The Emperor of All Maladies

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The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
Book cover; shows a crab in the center of the page, with the title above and the subtitle and author beneath
Cover of The Emperor of All Maladies
AuthorSiddhartha Mukherjee
CountryUnited States
Publication date
16 November 2010

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is a book written by Siddhartha Mukherjee, an Indian-born American physician and oncologist. It was published on 16 November 2010 by Scribner.


The Emperor of All Maladies won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction: the jury called it "an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal".[1][2][3] The Guardian wrote that "Mukherjee manages to convey not only a forensically precise picture of what he sees, but a shiver too, of what he feels."[4] Literary Review commended Mukherjee's narrative: "It is so well written, and the science is so clearly explained, that it reads almost like a detective story—which, of course, it is."[5]


The book explains its title in its author's note:[6]

In a sense, this is a military history—one in which the adversary is formless, timeless, and pervasive. Here, too, there are victories and losses, campaigns upon campaigns, heroes and hubris, survival and resilience—and inevitably, the wounded, the condemned, the forgotten, the dead. In the end, cancer truly emerges, as a nineteenth-century surgeon once wrote in a book's frontispiece, as "the emperor of all maladies, the king of terrors."


The book weaves together Mukherjee's experiences as a hematology/oncology fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as the history of cancer treatment and research.[3][7] Mukherjee gives the history of cancer from its first identification 4,600 years ago by the Egyptian physician Imhotep. The Greeks had no understanding of cells, but they were familiar with hydraulics. Hippocrates thus considered illness to be an imbalance of four cardinal fluids: blood, black bile, yellow bile, phlegm. Galen applied this idea to cancer, believing it to be an imbalance of black bile. In 440 BCE, the Greek historian Herodotus recorded the first breast tumor excision of Atossa, the queen of Persia and the daughter of Cyrus, by a Greek slave named Democedes. The procedure was believed to have been successful temporarily. Galen's theory was later challenged by the work of Andreas Vaselius and Matthew Baille, whose dissections of human bodies failed to reveal black bile.

In the 19th century, surgeons devised various approaches to remove tumors, like William Halsted and the radical mastectomy. Additionally, Emil Grubbe used X-rays to treat cancer, thus identifying another treatment modality. Rudolph Virchow first observed leukemia, and Franz Ernst Christian Neumann localized the pathology to the bone marrow.

In the 20th century, cancer became the second most common cause of death after heart disease in the United States. Sidney Farber induced temporary remission in pediatric leukemia using antifolates developed by Yellapragada Subbarow. Louis Goodman and Alfred Gilman also used nitrogen mustard to treat lymphoma. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) introduced clinical trials to test the efficacy of chemotherapy. Recognizing the possibility for a cure, Farber sought funding for his efforts through The Jimmy Fund and Mary Lasker. Inspired by the Space Race, Farber and Lasker appealed to the nation and President Nixon to enact legislation for the War on Cancer, resulting in the passage of the National Cancer Act of 1971 and increased funding for the NCI.

The book also reviews the origins of hospice and palliative medicine and cancer screening.

According to Mukherjee, the book was a response to the demand of a patient: "I'm willing to go on fighting, but I need to know what it is that I'm battling."[8] Mukherjee states that two of his influences for the book were Randy Shilts' And the Band Played On and Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb, but the defining moment for him was "when he conceived of his book as a biography".[8]

It was described, by the magazine TIME, as one of the 100 most influential books of the last 100 years,[9] and by The New York Times Magazine as among the 100 best works of non-fiction.[10]


  1. OF BLACKE CHOLOR, WITHOUT BOYLING: Early understandings of cancer
  2. AN IMPATIENT WAR: Chemotherapy and other modern (20th century) forms of treatment
  3. WILL YOU TURN ME OUT IF I CAN'T GET BETTER: Failures of treatments and dominant theories; paradigm shifts in the 1970s
  4. PREVENTION IS THE CURE: Preventive medicine applied to cancer in the United States
  5. A DISTORTED VERSION OF OUR NORMAL SELVES: The cellular nature of cancer
  6. THE FRUITS OF LONG ENDEAVORS: A review on the contemporary state-of-the-art and the victories from a long line of research

The epilogue, "Atossa's War", discusses prognosis and the ultimate goals of cancer treatment.

Awards and honours[edit]


  • 2011: Italian: L' imperatore del male. Una biografia del cancro, Neri Pozza (ISBN 978-88-545-0331-1).
  • 2011: Korean: 암 : 만병의 황제의 역사, 이한음 (ISBN 978-89-7291-506-5).
  • 2012: Turkish: Tüm Hastalıkların Şahı, Zeynep Arık Tozar (ISBN 978-6056260483).
  • 2012: German: Der König aller Krankheiten, Barbara Schaden (ISBN 978-3832196448).
  • 2012: Lithuanian: Visų ligų karalius: vėžio biografija, leidykla "Versus aureus" (ISBN 978-9955-34-352-3).
  • 2012: Portuguese: O Imperador de Todos os Males. Uma biografia do cancro, Bertrand Editora (ISBN 9789722523943)
  • 2012: Spanish: "El emperador de todos los males: Una biografia del Cancer" editorial Taurus (ISBN 6071112362)
  • 2013: French: L'empereur de toutes les maladies. Une biographie du cancer, Éditions Flammarion (ISBN 978-2081285446).
  • 2013: Dutch: De keizer aller ziektes, een biografie van kanker, de Bezige Bij (ISBN 978-9023472896).
  • 2013: Russian: Царь всех болезней. Биография рака, АСТ, ISBN 978-5-17-077569-9.
  • 2013: Ukrainian: Імператор усіх хвороб: біографія раку, Київ, видавництво Жупанського (ISBN 978-966-2355-36-9).
  • 2013: Polish: Cesarz wszech chorób: Biografia raka, Wydawnictwo Czarne (ISBN 978-83-7536-544-3)
  • 2013: Bulgarian: Императорът на всички болести: Биография на рака, Изток - Запад (ISBN 978-619-152-315-3)
  • 2013: Hungarian: Betegségek betegsége: mindent a rákról, Libri (ISBN 978-963-310-087-5)
  • 2013: Arabic: إمبراطور الأمراض: سيرة ذاتية للسرطان, Tariq Olayan (ISBN 978-603-8086-27-8)
  • 2014: Swedish: Lidandets konung: Historien om cancer, Albert Bonniers Förlag (ISBN 9789100132699).
  • 2014: Thai: จักรพรรดิแห่งโรคร้าย ชีวประวัติโรคมะเร็ง : The Emperor of All Maladies : A Biography of Cancer, สุนันทา วรรณสินธ์ เบล แปล, สำนักพิมพ์มติชน (ISBN 978-974-02-1085-6).
  • 2015: Persian: "سرطان امپراطور بیماری‌ها", The House of Biology (ISBN 978-600-6926-36-0).
  • 2015: Icelandic: "Meistari allra meina: Ævisaga krabbameins", Forlagið (ISBN 978-9979-53-617-8).
  • 2015: Czech: "Vládkyně všech nemocí", Masarykova univerzita (ISBN 978-80-210-7761-4).
  • 2017: Persian: «پادشاه همۀ امراض», Salekan (ISBN 978-964-5537-02-7).

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ The Pulitzer Prizes. "The 2011 Pulitzer Prize Winners General Nonfiction". Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  2. ^ "Indian doc's book on cancer wins Pulitzer Prize". The Times of India. Boston. 19 April 2011. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  3. ^ a b "An Oncologist Writes 'A Biography Of Cancer'". Fresh Air from WHYY. NPR. 17 November 2010. Retrieved 1 August 2011.
  4. ^ "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee—review". 23 January 2011.
  5. ^ Daniels, Anthony (March 2011). "The Unnameable". Literary Review.
  6. ^ Page xvii
  7. ^ Okie, Susan (28 November 2010). "Review: "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer," by Siddhartha Mukherjee". Denver Post. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  8. ^ a b McGrath, Charles (8 November 2010). "How Cancer Acquired Its Own Biographer". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  9. ^ Cruz, Gilbert (17 August 2011). "All-TIME 100 Nonfiction Books". Time. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  10. ^ Lindgren, Hugo. "As if You Don't Have Enough to Read". The 6th Floor. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  11. ^ Joanna Bourke (10 October 2011). "2011 Wellcome Trust Book Prize shortlist". The Lancet. Retrieved 30 September 2012.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]