The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer has been on my “to read” list ever since it debuted. How fortuitous the library branch closest to my work, which gave me the pleasure of
reading listening to another book, just so happened to have this audio book in stock when I returned my previous rental. Yesss!
Written by Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist, the audio book is read by Stephen Hoye. I must admit, parts of the book were difficult for me to listen to. Mr. Hoye has won numerous awards for his book readings, but I found his tone quite dry, which makes for 21 hours of not-so-easy-listening. Sections of the book that detail conversations between two people are almost unbearable as the “characters,” which are actually real people, have no distinct voices, leaving them void.
Dr. Mukherjee’s writing is powerful and academic. This is not an “easy-starter” book, and the inclusion of medical terminology, albeit explained by the author, is a lot to take in. The content of the book, though, is intriguing. Dr. Mukherjee is a beautiful historian and a master of metaphors. The chapters cover topics such as creation of clinical trials, inadvertent discovery of new pharmacologic agents, epidemiology controversies, the development of end-of-life care, cancer funding, the “cancer war” influence on AIDS research and advancement, scientists who gave their time and sometimes their literal lives to find a cause or cure for cancer, a history of diagnoses and treatments across centuries and continents, and more. Albeit not a complete history of cancer, the book covers a lot of information and story after story to help bring the content alive.
Overall, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is worth a read or a listen, especially if you are in health care. I have great respect for the men and women – both academics and non-academics – who have brought oncology care so far and continue to propel it forward. This book only solidifies that admiration.