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The Emperor of all Things
Mukherjee allow his otherwise sophisticated book to be presented so reductively? He also writes about the fund-raising, Nixon-era idea of waging war on cancer as if illness were an enemy to be faced in battle. This book pays considerable attention to pioneering figures like William Stewart Halsted, an advocate in the s and s of extreme breast cancer surgery; Sidney Farber, who in the s made great breakthroughs in treating childhood leukemia with dangerously toxic chemicals; and Min Chiu Li, who in the s lost his job at the National Cancer Institute for providing chemotherapy to patients whose symptoms had receded, even though this extended therapy meant the first chemotherapeutic cure of cancer in adults.
In a maneuver as transparently glib as that of calling his book a biography, Dr.
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Mukherjee also inserts occasional glimpses of his own patients, whose experiences are markedly overdramatized. The city below us had stirred fully awake.
The door shut behind me as I left, and a whoosh of air blew me outward and sealed Carla in. Here Dr. The overarching point made by his narrative is that the whole subject of cancer is dauntingly complex. And the unmistakable effect of our progress in curing other previously fatal diseases is to make cancer, which is most often found in older patients, look more prevalent than ever.
Mukherjee links a decline in extremely punishing chemotherapy regimens to the fact that patients became less passive.
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He credits much of this forcefulness to AIDS activists. He describes the conflicting interests of surgeons and chemotherapists. Mukherjee provides especially apt metaphors for a subject so difficult to grasp.