I had the good fortune to hear Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, DPhil speak at the AACI/CCAF Annual Meeting in Washington DC in October, 2011. Mukherjee is a fantastic speaker with a good voice for the reading that he did of selections from his book, “The Emperor of all Maladies – A Biography of Cancer.” At that conference he was also awarded the AACI Excellence in Cancer Communications Award.
After hearing his presentation, I was inspired to read his book and I finally got a chance to do so earlier this year. This book gives a unique background on cancer as a disease, as well as the process, history, and politics of clinical research. Mukherjee’s book, and other similar work, is highly valuable in providing the cultural background and historical context for the environment in which we work today. Books such as “The Emperor of all Maladies” have the potential to both educate professionals in the clinical research industry and also increase awareness for clinical research to the general public.
Results of a brief survey confirm the three books below are recommended reading for anyone working in the field of clinical research:
- The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddartha Mukherjee.
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
- Sentenced to Science: One Black Man’s Story of Imprisonment in America by Allen M. Hornblum
1. The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
Written by Siddhartha Mukherjee, an Indian-born American physician and oncologist, this book was originally published in 2010 by Scribner and won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2011. This is a unique and ambitious work of nonfiction that has the entertainment value of a well-crafted novel. Not only does the author tell stories from his experience as an oncologist trying to save the lives of his patients, but he also walks the reader through the history of cancer treatment starting with some of the earliest documented attempts to treat cancer dating back to 2625 B.C. in ancient Egypt.
The publisher describes this work by saying: “The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also of hubris, paternalism, and misperception. Mukherjee recounts centuries of discoveries, setbacks, victories, and deaths, told through the eyes of his predecessors and peers, training their wits against an infinitely resourceful adversary that, just three decades ago, was thought to be easily vanquished in an all-out ‘war against cancer.’ The book reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist.”
More from Mukherjee
An audio version of “The Emperor of all Maladies,” narrated by Stephen Hoye is available on Audible.com from Tantor Audio.
Podcast with Siddhartha Mukherjee
Mukherjee appeared on stage for a performance of “The Moth” on January 14, 2013. Click here to listen to the podcast of this performance.
In his performance, Mukherjee relates some stories of his grandmother in India from when he was young.
2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Published in 2009, this book brings an aspect of clinical research to life that may never before have received the attention that this particular subject has received – the people whose bodies are the source of research materials.
The publisher, Random House, describes this book beginning with this subject: “Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first ‘immortal’ human tissue grown in culture, HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and, have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta herself remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave. Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey in search of Henrietta’s story, from the ‘coloured’ ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live, and struggle with the legacy of her cells. Full of warmth and questing intelligence, astonishing in scope and impossible to put down, ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.’”
More About Henrietta Lacks
Narrated by Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin this audiobook is available on Audible.com from Random House Audio.
The Radiolab radio program included the story of Henrietta Lacks in a broadcast about famous tumors in May, 2010, which is available here.
3. Sentenced to Science: One Black Man’s Story of Imprisonment in America
Published in 2007 from Pennsylvania State University Press, this book is an attempt to put a human face onto a topic author Allen Hornblum had previously tackled in “Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison,” in 1999.
The publisher describes this book this way: “From 1951 until 1974, Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia was the site of thousands of experiments on prisoners conducted by researchers under the direction of University of Pennsylvania dermatologist Albert M. Kligman. While most of the experiments were testing cosmetics, detergents, and deodorants, the trials also included scores of Phase I drug trials, inoculations of radioactive isotopes, and applications of dioxin in addition to mind-control experiments for the Army and CIA. These experiments often left the subject-prisoners, mostly African Americans, in excruciating pain and had long-term debilitating effects on their health. This is one among many episodes of the sordid history of medical experimentation on the black population of the United States.”
More from Hornblum
An interview with Hornblum from 2007 about this book may be read on the Inside Higher Ed website here.
To find more reading materials for clinical research professionals, check out the Forte Clinical Research Blog.