Entertainment & Arts

Siddhartha Mukherjee wins First Book prize

Siddhartha Mukherjee
Image caption Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician

Indian-American doctor Siddhartha Mukherjee's book on cancer has won the Guardian First Book Award.

The Emperor of All Maladies, which won a Pulitzer prize in April, was the only work of non-fiction on the shortlist.

The author, who describes his book as a "biography" of cancer, receives a £10,000 prize.

He said he was "delighted and honoured" to join the ranks of previous winners, including Zadie Smith, Alexandra Harris, Petina Gappah and Alex Ross.

"In recognising The Emperor of All Maladies, the judges have also recognised the extraordinary courage and resilience of the men and women who struggle with illness, and the men and women who struggle to treat illnesses," he added.

Mukherjee is an oncologist, treating cancer patients at the Columbia University Medical Center.

He started the book after a 56-year-old woman, who was dealing with her second relapse, asked him to describe what she was fighting against.

His answer begins thousands of years ago in 1600 BC, with one of the first recorded descriptions of a tumour - scored onto a papyrus in hieroglyphics.

As the story progresses, the author describes how scientists came to identify cancerous cells and the (sometimes brutal and unnecessary) treatments devised to tackle them.

The book also provides a glimpse into the future of cancer care.

"Cancer is the load built into our genome," writes Mukherjee, "the leaden counterweight to our aspirations for immortality."


Author and academic Sarah Curchwell, who was part of the judging panel, said: "Siddhartha Mukherjee has marshalled an immense amount of material into a readable and inspiring story.

"The result is a gripping, enlightening read about the nature of illness and our battle against what begins to look like mortality itself."

Other books shortlisted for the prize included Mirza Waheed's The Collaborator, a thriller set in his native Kashmir, and Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English, about a young Ghanaian boy trying to solve a murder on a council estate.

Completing the list were Down the Rabbit Hole, the saga of a boy born to a Mexican drug lord, by Juan Pablo, and Amy Waldman's The Submission, in which a Muslim enters and wins a competition to design a memorial to those killed in the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001.

Judges for the prize included One Day author David Nicholls, and Lisa Allardice, editor of the Guardian Review.

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