Indian American cancer specialist’s book in Time’s “Top 10 Nonfiction Books”

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WASHINGTON - Indian American cancer specialist Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” has notched yet another success with the Time magazine rating it second among “Top 10 Nonfiction Books.”

The rare feat less than a month after publication follows the New York Times Sunday rating the book third in five non-fiction books in its “The 10 Best Books of 2010″.

The Washington Post has also listed the book 16th in the non-fiction category among the “Best of 2010″.

“In a year jammed with celebrity memoirs, this biography may be the most interesting life story of them all,” said the Time describing it as a “riveting tale”.

“Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist and cancer researcher, has taken that most dread-inducing of human diseases and distilled its history into a riveting tale of medical breakthroughs and failures, politics and personalities, life and death,” it said.

“After starting with some brief mentions of cancer in antiquity, Mukherjee takes us to the mid-1800s with a visceral account of the early, bloody attempts at combating cancer, in which surgeons ‘returned to the operating table and cut and cut again … as cancer was slowly excavated out of the human body piece by piece.’

“Later came X-ray and radiation therapy, the potent chemical-based attacks of chemotherapy and present-day targeted drug therapy.”

“On parallel tracks are the tales of Mary Lasker and Sidney Farber - mid-20th century advocates who organized and politicized the fight against cancer - and several of Mukherjee’s own patients,” Time said desscribing it as “a heady juggling act.”

“And like any great biographer, Mukherjee approaches his subject with both dispassionate analysis and unrestrained fascination, writing of cancer, ‘It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively … To confront cancer is to encounter a parallel species, one perhaps more adapted to survival than even we are,’ the magazine said.

The Times Book Review described the “powerful and ambitious first book”, which had made it to its Best Sellers list last week, as “Mukherjee’s magisterial ‘biography’ of the most dreaded of modern afflictions.”

“He excavates the deep history of the ‘war’ on cancer, weaving haunting tales of his own clinical experience with sharp sketches of the sometimes heroic, sometimes misguided scientists who have preceded him in the fight,” it said.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

Filed under: Cancer, Medicine, World

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