A fascinating, easily readable history of cancer, how people conceived of it, how they tried to cure it, and how all that changed society and science. Mukherjee is an oncologist, and salts the text with anecdotes about his own patients. (Those were great and I would have liked more of them.)

If you like pop science at all, this is a great example of it: educational, clearly written, both explaining things you always wondered about (why is there so much cancer nowadays?) and delving into issues it never occurred to you wonder about (how did we get from a time when the New York Times refused to print the words “breast” and “cancer” to marathons for a cure?) Mukherjee takes us from bone tumors found in ancient mummies, to the Persian queen Atossa who had a slave perform a mastectomy on her, to the genesis of “wars on diseases” and campaigning for funds and cures, to the beginnings of chemotherapy, to cutting edge genetic research. He brings all the personalities of the scientists, the politicians, the patients, and the (evil! evil!) tobacco company executives to vivid life.

I probably don’t need to mention that this book can be gross, upsetting, and disturbing, given the subject matter. (The section on radical mastectomies was especially nightmarish.) But if you can either deal with that or skim a bit, I highly recommend this.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
I realized the other day, while listening to an episode of This American Life about infidelity, that there are some topics in which I have so little inherent interest that a work focusing on them has to be extraordinarily good, or else largely about something else, to compel my interest.

One of those topics is infidelity. Another is zombies. (Zombies cheating on each other would be my ultimate "bored now.")

Perhaps infidelity doesn't horrify me on the level upon which I need to be horrified. I get the visceral anguish at the idea of being dumped or unloved or supplanted or lied to or infected with an STD, but not the horror solely at the thought of one's lover having sex or an emotional relationship with someone else. When faced with angsty love triangles, I tend to wonder why no one ever raises the possibility of an open relationship or polyamory. And finally, I've never been tempted to cheat myself.

But my lack of caring about infidelity goes beyond an inability to personally relate. I enjoy tons of fiction I don't personally relate to. But infidelity-driven plots nearly always strike me as dull, trivial, unnecessary, irritating, and give me a sense of second-hand embarrassment.

As for zombies, they are gross, rotting, and lack intelligence and personality. The first two actively turn me off, the last one removes the things that interest me in a character. The only zombie stories I've ever enjoyed are ones in which the interest is in the characters fighting or fleeing the zombies, and ones in which the zombies are still intelligent and have personalities. But in those cases, they are barely zombies at all.

I am also suspicious of vampires and faeries, but that's nothing inherent, it's just that they're so often done and so often done unimaginatively. Show me a new or merely extremely well-written take on faeries, vampires, or faepires, and I will happily settle down to read.

Please discuss the subjects and tropes which make you flee in the other direction, whether they're well-executed or not. (Or share my loathing for zombies and cheaters.)
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