New York Times medical writer Jane Brody, with the advice and consent of Dr. Arthur Holleb of the American Cancer Society, has written a first-rate comprehensive handbook on cancer. It is personal--in Brody's account of how ill-prepared she and her family were for her mother's cancer death--and direct: she talks to you as potential patient or one closely involved. Much of the book is practical. Brody stresses the importance of early diagnosis and explains how to get high-quality care, what it costs, what treatments are current and choice, and what the patients themselves have revealed about the processes of coping and rehabilitation. But there is sufficient discussion of theories of cause and cure and the role of hereditary, environmental, and psychological factors to provide background for those who want a summary of current thinking. Sometimes the percentages--the five-year survival rates, current epidemiological studies or correlations--are a bit wearying, and the search for personality factors (cancer-prone types) too facile. But the overall tone is optimistic. The newer mixed-drug approaches to chemotherapy, often combined with surgery and radiation, are beginning to make a difference, especially in the leukemias and lymphomas only recently considered inexorably fatal. Ideally, the book should be read before a cancer diagnosis is made, for it provides a thorough, thoughtful, and optimistic guide that justifies its title.