Indian-American Siddhartha Mukherjee’s non-fiction account of cancer won the Pulitzer prize in the general non-fiction category when the awards were announced in New York City late Monday. A cancer physician and researcher, Dr. Mukherjee’s book drew upon his experience practicing medicine to write “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer,” which documents the disease from its first appearance thousands of years ago to the medical battles still waged by doctors to combat and control it today.
The Pulitzer Prize citation described the book as “an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal, into the long history of an insidious disease that, despite treatment breakthroughs, still bedevils medical science.” The prize comes with $10,000 in award money. Published in the U.S. by Scribner and in India by HarperCollins Publishers India, the book was inspired by a personal event. One day a patient with stomach cancer asked Dr. Mukherjee a simple question about her prognosis: “Where are we going?” That led the author to think the larger scope of the question in terms of cancer research.
The author, a Rhodes scholar, said in an interview that when he started writing the book in 2005 he thought of cancer as a disease, but as he wrote, he began to start seeing it as something that “envelops our lives so fully that it was like writing about someone, it was like writing about an alter personality, an illness that had a psyche, a behavior, a pattern of existing.”