The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery

George Johnson. Knopf, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-59514-0
It’s his wife Nancy’s grueling fight against a rare and “rabid” uterine cancer that prompts science writer Johnson (The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments) to delve into the efforts to study, treat, and beat what Siddhartha Mukherjee dubbed “The Emperor of All Maladies.” This elegant and insightful chronicle is at once intensely personal and meticulously studious, focusing not just on one cancer, but on the evolution of all cancers. He finds it “comforting... knowing that cancer has always been with us, that it is not all our fault, that you can take every precaution and still something in the genetic coils can become unsprung.” Cancer, he explains, can be blamed on “factors that have been present for a long time” (the disease beset even prehistoric dinosaurs). In fact, researchers are finding that any one case of cancer may have multiple causes, whether environmental, hereditary, or “elusive… bad luck.” Cancer, he concludes, “is a phenomenon” that is “mostly random.” Yet we are getting a clearer picture of how it works: cancer’s “metabolic puzzle” may lie in “how the body stores and uses energy… Insulin, estrogen, obesity, cancer—all are tied in to the same metabolic knot.” This is extraordinary scholarship delivered with an intimate poignancy. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Aug. 30)
Reviewed on: 06/10/2013
Release date: 08/27/2013
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