Essential, required reading for doctors and patients alike: A Pulitzer Prize-winning author and one of the world’s premiere cancer researchers reveals an urgent philosophy on the little-known principles that govern medicine—and how understanding these principles can empower us all.
Over a decade ago, when Siddhartha Mukherjee was a young, exhausted, and isolated medical resident, he discovered a book that would forever change the way he understood the medical profession. The book, The Youngest Science, forced Dr. Mukherjee to ask himself an urgent, fundamental question: Is medicine a “science”? Sciences must have laws—statements of truth based on repeated experiments that describe some universal attribute of nature. But does medicine have laws like other sciences?
Dr. Mukherjee has spent his career pondering this question—a question that would ultimately produce some of most serious thinking he would do around the tenets of his discipline—culminating in The Laws of Medicine. In this important treatise, he investigates the most perplexing and illuminating cases of his career that ultimately led him to identify the three key principles that govern medicine.
Brimming with fascinating historical details and modern medical wonders, this important book is a fascinating glimpse into the struggles and Eureka! moments that people outside of the medical profession rarely see. Written with Dr. Mukherjee’s signature eloquence and passionate prose, The Laws of Medicine is a critical read, not just for those in the medical profession, but for everyone who is moved to better understand how their health and well-being is being treated. Ultimately, this book lays the groundwork for a new way of understanding medicine, now and into the future.
Mukherjee, an oncologist and Pulitzer Prize winner for The Emperor of All Maladies, brilliantly observes the practice of medicine from a wide angle, offering his perspective on three crucial elements: intuition, statistical outliers, and human bias. He recounts his medical education, both formally and informally, as he delves into the practical lessons he has learned. For example, now that it's possible to cheaply collect reams of genetic data on every patient, understanding those patients who lie outside the parameters of "normalcy" becomes essential. Previously, the one patient responding to an otherwise failed drug was dismissed as an "exceptional responder" and the drug shelved. But now that patient's genes can be sequenced to see mutations for possible drug targeting. Mukherjee advises viewing medicines and surgical procedures "not as therapeutic interventions but as investigational probes." Still, as successes multiply, so do biases. One hospital's new doctors were stunned by a drug's anecdotally high response rate, only to discover that the real rate was only 15%. Hospital staff had given new doctors good responders, afraid they couldn't handle poor ones. The lesson is repeated throughout: bias is fought with solid data and the instincts that grow with experience. Mukherjee has established himself as new medicine's philosopher/poet and has produced a brief, accessible book for patients and practitioners alike.