Monday, January 14, 2013

Books for Young Health Scientists : The Emperor of all Maladies

I read a lot of books, many types and genre`s of books, many shapes and sizes of books. Books written by authors living and dead, Canadian and abroad. And although I truly believe that reading in any way, shape or form is beneficial to anyone, I`d like to begin to read and highlight books which I feel are important for the young health scientist.

Firstly I`d like to address whom I am implying is the audience.

Young is a relative term, while for instance the students in the Bachelor of Health Sciences course which I TA are younger than myself, and certainly an apt audience for these posts (and subsequently these books) I certainly consider many people older than myself young. In the fields of research and medicine alike, you are considered quite young in your career long after I might consider you old in years.

As for Health Scientist, by this I mean anyone who considers themselves involved in furthering or applying the science of human health. Grad students, pharmacists, nurses, doctors of all types and many many many others; you should all remember that at the core of what you do is health science.

The first book I`d like to recommend, I`d like to do so in brief. Particularly because the book itself is a weighty tomb (both in pages and content); so I feel you time is better spent reading it, than reading what I have to say about it.

Siddhartha Mukherjee`s `The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer` is one of the most engrossing books I`ve ever read. Well worthy of the Pulitzer Prize proudly adorning the cover of my copy. SM takes you on a story through the life of cancer, made personal both by the stories told of patients as well as of his own fellowship as an oncologist. From the earliest diagnosis and prognosis of cancer in Egypt in 2500BC (`there is no treatment`) through the ages to modern medicine and beyond to a world of personalized, genome driven treatment; you will not want to miss a single word.

While the content may seem heavy at times, and particularly disheartening (especially when reading of the disfiguring radical mastectomy and chemotherapy intentionally pushed to the limit of human tolerance, both later found to be excessive without benefit) overall the book is one of hope. Our understanding of cancer has evolved quite rapidly over the past 50 years, from a disease of the 'black bile' to 'an altered version of our normal self'. We are now finally at a place where the vast combined effort of biological science is beginning to contribute to effective, specific, non-toxic treatments (herceptin and gleevec for instance).

Finally SM provides the reader a story which will change the way we think of cancer. If cancer is simply the cells of our body, following the most natural of directives "to grow and divide and pass genetic material to daughter cells", albeit in hyper-drive;  then perhaps we need to find a way to live with cancer rather than fight to destroy it. That the 'War on Cancer' need not be won (and likely cannot be) by total obliteration of all cancer cells; but rather by finding the right combination of treatments that a person with cancer can live out there normal lifespan despite it. Specifically, that a personalized medical regimen, tolerated without side effects, can be matched to each patient to keep cancer in check.


  1. The kind of book I wanted to read for a long time but hadn't laid my hands on. Dr. Sid's writing is sheer magic as he hand holds you through a journey that takes you to all nooks and crannies of the landscape of efforts by scientists, doctors, clinicians, researchers in trying to decode and find a cure for the scourge that is cancer. And yet all along, the book never fails to tell you why Dr. Sid choose to call it the Emperor of all Maladies - the one malaise that refuses to be tethered down by mankind's relentless efforts, the one disease that constantly reinvents itself to break free of the shackles that is imposed on it....Brilliant riveting piece that is sprinkled with doses from history and present of true life accidents, miracle drug discoveries, stories of benefactors, etc. A must read for anybody who wishes to enlighten themselves while also marveling at the power of both the hunted and the efforts of the hunter.

    1. Thanks for the great comment! I fully agree with your review of the book, it will be one of my favourites for years to come.

    2. This is on my reading list. I've been putting it off because of its length. Perhaps I will tackle it for Breast Cancer Awareness month.


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