Thursday, February 18, 2016

Book Review : The Emperor Of All Maladies ( Siddhartha Mukherjee )

A fascination with fatality ? Or just a blatant desire to stare into the eyes of death ? Well, it was a mix of both that drew me to this book which has aptly been subtitled as "A biography of Cancer".

Not meant for the weak hearted, this one is about the journey of the discovery of cancer and the ongoing fight for an absolute cure. The opening chapter about Carla, a woman in her thirties and suffering from leukemia, set the note for the rest of the book. And it is one of urgency and terror mixed in equal proportions.

The author gives up a heads up on the early cancer theories like 'suppuration of blood' and 'weisses blut' which finally gave way to the understanding of leukemia, one of the earliest forms of cancer to be discovered. As studies revealed more details, the first inroads into the discovery of a cure was made. The chapters on chemotherapy as well explained and in a way underline both the moral dilemma and the need for clinical trials. Min Chiu Li's strategy which resulted in the first chemotherapeutic cure is one such example when researchers have been accused of "experimenting on people".

With the discovery of Cancer, the need to study and work towards the cure gathered momentum. There was a need for tremendous amounts of fund raising and bringing Cancer to limelight. The role of Mary Lasker and Farber in goading the nation to step up its spending on Cancer research is well documented.

One of the most moving chapters in this book is that on breast cancer and masectomy. Gory in parts and cruel in others, one actually wonders if such kind of cure is in any way better than death.

There is a mention of AIDS too which was also referred to as GRID ( gay-related immune deficiency ) during the early days as it was associated with gay men. Acceptance of Tobacco as one of the leading carcinogens and the legal battled spawned by it are also described in detail. There is more interesting trivia interspersed throughout the volume but its kind of too much information to be squeezed into one review.

Siddhartha Mukherjee has done thorough justice to the book. Given that this is one voluminous and arresting read with about 472 pages of information steeped in medical terminology, choose this book with caution and read with loads of patience. Greatly recommended for those related to the medical field.

[ Note - I thoroughly enjoyed this read given that I am a big fan of medical mysteries like Robin Cook's works. Looking forward to picking up the "Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" next. ]

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