The book offers a detailed account by one of the nation’s leading cancer researchers of developments in chemotherapy over the past several decades, as well as the recent history of surgical and radiation treatments in the “war on cancer”—a term he resisted at first but finally embraced with full understanding of its implications.  The narrative touches on many of the writer’s own struggles over economic, political, and moral implications of what a NYT reviewer described as a “take-no-prisoners” approach to cure.  He also includes stories about disagreements with other researchers that give some insight into the acrimony that is part of high-stakes science.  At the NIH and later as head of the National Cancer Institute, DeVita faced many decisions about distribution of resources, how much to put patients at risk, and whom to include in clinical trials.  He provides his own point of view on those controversies frankly.  Not much mention is made of the causes of cancer, of nutritional or other complementary approaches, or the environmental factors in the spread of cancer. The strong focus on the book is on the development of chemotherapeutic treatments that have succeeded in raising survival rates, though few current statistics are cited.


The book is a fascinating look into how cancer research has been funded, focused, and shaped over the past several decades, and into what controversies have persisted among those involved.  The aptness of the “war” metaphor, though many find its implications disturbing, is one of the matters DeVita addresses.  The book does not address questions many have raised about the social/economic contexts and causes of cancer, distinctions between curing and healing, and challenges to claims that we are “winning” the war.  If you accept the writer's premises and read the book as a personal narrative of a dramatic career and a success story predicated on a very particular notion of success, not looking for a broad, multidisciplinary approach, you’ll find it richly informative.     


Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Place Published

New York



Page Count