A few years ago, I read The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. This book, besides having one of the great titles, is riveting in both content and style. I immediately put Mukherjee, a physician, biologist, and researcher, on my short list of authors to read whenever they have a new book.  

Emperor really was a biography, with cameo appearances by scientists, doctors, patients, and characters from Mukherjee’s own life. It was a story, a harrowing and inspiring one, and it won the Pulitzer Prize.

I’ve since read his next two works, The Gene: An Intimate History, and, more recently, The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human—both wonderful books but, I would maintain, surveys more than stories. 

Having said that, I loved The Song of the Cell. It was a journey through the human body at the microscopic level, with stops to examine and observe the myriad cells making up the whole. We encounter rich and fascinating examples—dozens of them, in the form of case studies from medical history and from Mukherjee’s practice—but the most vivid impression I came away with was awe at the intricate and endlessly complex human body, in which each cell has a role in keeping the body healthy and functioning, or, in the case of cancer cells, veering out of control to damage the body. 

 I’ll be looking forward to the next book by this magnificent writer.


Capsule Reviews