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Book review

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
Read date: August 2017

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great perspective on cancer through its history and the history of its treatments, beautifully written by a practicing oncologist. I read this very shorly after my own diagnosis, which perhaps wasn’t the best thing to do, as some of the details of early treatments are fairly horrific. I do firmly believe, however, that knowledge is never a waste, and this was a gripping read. Ultimately, what it shows is how little of the details we know about this set of conditions, for each cancer – almost each person’s cancer – is unique. Treatments for one very often won’t work for another, and it all seems horrifically hit and miss in terms of finding new pathways to help people. None the less, our track record has improved, and over the past few decades, great strides have been made.

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Book review

The Moral Landscape

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values
Read date: August 2017

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As you’d expect with Sam Harris, an excellent, well-argued case for (in this case) his vision of a morality based on science. He argues that if you accept that human flourishing comes from our brains (i.e. that there is no separate, dualistic, soul) then science clearly can investigate and improve our flourishing. Furthermore, morality (if it means anything at all) is surely somehow to do with human flourishing: we may not clearly understand at the moment what the ways we can best flourish, but the study of them is surely accessible to science, because science can increasingly directly image the brain. For those who hew to the is-ought distinction, they are ultimately misguided: where else can any “ought” come from, if not from states of our brain (an “is”)? If it comes from elsewhere and doesn’t ever touch the brain, then it is entirely inaccessible to us. As soon as it touches the brain, it’s an “is”.

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