Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., Ph.D., is a leading cancer physician and researcher. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a cancer physician at the CU/NYU Presbyterian Hospital. Ten years in the making, his first book, The Emperor Of All Maladies: A Biography Of Cancer is a magnificent “biography” of this shape-shifting and formidable disease that has plagued and riddled humanity for thousands of years.
From the first known reference to cancer on an ancient Egyptian scroll to the epic modern battles to conquer it, Mukherjee approaches this crucial subject with the passion and fixation of a biographer and the flourish of a novelist. The Emperor Of All Maladies is a story that touches on the brilliance and tenacity that frequently make scientific history—and also on the serendipitous discoveries.
Mukherjee introduces audiences to key figures such as Sidney Farber, the father of modern chemotherapy, holed up in the cellar of a Boston hospital and characterized by a colleague as a “cancer maniac,” and William Halsted, bewhiskered, obsessive, and addicted to cocaine, who created and perfected the radical and super-radical mastectomies that became the norm in cases of breast cancer for decades. They learn about the accidental discovery during World War I of mustard gas as a method for killing cancer cells, and from there the experimental evolution into the specialized chemicals that are just deadly enough to kill cancerous cells without killing normal cells.
Mukherjee tells these stories with the grand sweep that marks The Emperor Of All Maladies as a work of major literature, seamlessly weaving significant moments in cultural history into the narrative. It is also something more personal: audiences will be moved by Mukherjee’s observations about his own coming of age as a physician—especially in his thoughtful and compassionate consideration of his patients as they soldier through toxic, bruising, and draining regimens to battle a relentless disease that fully envelops their lives.
In the past 50 years, Americans have watched as various strategies in the “War on Cancer” have earned the attention of politicians, physicians, the media and, of course, the public. By the end of 2010, cancer is projected to become the leading cause of death worldwide. Cases of cancer doubled globally between 1975 and 2000, and will double again by 2020, nearly tripling by 2030. In America, one in two men and one in three women will get cancer during their lifetime; one in four will die. Mukherjee and The Emperor Of All Maladies could not deliver a more timely message, and he presents it with such clarity and verve that audiences will feel enlightened, even uplifted, despite those grim figures.
A Rhodes Scholar, Mukherjee graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford, and Harvard Medical School and was a Fellow at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and an attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He has published articles in Nature, New England Journal of Medicine, Neuron, Journal of Clinical Investigation, The New York Times, and The New Republic.