As you begin to reach middle age, and your parents start to become elderly, you start to hear a word over and over again. Often, that word is cancer. Paradoxically, the seeming increase in cancer is a result of the prosperity of our times – the longer we live, the more of us will die of cancer. I don’t think it is defeatist to say that cancer is something we should all start cozying up to. I think the sad truth is that it will never go away, and never be cured the way other diseases are. That isn’t a personal opinion, that is scientific fact. And if this is the case, we might as well do our research about what our companion is really all about.
Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of all Maladies is pretty much summed up by it’s subtitle: A Biography of Cancer. It tries to give you everything modern medicine knows about the disease in as accessible a way as possible. If that sounds dull, rest assured that the author makes it fairly gripping.
If nothing else, I think this book is necessary. We all know idiots on social media, but in my experience they well and truly show the vapididty of their opinions when people speak about medicine. When I was on social media (INSERT LINK HERE TO LANIER 10), I would regularly see posts about miracle cures for cancer, often in the form of something that could be purchased at Whole Foods. I was shocked to see how often people thought that cancer was something either man made or homo-centric, and all my rebuttals of posting pictures of trees with cancer never swayed anyone’s opinion. Cancer seems to be a topic on which people are greatly misinformed. The Emperor of all Maladies is extremely thorough in dispensing with these misconceptions. This helped me to forgive just how massive this book really is. The book’s subtitle, a biography of cancer, is pretty well places considering how detailed it decides to be. The book opts to go pretty far back, nominating how we know that even ancient Egyptians got cancer all the way to describing the actual patients of the doctor who wrote the book. It also goes in depth enough to speak on what a term like non-Hodgkin Lymphoma means, and gives anecdotes about how researchers and doctors have learned about what is and is not effective regarding how to treat this idea.
If you are reading this review, you are extremely likely to have your life touched by cancer in some way and at some point. The results of that encounter will be influenced by decisions one makes, and decisions are in turn informed by the knowledge one has. Books like this are always helpful at making us ready to be as knowledgeable as we can be.
And as a terminating note, what a wonderful title!