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Siddhartha Mukherjee bags Pulitzer Prize

books Updated: Apr 19, 2011 13:46 IST

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Indian American cancer specialist Siddhartha Mukherjee has bagged this year's Pulitzer prize in the general non-fiction category for his book

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

Delhi-born Mukherjee's book has been described 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 finalists in the category were The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr and Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne.

An assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff cancer physician at Columbia University Medical Center, Mukherjee had told IANS in December last year: "Cancer is growing dramatically in certain parts of South Asia."

Mukherjee advocated a strong anti-smoking campaign and breast cancer screening to battle the growing incidence of the disease in India.

Less than a month after its publication, Mukherjee's book, published by Scribner, featured among "The 10 Best Books of 2010" in the New York Times Book Reviews Sunday, a rare feat for a work of non-fiction.

The doctor blamed increase in cancer in tobacco smoking as "clearly one culprit among young men and women".

"But there are other culprits too," he said. "As the population ages and other diseases are slowly eliminated, cancer begins to come about."

"Cancer rises in the double negative only when all the other killers have been killed. So I think that's beginning to occur in some parts of South Asia."

Mukherjee, 40, who grew up in New Delhi's Safdarjung Enclave, "immersed in reading and books" at home and studied at St. Columba's School, says he "came into oncology in a sort of reverse, in the sense that I first trained as a cellular biologist when I was in Oxford as a Rhodes scholar".

"So I really came from the cell into medicine. Many people first train in medicine, then eventually get fascinated by cells."

The book isn't meant for the medical profession alone, he said. "The target is everyone. The point of this book was to make this world of medicine and science and culture accessible to anyone who is interested," Mukherjee told IANS.

"This is a disease that has developed in our times in a very poignant way. So I intend this book to be read by anyone who wishes to find out about it: patients and people whose loved ones are affected by cancer or any person interested in its history."