Review: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A truly beautiful book about what is certainly a terrible and often terrifying collection of illnesses. Our family, like almost all families, has wrestled with cancer and wrestled with the scary and frequently devastating treatments that hope to kill the cancer before they kill the patient. This book provides a rich and illuminating context for those struggles, giving a palpable sense of the diseases and how our understanding and approaches have changed and how they’ve stayed the same. Mukherjee’s story telling is deft and compelling, sharing a complex and often very technical history in a way that remains personal, compelling, and accessible. It at times borders on the poetic, but without ever becoming sentimental or maudlin.

While this is technically about cancer, the book provides valuable insight into the complexities of medical research, whether scientific, mathematical, political, or social. We’ve made huge strides in so many areas of medicine in the last two centuries, but we rarely appreciate the oft tortured, surprising, and complex channels wended along the way. Yet to understand cancer and cancer treatment, and important challenges such as antibiotic resistance, and drug R&D, funding, testing and approval, it’s critical that we have this sort of context.

So most highly recommend; absolutely one of the best books I’ve read.

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Yup, I live in a small town

Two freight trains crossing in Morris, Minnesota

The lead front page headline in last week’s issue of our (weekly) local newspaper?

Stalled train tangles traffic on Thursday

Yup. That’s what passes for news in our happy little world. The train had brake problems and ended up parked for two hours, initially blocking all 5 crossings in town; at some point they split the train and opened up the southernmost crossing rejoining the sundered halves of town. This was the day (10 Oct) that I brought WeatherGrrrl home from the hospital after her knee replacement surgery, and as part of borrowing a friend’s van to collect WeatherGrrrl in (thanks KK!), I ended up crossing those tracks three times while all this was going on. Thus I can attest that the Morris Police peeps were out directing traffic and being genuinely useful as I was moving back and forth, so big thanks to them for helping manage what passes for a big deal out here in the rural wilderness.

My favorite line from the article (emphasis mine):

For the next two hours, officers from the MPD helped keep traffic moving along Highway 28 and Pacific Avenue, two busy thoroughfares during the morning commute.

Well, I guess Highway 28 does have the only two traffic lights in town. That makes it a busy thoroughfare, right? Right???

Now I’m going to go back to watching construction vehicles push dirt around as part of the road construction in our neighborhood.

Or maybe I’ll check on the squirrels collecting food for the winter. They’ve been enjoying gathering up half-eaten apples from our trees, and tucking them in all sorts of interesting places.

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