Skip to content


Reviewed by David Quammen in the New York Times Book Review, “Lives of the Cells”

Abigail Zuger in the New York Times, “Cancer’s Ordered Disorder”

Manuela Hoelterhoff for Bloomberg, “Cancer Follows Epic Trail From Dinosaurs to Tumbleweeds”

Anne Parfitt-Rogers in the New York Journal of Books

John Wilwol on NPR

Larry Getlen in the New York Post

Laura Landro in the Wall Street Journal

Mary L. Disis in Science.

Almut Schulze in the Times Literary Supplement (London).

Bob Grant in The Scientist

Robert C. Young in Oncology Times

Kendall Powell, Science Writer's Handbook


Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. It’s his wife Nancy’s grueling fight against a rare and rabid uterine cancer that prompts science writer Johnson (The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments) to delve into the efforts to study, treat, and beat what Siddhartha Mukherjee dubbed “The Emperor of All Maladies.” This elegant and insightful chronicle is at once intensely personal and meticulously studious, focusing not just on one cancer, but on the evolution of all cancers. He finds it “comforting… knowing that cancer has always been with us, that it is not all our fault, that you can take every precaution and still something in the genetic coils can become unsprung.” Cancer, he explains, can be blamed on factors that have been present for a long time (the disease beset even prehistoric dinosaurs). In fact, researchers are finding that any one case of cancer may have multiple causes, whether environmental, hereditary, or “elusive… bad luck.” Cancer, he concludes, is a phenomenon that is mostly random. Yet we are getting a clearer picture of how it works: cancer’s “metabolic puzzle” may lie in “how the body stores and uses energy… Insulin, estrogen, obesity, cancer—all are tied in to the same metabolic knot.” This is extraordinary scholarship delivered with an intimate poignancy. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Aug. 30)


Starred Review. A thorough and nuanced presentation of the state of [cancer] science, refreshing in its honest appraisal that the war is far from over.


The Cancer Chronicles is a rich and sweeping exploration of the history, prehistory and future of cancer, all anchored in harrowing personal experience. Surprisingly — and especially gratifying to me as a former biologist — it is also an appreciation of cancer as a cellular strategy and a rebellion against the tyranny of the multicellular body. Completely accessible to the lay reader, this is a book for anyone whose life has been touched by cancer, which is just about everyone.” — Barbara Ehrenreich

“This compact, elegant book is really two books, or even three: a memoir of a year in Cancerland, a shrewd investigation into what’s known (and not known) about this still-mysterious condition; and, peeping out between the other two, a gripping account of coming to terms with living in a universe that includes a deadly disease with no predictable cause. Decades from now, cancer may be a wholly curable disease. Until then, everyone who is concerned about cancer — that is, every thinking adult — should read The Cancer Chronicles.”
Charles C. Mann
Author, 1491 and 1493

“An enormously well-researched and somewhat iconoclastic look at cancer and cancer research. It provides a rare and highly readable view of what we know – and what we don’t know – about the disease.”
Bert Vogelstein

“It is very rare to find a writer who can weave a compelling narrative that combines the intrinsically fascinating nature of cancer with its peculiar horror. George Johnson has penetrated the arcane world of cancer biology and oncology, and exposed the bewilderment and frustration felt by researchers and clinicians grappling to understand and control this pervasive disease. He makes a convincing case that the field is floundering because we are thinking about the problem the wrong way. Cancer touches every family on the planet. For those who want to gain some serious insights into the subject, this book is a great place to start.
Paul Davies
Principal Investigator, Center for Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology, Arizona State University


Order from Amazon

Order from Collected Works Bookstore, Santa Fe, New Mexico (my favorite independent)