This is not a book to read in an evening or two. For one thing, it’ll depress the hell out of you. It’s also very dense, very technical and chock full of information. But don’t let that dissuade you, if you’re interested in this sort of thing — taking it a chunk at a time made it digestible, and very, very interesting to read.
“Down to their innate molecular core, cancer cells are hyperactive, survival-endowed, scrappy, fecund, inventive copies of ourselves.”
Siddhartha Mukherjee tells two parallel stories here — the story of his time working as a doctor (basically, a highlight reel of some of his more memorable cancer cases), and the story of cancer, reaching back as far as he can go. The patient studies will make you tear up, either in sadness at the losses (and there are so, so many losses), or joy at the winners (“In 2005, a man diagnosed with multiple myeloma asked me if he would be alive to watch his daughter graduate from high school in a few months. In 2009, bound to a wheelchair, he watched his daughter graduate from college. The wheelchair had nothing to do with his cancer. The man had fallen down while coaching his youngest son’s baseball team.”). But it was the history of cancer that really brought me to this read.
At some point in junior high, my best friend & I did a project on medieval medicine — trepanning, humors, weird ass tools, etc. I loved it, and have been hooked on old-timey medicine ever since. Most of Mukherjee’s focus rests on the last 50 years or so, but he does go back to descriptions of cancer in various old texts — the ancient Egyptians, for example. He recounts decades of attempts to treat/cure cancer, and the varying results. Like I said, it’s dense material — but if you enjoy medical texts, go for it!