The Cancer Chronicles by George Johnson
Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery

80%

5 Critic Reviews

Another is that the biological details of just what cancer is and how it occurs are (forgive me for saying so) fascinating. And not just fascinating but also, as handled by Johnson, revealing of certain deep truths about life itself.
-NY Times

Synopsis

When the woman he loved was diagnosed with a metastatic cancer, science writer George Johnson embarked on a journey to learn everything he could about the disease and the people who dedicate their lives to understanding and combating it. What he discovered is a revolution under way—an explosion of new ideas about what cancer really is and where it comes from. In a provocative and intellectually vibrant exploration, he takes us on an adventure through the history and recent advances of cancer research that will challenge everything you thought you knew about the disease.

Deftly excavating and illuminating decades of investigation and analysis, he reveals what we know and don’t know about cancer, showing why a cure remains such a slippery concept. We follow him as he combs through the realms of epidemiology, clinical trials, laboratory experiments, and scientific hypotheses—rooted in every discipline from evolutionary biology to game theory and physics. Cogently extracting fact from a towering canon of myth and hype, he describes tumors that evolve like alien creatures inside the body, paleo-oncologists who uncover petrified tumors clinging to the skeletons of dinosaurs and ancient human ancestors, and the surprising reversals in science’s comprehension of the causes of cancer, with the foods we eat and environmental toxins playing a lesser role. Perhaps most fascinating of all is how cancer borrows natural processes involved in the healing of a wound or the unfolding of a human embryo and turns them, jujitsu-like, against the body.

Throughout his pursuit, Johnson clarifies the human experience of cancer with elegiac grace, bearing witness to the punishing gauntlet of consultations, surgeries, targeted therapies, and other treatments. He finds compassion, solace, and community among a vast network of patients and professionals committed to the fight and wrestles to comprehend the cruel randomness cancer metes out in his own family. For anyone whose life has been affected by cancer and has found themselves asking why?, this book provides a new understanding. In good company with the works of Atul Gawande, Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Abraham Verghese, The Cancer Chronicles is endlessly surprising and as radiant in its prose as it is authoritative in its eye-opening science. 

 

About George Johnson

See more books from this Author
George Johnson writes about science for The New York Times. His most recent books, Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics and Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order, were finalists for the Aventis and Rhone-Poulenc science book prizes. He has also won the AAAS Science Journalism Award. He is codirector of the Santa Fe Science-Writing Workshop and a former Alicia Patterson fellow. Mr. Johnson lives in Santa Fe. He can be reached on the World Wide Web at talaya.net.From the Trade Paperback edition.
 
Published August 27, 2013 by Vintage. 304 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, Professional & Technical, Science & Math, Nature & Wildlife, History. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Cancer Chronicles
All: 5 | Positive: 5 | Negative: 0

Kirkus

Good
on Jun 08 2013

A thorough and nuanced presentation of the state of the science of cancer research, refreshing in its honest appraisal that the war is far from over.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by David Quammen on Sep 06 2013

Another is that the biological details of just what cancer is and how it occurs are (forgive me for saying so) fascinating. And not just fascinating but also, as handled by Johnson, revealing of certain deep truths about life itself.

Read Full Review of The Cancer Chronicles: Unlock... | See more reviews from NY Times

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Abigail Zuger, M.d. on Aug 26 2013

That Mr. Johnson’s story is as gripping, illuminating and affecting as the bigger book — or, for that matter, any other book out there — is testament to both his poet’s talents and his unusual perspective.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Robin McKie on Nov 07 2014

...a tender, life-affirming, slightly reassuring analysis of a much-feared subject, one that treats cancer not just a medical condition that requires treatment but as a subject of study for the historian, the natural historian and the social scientist.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by John Wilwol on Aug 27 2013

Johnson, a seasoned science journalist, is undaunted by the complex nature of his subject. He writes clearly and colorfully without dumbing down his material...he gives a wonderfully concise definition of the disease. "Cancer" he writes, "is a phenomenon in which a cell begins dividing out of control and accumulating genetic damage."

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Malinda Charter 5 Oct 2013

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