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  • Writer's pictureShrikant Soman

Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Updated: Mar 22


This is a brilliant and compelling book that provides a comprehensive and insightful history of cancer. Mukherjee, an oncologist and writer, takes readers on a journey through time, exploring the history of cancer from its first recorded cases to the modern-day efforts to cure and prevent the disease.


The book is divided into three parts. The first part, titled "The Persian Conquest," traces the origins of cancer back to ancient times and explores the early attempts to understand and treat the disease. Mukherjee delves into the works of ancient physicians and describes the earliest recorded cases of cancer in human history.

The second part, titled "The Age of Cancer," covers the period from the mid-19th century to the present day, which saw significant advances in the understanding and treatment of cancer. Mukherjee examines the work of pioneering researchers, including Paul Ehrlich, who developed the first chemotherapy drugs, and Sidney Farber, who established the first cancer research center.


The final part, titled "The Twilight of Cancer," looks at the future of cancer treatment and the progress that has been made in recent years. Mukherjee discusses the latest breakthroughs in cancer research, including immunotherapy and targeted therapies, and the challenges that remain in finding a cure for the disease.


Throughout the book, Mukherjee brings to life the stories of the people who have battled cancer, from patients to doctors and researchers. He also provides a thoughtful examination of the cultural and social impact of cancer, from the stigma that surrounds the disease to the political debates over funding for cancer research.


Emperor of All Maladies is a beautifully written and deeply moving book that combines scientific knowledge with a human touch. Mukherjee's passion for his subject is evident on every page, and his ability to convey complex ideas in accessible language makes this book a must-read for anyone interested in the history and future of cancer.

Here are some noteworthy quotations from "Emperor of All Maladies" by Siddhartha Mukherjee:

  1. "Cancer is not one disease. It is many diseases. Even within a single type of cancer, such as breast cancer, scientists have identified subtypes that respond differently to treatments."

  2. "Cancer is a paradoxical beast: it is at once individual and ubiquitous."

  3. "If there is a single lesson that emerges from our collective struggle against cancer, it is that we are all vulnerable to this disease, regardless of who we are."

  4. "A cancer cell is a cell that has forgotten how to die."

  5. "Cancer is, first and foremost, a disease of cell biology."

  6. "Cancer is a disease of the genome."

  7. "Cancer is a thief of identity, stealing the most basic of human experiences."

  8. "We have begun to unlock the secrets of cancer, but we still have a long way to go."

  9. "Hope, it seems, is the indispensable precondition for human survival."

  10. "The war against cancer is not a single battle, but a series of skirmishes, fought on many fronts.

"Emperor of All Maladies" by Siddhartha Mukherjee highlights the relentless pursuit of scientists for solutions to cancer. Throughout the book, Mukherjee describes the tireless efforts of researchers to understand the disease and develop effective treatments. He profiles pioneers in the field of cancer research, including Paul Ehrlich, who developed the first chemotherapy drugs, and Sidney Farber, who established the first cancer research center. The book also covers more recent breakthroughs in cancer research, such as targeted therapies and immunotherapy, and the challenges that remain in finding a cure for the disease. Overall, the book provides a comprehensive and inspiring account of the scientific community's ongoing quest to conquer cancer.


The book describes some of the cruel and painful methods that were used in the early days of cancer treatment. In the book's first part, "The Persian Conquest," Mukherjee explores the origins of cancer and the early attempts to understand and treat the disease. He describes how ancient physicians used a variety of techniques to remove tumors, including cauterization (the use of heat to burn away tissue) and excision (the removal of the affected body part). These methods were often crude and painful, and they often did little to cure the disease.


Mukherjee also describes how early cancer treatments often had serious side effects, including disfigurement and disability. For example, in the 19th century, surgeons sometimes removed entire limbs in an attempt to prevent the spread of cancer. This practice, known as amputation, was often ineffective and left patients permanently disabled.

Overall, the book provides a sobering reminder of the painful and often ineffective methods that were used in the past to treat cancer, and it underscores the importance of ongoing research and innovation in the field of cancer treatment.


Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff cancer physician at Columbia University Medical Center. A Rhodes scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford, Harvard Medical School. He has published articles in Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine, The New York Times, and The New Republic. He lives in New York with his wife and daughters.

His book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer won the 2011 Pulitzer prize for general nonfiction.

See some of the book reviews :


What a masterpiece. With beautiful metaphors, poignant case studies, breath-taking science and delectable literary allusions, Siddhartha Mukherjee takes us on a detailed yet panoramic trip spanning centuries. Probably one of the best science books I have ever read.

by Anna Cancerina


I wanted to dislike this book. For personal reasons that I'm not quite ready to talk about yet, I really wanted this book to fall apart, to fail in its communication of the science of cancer. The longer it went on, the harder I looked for reasons to deduct a star from its rating. But I simply couldn't find any.

This is a meticulous account of the multifaceted research to beat cancer. It's quite possibly the best bit of written science communication that I've ever read. In my opinion you can break science communication into a hierarchy: first comes raising awareness, then comes raising understanding, then finally comes raising literacy.

Mukherjee beautifully blends personal accounts of patients that he has treated with a deep review of the existing literature, as well as conducting interviews with the (still living) key movers and shakers. Moreover, he gradually ramps up the complexity of the language used, such that by the end of the book sentences that might once have seemed technobabble are clearly understandable. After reading this book I am more aware of the nature of cancer, understand how (to the best of our current knowledge) it emerges in our bodies, and can parse medical news and reports with new awareness. The Emperor of All Maladies succeeds in all measures of science communication. But more than this, it is a riveting, moving read.

It really is a titanic achievement in written science communication.

by Simon Clark


The only way out is the way through it" is the quote that I will not be able to forget from this. The book is very helpful in two ways. One, it provides the fundamental knowledge of this disease. Two, it leaves you hopeful about the future with respect to the new advances in medical research. The author has a great writing style, a balance between keeping the reader's focus on the subject and also appealing to the emotions. It's a great read all in all.

by Vasanthi Felt like taking a journey into the dark realms of this treacherous disease. Growing with us. Growing within us. However, clinical and basic cancer research has changed over the years and promise of cure has been fulfilled in many aspects. This book is a comprehensive story of a constant tussle between medical sciences and 'the emperor of all maladies'. A history, a geography, a science, a political science, an economics and social science book in one! One book encompassing all aspects of this dreadful disease! by Prerana Sharma

Tightly written story line, woven through relevant anecdotes that vividly illustrate Mukerjee’s points. So many of us have now or will have an intimate connection to cancer in our own lives, or those of family/friends. Emperor casts vivid light on our own life experiences.

by Den Kerlee


I didn't know a huge book with medical and petrifying terms that can't be read without a dictionary next to me would make me learn, reflect and also cry. Truly a masterpiece.

by shouri kokkonda

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Product details

Price on Amazon

Paperback Rs 484/-

Kindle Rs 312

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ 0007428057

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Fourth Estate (25 November 2010)

  • Language ‏ : ‎ English

  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 592 pages

  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9780007428052

  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0007428052

  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 0.28 g

  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm

  • Country of Origin ‏ : ‎ India


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