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Book and Media Reviews
June 8, 2011

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

JAMA. 2011;305(22):2357-2358. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.798

The Emperor of All Maladies is an extraordinary, Pulitzer Prize–winning treatise on cancer. With copious research, insight, and great literary panache, the author describes the biography of cancer, from the beginning of recorded time to the present. He starts by taking readers back to the time of the Queen Atossa of Persia (approximately 530 BCE), who may have had breast cancer—cancer that may have been excised by her slave, at least based on the author's interpretations from the literature. The queen later vanished from the literary record, presumably because of her demise from cancer, but she intermittently reappears in this book to allow readers to reimagine her outcome had she appeared in subsequent centuries.