Review: The Philadelphia Chromosome

November 11, 2015 Uncategorized 19 ★★★★★

Review: The Philadelphia ChromosomeTitle: The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Mutant Gene and the Quest to Cure Cancer at the Genetic Level
Author: Jessica Wapner, Robert A. Weinberg
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: This was a fascinating, easy-to-follow story of an awesome of scientific success.

For decades, the only way to treat cancer was with un-targeted therapies that had terrible side-effects. This is the story of the first cancer treatment that targeted the specific, genetic mechanism that caused a specific cancer – the Philadelphia chromosomal mutation that causes chronic myeloid leukemia. Like many scientific discoveries, the identification of this cancer treatment is a complex and intriguing story involving many lines of research. Despite the near-miraculous success of the resulting treatment, the story of the drug development that followed is equally convoluted.

As a scientist, I’m a huge fan of books that realistically portray scientific research and I thought this book did a particularly good job of showing what an incremental, collaborative venture science is. Throughout, I was impressed by how the author managed all of the different stories about all of the scientists involved. Despite the many storylines, I felt as though I got to know about many of the key players personally. Brief recaps at the beginning and endings of many chapters made this complex story easier to follow.

The science was also explained clearly. I thought the author made a very smart decision to include an appendix defining many basic terms. This allowed her to spend less time on explanations in the text. She did still have some great explanations though, with very clever analogies that achieved clarity without dumbing things down or losing any of the nuance. It was everything I look for in science nonfiction.

Do you have any favorite science nonfiction books you’d recommend?


19 Responses to “Review: The Philadelphia Chromosome”

  1. Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy

    I have not heard of this discovery, this is momentous. I feel like this book must be very inspiring just to see how all that hard work and research paid off. I’m glad the book managed to tell that story in an interesting way that flowed. There are too many dry science books as it is! I can’t think of any science non-fiction books to recommend, but thank you for this recommendation! 🙂

  2. Priscilla

    I don’t know if this counts as science non-fiction, but I do love The Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson! Great review, Katie 🙂 No wonder this book made it to Publishers Weekly’ s Top Ten Spring 2013 list!

    • DoingDewey

      Bill Bryson is one of those well-known nonfiction authors whose books I can’t believe I haven’t read yet. The Short History of Nearly Everything is definitely on my to-read list 🙂

  3. Sophie

    So glad you liked this one, Katie! I’m relieved that Wapner didn’t dumb things down, and I always enjoy how scientists are portrayed (ex. they actually have personalities!) in books like this one. Definitely looking forward to reading The Philadelphia Chromosome now!

  4. TJ @MyBookStrings

    I have the Emperor of All Maladies high on my NF list, so I think this might be a good book to read with it, or after it. One “science-y” book I’ve enjoyed is The Sports Gene. It doesn’t have much research in it, so you might not be that interested in it, but I thought it was well-written and informative.

    • DoingDewey

      I actually really loved The Sports Gene! I thought the author did a great job presenting the nuance of the science and dealing with some touchy issues, like race.

      I definitely think this would go well with The Emperor of All Maladies and I’d highly recommend both 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I have read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and I liked it, but I didn’t love it quite as much as I expected given the hype. Thanks for the info on On Immunity! I’m hoping to pick it up soon and will try not to go into it with too of high expectations, as I may have done with The Immortal Life 🙂

      • JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

        Just stopping back to tell you I finished the book today (on audio) and loved it – definitely 5 stars! I worked as a clinical pharmacist in a teaching hospital and was involved in several drug trials, primarily for cancer and AIDS, and this was right up my alley. Your review was the first I’d heard of the book… thanks so much!

        • DoingDewey

          That’s great! Thanks for stopping by to let me know. I’m glad you enjoyed this as much as I did 🙂 I’ll definitely be checking out the author’s other books.

  5. Katie @ Words for Worms

    This sounds fascinating. I have an acquaintance with CML and when she was diagnosed I remember being super relieved to google it and read about the drug that keeps it in check. The story behind it sounds great!

    • DoingDewey

      It was wonderful reading about what a difference science and medicine could make in the lives of people with CML. I’m happy for your friend that there’s a treatment! The story was fascinating 🙂

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