Book review- “the emperor of all maladies”

Book review- “the emperor of all maladies”

 “The  Emperor  of all Maladies  ” is written by Indian  born American physician and  Oncologist Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee  – Pultizer prize winner for the general  non-fiction genre. It is published by Scribner House  and consists of 6 chapters, each in flow with the other. Abstract  : The author uses his own experience and takes us down the memory  lane in a quest to knowing the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the most insidious,  ferocious disease of modern times – Cancer. 

The  book is  a captivating  write up about  the journey of an  oncology resident doctor  as he discovers how the mankind  gained all the knowledge that we  know about Cancer today. It has excerpts  from the works of eminent Nobel prize winners,  scientists –Dr. Halsted known for the radical mastectomy  of breast cancer, Dr.Virchow for the theory of body fluids  and Dr. Ballie who wrote the book on surgery for undergraduates.  The two most important characters of Dr. Siddhartha’s story are Sidney  Farber and Mary Lasker.   

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Review:  Being in  a field as depressing as  Oncology,  seeing patients die every day  – you can either get vaccinated  against the constant pain or develop  a desire to find a cure for this ferocious  disease. Having the same intention Dr. Siddhartha  Mukherjee delved into the depth of Cancer History  and how anti – cancer drugs were developed. Its intriguing  and awe – inspiring at the same time. I found myself in the  shoes of Dr. Virchow feeling the anxiety and passion to help  his pediatric patients suffering from ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia )

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 This  book courses  its path along the  faculties of Pathology,  Surgery and Oncology for  the complete management of  Cancer that we now have as clinical  algorithms. What it takes to „dream of  a cure‟ and to see it materialize. How  people of the past with limited knowledge did  it when papyrus was the only means of noting your  findings and digging up skeletons as evidences for your  theory. I found that the‟ Atlas of Human Anatomy‟ was made  by dissecting actual exhumed skeletons and a lot more biographical  and astonishing facts. 

I can describe  the book in the following  words :

“Of Hyperplasia and Hypertrophy”.

“Of pathology and oncology”.

“Of sympathy and grief”.

“Of remissions and relapses”

It  also  exemplifies  the treatment  of various other  diseases and how they  came into being like ALL (Acute  Lymphoblastic Leukemia), Pernicious  Anemia and Breast Cancer. 

What  I found  monotonous  was the taxonomy  of Cancer. “When you  do not know something, how  do you name it?” was the author‟s  idea behind his exhaustive taxonomical  details which he could have spared the readers from. For people from a non-medical background I found the description in  some chapters would be tough to comprehend though the meaning of each medical term  as well as abbreviations was mentioned. 

Overall,  this book  is a great  read for doctors  but a tough one for  those from non-scientific background. 

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