The Emperor of All Maladies

Recommendation: Fascinating if you’re interested in medical history or science communication more generally

Where to read: Well, we’re back in lock down so lot’s of time to read now…

Read with: A strong stomach and some Taylor Swift

In brief: Leukaemia and breast cancer are the main framing devices here but it is a fantastic history of cancer treatments and our understanding of cancer.


Mukherjee won the Pulitzer for general non-fiction in 2011 for this and it’s easy to see why. It’s beautifully written, cleverly framed, explores a fascinating and deeply relevant area of medicine and tells a compelling story (also, his whole career is amazing).

He covers a lot of ground here but leukaemia and breast cancer provide useful vehicles for discussing the different treatment movements of phases (surgical approaches to breast cancer, the development of chemotherapy and the early trials in leukaemia patients etc). It is a fascinating ride through scientific development, the history of medicine and a quite painful lesson in the importance of proper clinical trials.

There is also an excellent documentary based on the book PBS did with Ken Burns in 2015. And y’all know I love me a Ken Burns doco.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s