Thursday, August 30, 2012

Did Not Finish: The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Emperor of All Maladies, published in 2010, is a Pullitzer Prize-winning "biography" of cancer, tracing the disease's occurrence in the past and the history of its research and treatment. My Honors College offered up free copies of the book over the summer, so I took the opportunity to read it. I intended to read through the book on the 17-hour road trip to college, but from this post, you can tell that didn't happen.

I'm not someone who reads much nonfiction on science, but I still figured I would be interested in a book tracing the history of cancer, particularly if it won a prestigious literary award. Unfortunately, neither the writing nor the content captivated me. I found the content to be unorganized, often skipping in and out of chronological order as well as between narratives. It made it difficult to keep track of who was who and who achieved what breakthrough. The writing didn't seem that special to me, either; rather, it seemed a bit too self-consciously dramatic, like the author was trying to spice up the content but not succeeding. The history of science portions of the book I found fascinating - the further back in time, the better - but by about page 150, I realized I wasn't really getting anywhere or even wanting to continue reading. Maybe another time, Siddhartha Mukherjee.


  1. I finished it but it was a bit of a challenge. I like the history of cancer part the best. It think it is more interesting if you have cancer. I have a precancer and I was encouraged by the book on the section on blood cancers. It made me feel hopeful. Probably a great editor and organizer would be good the next time he writes a book. I am hoping that he writes a part II.


  2. I don't read a lot of nonfiction either, but I did pick up this one. I really loved it. The organization didn't bother me. It's such a huge topic, I thought he did a good job of looking at cancer from a lot of different angles. It kept it interesting for me.