Oncologist and Pulitzer Prize winner Mukherjee (Medicine/Columbia Univ.; The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, 2010) skillfully dives into the hidden side of medicine in this elaboration of the author’s 18-minute TED talk.
Easily consumed in a single sitting, this brief book concisely explains the author’s reasoning of why and how medicine asks its practitioners “to make perfect decisions with imperfect information.” The author builds a solid foundation demonstrating the genesis of his concept of establishing laws for the practice of medicine. Cogently moving through books that influenced his thinking and the effects of his medical training and numerous practical experiences with patients, Mukherjee guides readers through his thought process on establishing the laws. The author admits beginning slowly but then spending much of his time during medical school with his “odd preoccupation” researching laws governing his chosen profession. Mukherjee stumbled upon the first law, dealing with intuition, by chance. Another law, regarding issues of medical testing, was refined by his analysis of how data, which doesn’t fit accepted models of disease, such as “single patient anecdotes,” can point to new methods for interpreting test results. The author deftly examines the diverse personalities and subjects that have influenced his thinking (e.g., 16th-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe and early-20th-century physician and scientist Lewis Thomas, author of The Youngest Science); the positive effect of the 20th-century philosophy on therapeutic nihilism; and the utility of the magical laws embraced by the novice witch Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame. This mininarrative, packed with complex ideas translated into easily accessible language and an engaging style, leaves the readers time to ponder the author’s ideas at greater length, and the result is a fascinating and illuminating trek through a beautiful mind.
A splendid exploration of how medicine might be transformed.