Dewey Decimal Project: 616.994 MUK The Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

The 610s are oneNewImage of those sections of the library where there are a huge number of books, which is understandable as this is the medicine section and I have to imagine that self-diagnosing illnesses and/or researching treatments for illnesses, real and imagined, is a big use for the library.

I’d heard good things about The Emperor of Maladies so it was not an unfamiliar title when I spotted it on the shelves. My sister-in-law, who’s a doctor, saw it when I was in the middle of it and added her own endorsement of the book.

Much of the history of cancer takes place in the twentieth century, although that’s partly because so much of the history of medicine in general takes place in the twentieth century with medicine as a science being a relatively young discipline. The four humors theory of the functioning of the body managed to last into the nineteenth century despite the fact that two of the four humors turned out to not exist at all.

It seems somewhat miraculous that any treatment for cancer exists at all, or any understanding of cancer, for that matter, given the backwardness of medical science for so much of human history and even during the twentieth century, there was a lot of driving into long dead ends. Mukerhjee manages to make all of this compelling without giving in to oversimplification or distortion of the underlying science. Overall a book worthy of its praise.

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