The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Rate: 5/5

Medium: Audiobook

Overview: My first introduction to Mukherjee’s writing was The Gene in 2016. I loved how he transformed a highly complex topic and eloquently detailed not only its history but highlighted the human personalities behind crucial discoveries in a way that any person could understand. I hadn’t realized Mukherjee had published a similar formatted biography of cancer back in 2010 until I stumbled across the title a few weeks ago when searching for something new to read. Intrigued I immediately borrowed this book, knowing it would be a difficult read on many different levels. Growing up as a class assignment I was asked to count the number of relatives we knew that had been diagnosed with cancer at one point or another. I came up with a number somewhere around twenty.  We were shocked when the majority of the class put their number somewhere between five or less.  So my whole life, cancer has been weaved throughout my family history but my knowledge of this malady has been lacking, placing the topic as a whole in a black box.  Therefore I was eager to sponge any information Mukherjee had to convey.  Previous reads such as The Radium Girls and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks were valuable in providing the detailed backstory to anecdotes that were highlighted by Mukherjee.  The history of cancer treatment itself was difficult to read, especially when radical surgeries were in vogue. As each swing in treatment policy came and went in this book I found myself reflecting back on various family members, such as my Great Grandma and wondering what her experience was as she battled breast cancer several times and what treatment unbrella she would have fallen into, which added a personal element to the treatments that seem arcane now.  I also couldn’t help but  also ponder at what treatments we currently practice that will seem barbaric ten, twenty, one hundred years from now. The Emperor of All Maladies is everything and more that I look for in nonfiction as it relays complex information under the guise of a story with a clear voice that allows the facts to be relatively effortlessly retained. Overall, Mukherjee crafted this wide spanning biography of a complex and far reaching topic in a way that truly conveyed a story, leaving the reader with a tentative feeling of hope toward the future.  I would love Mukherjee to give a ten year update on progress in the field.



  1. Tough read, but a good one. Initially borrowed after my own diagnosis, but it was too much to deal with at the time. Got it again at the end of my treatment and was glad I took the time to read (listen) to it.

    Liked by 1 person

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