In 2012 I participate for the first time in a bookish challenge. Click here to see the different catagories.
For the History category I read The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
The Emperor of all Maladies is a biography: not of a person or a company, but of a disease – one of the most dreaded known in history. A biography of Cancer.
It takes us from the very beginning, the very first accounts of Cancer we know of. It shows us the different beliefs related to cancer – you had “bad blood” or evil spirits or whatever. And it tells grippingly of how even physicians in the very darkest ages of medicine proclaimed: there is no cure. Even today, many forms of cancer still carry much stigma and fear.
But the story continues – to those deemed mad scientists for believing they could cure it. For those deemed crazy for financing such research. It poses extremely valuable insight about disease.
A disease had to be politically transformed before it could be scientifically transformed.
Emperor shows us how scientists, when they couldn’t understand the pathology of cancer, still managed to kick-start the road to a cure – but how, to make real improvements in the management, prevention and cure, scientists had to go back to the beginning. They had to discover exactly how it works.
Even more: scientists and doctors had to learn to co-operate.
Instead of trying to tailor disease to fit [the] medicine… [Learn] to tailor [the] medicine to fit the right disease.
The Emperor of All Maladies took me an extremely long time to read. It is interesting. It is fascinating. It is well-written. But it remains a scientific book, and it required very much attention. For example, I couldn’t read it while bored in class.
I had to look up many things. I had to re-read chapters. And I’ll re-read the book again a couple of years later, because I’m certain a lot of the information was above my intellectual ability.
I love this book – but would I recommend it to the layperson? Not necessarily. People without some kind of training in biology, research or statistics are likely to have a hard time. And if you have no interest in Cancer whatsoever, you will certainly have a hard time. But if you are interested? Then you’ll find a way to read the book, even if it takes you months.
This book was special to me. I wrote previously about the influences of cancer on my life and career. As a medical student, I gained a lot of information and wisdom reading this. I also sharpened my knowledge of statistics.
I now understand why finding cures to diseases is way, way, more difficult than just wanting desperately to succeed. I admire the hundreds of doctors and scientists who laboured in the war against Cancer so much more now.
It is an old complaint about the practice of medicine that it inures you to the idea of death. But when medicine inures you to the idea of life, to survival, then it has failed utterly.
*Note: All quotes from The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee