“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.
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 )
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.