I have always been fascinated by medicine (I wonder if it's inevitable when you have a parent in the medical profession who leaves medical journals lying around the house all of the time? Must ask my sister!), and have wanted to read this book for a long time, but let's be honest, reading a fairly large book about cancer isn't exactly the most appealing prospect!
What finally got me to actually buy and read this is some translation that came in to my company which was to do with some new treatments for cancer that are in development. While struggling with the translation (medical stuff is hard when you have no kind of medical background!), I realised that I barely knew anything about cancer, and that maybe this would be a good thing to read to help me to learn.. and I was right!
The Emperor of all Maladies is a really fascinating look at the history of cancer, from the first time that it was recorded, to what the causes were once believed to be, early treatments, up to the modern day (or close - it was published in 2010).
It goes without saying that cancer is a really hideous disease, but some of the methods that used to be used to treat it are similarly hideous. There is a lot of talk in the book about radical mastectomies, which is horrific surgery that involved cutting away large swathes of muscle around the breasts, and cutting things out of the neck as well - basically cutting as much as was humanly possible without killing the patient, leaving many women horrifically disfigured, without actually curing the cancer in many cases.
Although at times the book was quite depressing - unsurprisingly, considering the subject matter - it did really make me appreciate how far medicine has come, as a lot of cancers that would have almost certainly been fatal before can now be cured, or at least sent into remission for long periods, and although it is probably unlikely that anything will ever completely cure cancer, I don't think it is too preposterous that one day cancer will be mostly treatable. I really hope that is the case!
I think that anybody who is interested in this kind of thing and isn't too squeamish would enjoy this book, but I suspect that a lot of the book may hit a little too close to home for anybody who knows anybody currently being treated for cancer, or anybody who is being treated themselves...
Other things of note:
- The book also talks a fair bit about AIDS, which I found really interesting after reading Tell the Wolves I'm Home.
- While reading about some of the more disgusting/horrifying descriptions of early treatments on the train, I kept on making involuntary weird faces which caused people around me to look at me strangely, hehe.