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A New York Times Notable Book of 2013
When the woman he loved was diagnosed with a metastatic cancer, George Johnson set out to learn everything he could about the disease and the people who spend their careers trying to understand and to fight it. What he discovered is a revolution under way—an explosion of new ideas about what cancer really is and where it comes from.
Deftly excavating and illuminating decades of investigation and analysis, rooted in every discipline from evolutionary biology to game theory and physics, Johnson explores what we know—and what we still don't—about cancer, and why a cure remains such a slippery goal. Throughout his pursuit, Johnson clarifies the human experience of cancer with grace, bearing witness to the punishing gauntlet of consultations, surgeries, targeted therapies, and other treatments. Through Johnson’s radiant prose and authoritative perspective on science, he takes us on an adventure through the history and recent advances in cancer research that will challenge everything you thought you knew about the disease.
“Gripping, illuminating, affecting. . . . Not since Susan Sontag has anyone put cancer so firmly and eloquently in its place. . . . Johnson’s deceptively casual narrative route is cannily chosen. He wanders everywhere, an intelligent, skeptical, interested and saddened observer.” —The New York Times
“A masterpiece of clarity.” —New York Journal of Books
“Graceful. . . . Among a small cluster of very good recent books on cancer . . . Johnson’s stands out as especially illuminating, forceful and, in its own quiet way, profound. . . . Not only is Johnson an excellent explainer, but unlike some of our most esteemed explainers, he can really write. He knows that economy, poetry and rhythm are to be valued as well as clarity. . . . The scientific story Johnson tells, in so few pages, is large and rich. The personal story is a sad and anguished one, partly in ways you wouldn’t expect. . . . A forthright and human and exhilaratingly gloomy book.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Incisive. . . . An astute, vivid biography of perhaps the oldest, most complex disease on Earth, and a poignant account of a contemporary couple’s struggle against it.” —NPR
“The ideal primer for those who want to know the real story of cancer, rather than the version that is usually presented in the media.” —The Economist
“Johnson’s fine work . . . [is] an important one.” —The Atlantic
“A provocative and also a personal exploration of the myths and misunderstandings that surround this most formidable enemy to our health and well being.” —Mother Jones
“A fascinating compilation of selected discoveries in cancer research. . . . The author has deftly organized and presented vast amounts of scientific information so that they support the personal chronicle; every example seems to fit. In addition, the book is artfully written. Throughout it, Johnson’s use of metaphor provides novel descriptions that are interesting to any reader, whether seasoned in the science of cancer or a novice. . . . The book succeeds because Johnson’s writing conveys his passion about the science.” —Science
“George Johnson, like a science-writing alchemist, transforms his fear—fueled by his wife Nancy’s metastatic-cancer diagnosis—into gold, in the form of a well-written and thoroughly researched exploration of the current state of cancer science. Johnson journeys through labs bent on cracking cancer’s code, ferreting out its causes, its molecular eccentricities, and its treatment. His wife’s struggle with the disease serves as a constant touchstone without subsuming his sober treatment of evidence, data, and reason.” —The Scientist
“An enormously well-researched and somewhat iconoclastic look at cancer and cancer research. It provides a rare and highly readable view of what we know—and what we don’t know—about the disease.” —Bert Vogelstein, Director, Ludwig Center at the Sydney Kimmel-Johns Hopkins Cancer Center
“A highly captivating book that meticulously explains the current scientific understanding of cancer. . . . George Johnson has captured the curiosity and empathy that drives scientists to tackle this calamitous disease.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“Johnson writes with imaginative flair about the whole range of the cancer experience.” —Bloomberg Businessweek
“It is very rare to find a writer who can weave a compelling narrative that combines the intrinsically fascinating nature of cancer with its peculiar horror. . . . For those who want to gain some serious insights into the subject, this book is a great place to start.” —Paul Davies, Principal Investigator, Center for Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology
“This compact, elegant book is really three books: a memoir of a year in Cancerland, a shrewd investigation into what’s known (and not known) about this still-mysterious condition, and a gripping account of coming to terms with living in a universe that includes a deadly disease with no predictable cause. Everyone who is concerned about cancer—that is, every thinking adult—should read The Cancer Chronicles.” —Charles C. Mann, author 1491
“The Cancer Chronicles is a rich and sweeping exploration of the history, prehistory, and future of cancer, all anchored in harrowing personal experience. . . . Completely accessible to the lay reader, this is a book for anyone whose life has been touched by cancer, which is just about everyone.” —Barbara Ehrenreich, author, Nickel and Dimed
“Richly informative, unerringly balanced and undeniably compelling.” —Shelf Awareness
“This elegant and insightful chronicle is at once intensely personal and meticulously studious. . . . This is extraordinary scholarship delivered with an intimate poignancy.” —Publishers Weekly
“A thorough and nuanced presentation of the state of [cancer] science, refreshing in its honest appraisal that the war is far from over.” —Kirkus Reviews