Pin It
Favorite

'The Emperor of All Maladies,' Siddhartha Mukherjee 

The Hundred Years War has nothing on our 4,000-year bout with cancer.

In Europe, they once had a Hundred Years War. Our own War on Terror has been going on for about a decade. But the War on Cancer — well, as Siddhartha Mukherjee writes in his impressive new book, that's been going on for 4,000 years. It's been the central struggle of our species since Hippocrates named deadly tumors after the crab, with its penetrating pinchers and menacing, alien visage. 

As a cancer physician, Mukherjee is perfect for this job. He has been in those cold, sterile rooms as the bad news he has delivered hangs in the air like a black hole blotting out all hope and humanity. He has felt the highs of a "miracle" cure and the lows of death coming way too soon. 

He attempts a biography of a disease here, but it's an enigma. So we get a biography of cancer's enemies — researchers and doctors, patients and fundraisers. You get to meet all the warriors, from Sidney Farber to Mary Lasker. You also tour the trenches — the horrific wrong turns (radical mastectomy), the accidental discoveries (mustard gas, it was found, killed cancer cells along with soldiers) and the politics (Nixon's War on Cancer).

What The Emperor of All Maladies really stands for, however, is an appreciation of the scientific method. Millions of tiny discoveries, along with a handful of pivotal insights, have resulted in progress — incremental and frustrating, but still progress.

As Mukherjee humbly submits, there is still much we don't know. Some survivability outcomes for specific cancers are about the same as they were a century ago; others, using a mix of drugs, radiation and surgery, can be cured.

There's that pesky word: cure. As a rallying cry, a total cure is powerful. But, as Mukherjee writes, "This War on Cancer may best be 'won' by redefining victory."

Perhaps a victory over "the most elemental and magisterial disease known to our species" — one that is "stitched to our genome" — will take a little more humility and practicality. "We might as well focus on prolonging life," Mukherjee writes, "rather than eliminating death."

  • Pin It

Speaking of Books

Latest in Arts & Culture

  • Finding Solid Footing
  • Finding Solid Footing

    Local radio personality Molly Allen has written a new play about ending and mending relationships
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • TV | Amazon Comedy
  • TV | Amazon Comedy

    The online-shopping giant is an unlikely home for serious laughs
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • For Your Consideration
  • For Your Consideration

    Ozzie's radio show, fantasizing football and Rainier's new brew
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun
You Are Here

You Are Here @ Chase Gallery

Mondays-Fridays. Continues through Sept. 29

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Ted S. McGregor Jr.

  • After the Deluge
  • After the Deluge

    Cleaning up Trump's hot mess is going to take some heroic leadership
    • Sep 1, 2016
  • <b>From Crimson &#10;to Purple</b>
  • From Crimson to Purple

    Bob Gregory was a Spokane-bred Cougar through and through; now he's prowling the sidelines for the Huskies
    • Sep 1, 2016
  • Staying Engaged
  • Staying Engaged

    From the Mayfair Cafe to Central Park
    • Aug 4, 2016
  • More »

Most Commented On

Readers also liked…

  • Answering the Call
  • Answering the Call

    An unlikely romance leads to an inspired Spokane-Rwanda connection
    • Aug 26, 2015
  • Prowess in Prose
  • Prowess in Prose

    Marilynne Robinson returns to the Inland Northwest to share wise words about her illustrious writing career
    • Feb 11, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation