Weiner, New York Times, The Mind of a Disease

In 2003, when the new oncologist (or doctor specializing in the treatment of cancer) Siddhartha Mukherjee decided to write a book regarding his study of cancer, he already knew how he would shape his work. Mukherjee planned to chronicle his first year out of residency, to write a personal “view from the trenches” journalling his perspective of cancer treatment.


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Mukherjee has undertaken one of the most extraordinary stories in medicine.

Jonathan Weiner, New York Times, The Mind of a Disease

In 2003, when the new oncologist (or doctor specializing in the treatment of cancer) Siddhartha Mukherjee decided to write a book regarding his study of cancer, he already knew how he would shape his work. Mukherjee planned to chronicle his first year out of residency, to write a personal “view from the trenches” journalling his perspective of cancer treatment.

Then one of Mukherjee’s patients struggling with stomach-cancer confronted Mukherjee. What was this disease threatening to kill her? What exactly was it she and Mukherjee were fighting against? What was cancer, really?

Early stage of stomach cancer via Med Chaos.

“It was an embarrassing moment,” Mukherjee recounts in a New York Times review, How Cancer Acquired Its Own Biographer, “I couldn’t answer her, and I couldn’t point her to a book that would. Answering her question—that was the urgency that drove me, really. The book was written because it wasn’t there.”

The significance of Mukherjee’s work lies within the relative novelty of his attempt at answering this enduring question regarding the nature of cancer. Mukherjee says in his book that he considers his work a “biography” because it represents his attempt to “enter the mind” of cancer and understand its essence. As a result of Mukherjee’s work, inquisitive readers everywhere may now refer to The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer and its articulation of a comprehensive history of humanity’s centuries-long battle with cancer.

“It’s a chronicle of an ancient disease,” Mukherjee writes in Emperor of All Maladies, “once a clandestine, ‘whispered-about’ illnessthat has metamorphosed into a lethal, shape-shifting entity imbued with such penetrating metaphorical, medical, scientific and political potency that cancer is often described as the defining plague of our generation.”

The Emperor of All Maladies not only describes the nature and biology of cancer, it discusses a topic most readers care just as much, if not more about: The possibility of a cure.

For close to a century, doctors have been hoping for and working on creating a “magic bullet,” a single approach or wonder drug that will completely end the war on cancer. Mukherjee’s book demonstrates that while oncology has made amazing progress in allowing cancer patients longer, healthier, happier lives, the long sought-after magic bullet cure for cancer remains nowhere in sight.

The Emperor of All Maladies was published in 2010 and became a New York Times bestseller, later winning the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. According to the Pulitzer website’s article, The 2011 Pulitzer Prize Winners: General Nonfiction, Mukherjee’s book is “an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal, into the long history of an invidious disease that, despite treatment breakthroughs, still bedevils medical science.”

The New York Times review, The Mind of a Disease, describes Emperor of All Maladies as “an epic story that he seems compelled to tell, the way a passionate young priest might attempt a biography of Satan.”

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