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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Adding To A Body Of Knowledge

Of the non-fiction I've read since stopping full time work, "Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" (2010) by Siddharta Mukherjee is in a class all its own.

It took Mukherjee six years to complete the book - twice as long wouldn't have surprised me; the end notes alone are 60 pages. But staggering research aside, what set this apart for me was how the author made his sober subject accessible & interesting and his message hopeful yet measured. His techniques for doing that included keeping his sections a manageable length, repeating important medical and technical information, and interspersing case histories to illustrate the human side in this biography. Finally, the author resists taking potshots or turning anyone in the long history of cancer research into a villain. Even the often attacked pharmaceutical industry gets fair treatment.  

Reading several other books over the weeks I took to complete this was wise. Like most people, cancer has closely touched my life so frequent breaks were welcome. However, knowing there are oncologists like Mukherjee adding to a collective body of knowledge kept filling me with hope.

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