Recommended (Summer!) Reading for Medical Students & Residents: The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • In the midst of medical training, it can be easy to stop reading anything that isn’t a textbook, journal article, or UptoDate page. With all that you HAVE to read, it is hard to find the time to read for personal enjoyment, let alone to learn about the philosophical, historical, and ethical parts of medicine. If you find yourself looking to explore some of the broader aspects of medicine, our Recommended Reads series is here to give you some ideas. 

    What’s it about? 

    For those who are intrigued by medical history, this is a fascinating read about the history of cancer and cancer treatment throughout human history. Integrating his own personal experience as an oncologist with the history of patients, physicians, and scientists, Dr. Mukherjee tells the “biography” of cancer. It is a story of how oncological treatment has evolved to where we are now, while also focusing on the very intimate and personal experiences of living with cancer. 

    What can we learn from this book?

    This book is a testament to the arduous nature of medical research and innovation. Over hundreds of years and infinite medical mistakes (including some very morbid attempts at treatment), the medical field has evolved to the modern era of “personalized medicine” and “targeted therapies.” Each physician researcher in the book helped move the needle towards better treatment of cancer to prolong patients’ lives. But Dr. Mukherjee also carefully humanizes the experience of living with cancer, so that the individual lives affected are not lost amongst the stories of research and medical therapies. 

    Who should read this book? 

    Medical students with any interest in medical history, oncology, humanism in medicine, or research. I would say all residents too, but it is 571 pages, so that might be a tougher sell. For anyone willing to commit the time, you will certainly learn a great deal about all aspects of cancer. 

    What should I expect? 

    Detailed descriptions of cancer stories ranging from ancient Greece to the first radical mastectomy to modern chemotherapies. But with a focus on the individual lives involved at each stage. While you should expect to learn, you should also be prepared to have an emotional connection to those affected by cancer in the book (and maybe some tears). 

    Any final thoughts? 

    If you love this book, you should also check out Dr. Mukherjee’s The Gene that outlines the history of the field of genetics!

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