That was the question asked in a room of 200 odd people yesterday evening. Every single person in the room raised their hand. Every single one. If I told you that it was a room full of people who had come to listen to Siddhartha Mukherjee, the author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A biography of Cancer does that make it any less surprising? I don’t think so.
I’ve heard of this book about 2-3 years ago but never bothered to read it. I figured that since read about cancer all day for work why on earth would I want to read an entire book about it when I’m not in work. So despite the insistent urgings of my old boss I resisted reading it for this long. That was until the university announced that the author was coming to town to give a talk on the book and seeing the posters all over the university every day finally managed to pique my interest – I guess I just ended up wanting to know what all the fuss was about.
I borrowed it from the public library and devoured the book cover to cover in 4 days. Which is a testament to how riveting this book is – the author manages to take the subject of cancer and explain in a personable, easy to understand manner, the history of cancer and cancer research.
It sounds stodgy, it sounds like it would be boring and textbook-like but it isn’t, it’s a story – a beautifully interwoven tale and at the heart of the book are the real stories of the scientists, clinicians and most of all the patients that forever changed what we know about and how we treat cancer.
I’ve read this book at a great time for me – I’m neck deep in work right, I’m getting stressed out and finding it hard to see the big picture. This book is the big picture – it reminds me of why I wanted to do cancer research in the first place because cancer affects us all, in different ways but no one is untouched – my mother is a recent breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed when I was in the middle of my PhD – nothing will change your outlook on the importance of your work as a researcher as finding out that your own mother has the very disease you are examining under a microscope, the very disease you are trying to combat in the laboratory. That’s the big picture.
If, over the course of my life, I can do one thing that makes a difference in the life of one cancer patient it will have all been worth it.
Remember the big picture – and read the book, I promise you won’t regret it.