Siddhartha Mukherjee (born 21 July 1970) is an Indian-American physician, biologist, oncologist, and author. He is best known for his 2010 book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer that won notable literary prizes including the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, and Guardian First Book Award, among others. The book was listed in the “All-Time 100 Nonfiction Books” (the 100 most influential books of the last century) by Time magazine in 2011. His 2016 book The Gene: An Intimate History made it to #1 on The New York Times Best Seller list, and was among The New York Times 100 best books of 2016, and a finalist for the Wellcome Trust Prize and the Royal Society Prize for Science Books.
After completing school education in India, Mukherjee studied biology at Stanford University, obtained a D.Phil. from University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and an M.D. from Harvard University. He joined NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital / Columbia University Medical Center in New York City in 2009. As of 2018, he is an Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology.
Featured in the Time 100 list of most influential people, Mukherjee writes for The New Yorker and is a columnist in The New York Times. He is described as part of a select group of doctor-writers (such as Oliver Sacks and Atul Gawande) who have “transformed the public discourse on human health”, and allowed a generation of readers a rare and intimate glimpse into the life of science and medicine. His research concerns the physiology of cancer cells, immunological therapy for blood cancers, and the discovery of bone- and cartilage-forming stem cells in the vertebrate skeleton.
Early life and education
Siddhartha Mukherjee was born to a Bengali family in New Delhi, India. His father, Sibeswar Mukherjee, was an executive with Mitsubishi, and his mother Chandana Mukherjee, was a former school teacher from Calcutta (now Kolkata). He attended St. Columba’s School in Delhi, where he won the school’s highest award, the ‘Sword of Honour’, in 1989. As a biology major at Stanford University, he worked in Nobel Laureate Paul Berg‘s laboratory, defining cellular genes that change the behaviours of cancer cells. He earned membership in Phi Beta Kappa] in 1992, and completed his Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in 1993.
Mukherjee won a Rhodes Scholarship for doctoral research at Magdalen College, University of Oxford. He worked on the mechanism of activation of the immune system by viral antigens. He was awarded a D.Phil. in 1997 for his thesis titled The processing and presentation of viral antigens. After graduation, he attended Harvard Medical School, where he earned his Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree in 2000. Between 2000 and 2003 he worked as a resident in internal medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital. From 2003 to 2006 he trained in oncology as a Fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (under Harvard Medical School) in Boston, Massachusetts.
In 2009, Mukherjee joined the faculty of the Department of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the Columbia University Medical Center as an Assistant Professor. The medical center is attached to the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.
He was previously affiliated with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He has worked as the Plummer Visiting Professor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the Joseph Garland lecturer at the Massachusetts Medical Society, and an honorary visiting professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. His laboratory is based at Columbia University’s Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In 2010, Simon & Schuster published his book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer detailing the evolution of diagnosis and treatment of human cancers from ancient Egypt to the latest developments in chemotherapy and targeted therapy. On 18 April 2011, the book won the annual Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction; the citation called it “an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal, into the long history of an insidious disease that, despite treatment breakthroughs, still bedevils medical science.” It was listed in the “All-Time 100 Nonfiction Books” (the 100 most influential books of the last century) and the “Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2010” by Time in 2011. It was also listed in “The 10 Best Books of 2010” by The New York Times and “Top 10 Books of 2010” by O, The Oprah Magazine. In 2011, it was nominated as a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.
Mukherjee’s 2016 book The Gene: An Intimate History provides a history of genetic research, but also delves into the personal genetic history of the author’s family, including mental illness. The book discusses the power of genetics in determining people’s health and attributes, but it also has a cautionary tone to not let genetic predispositions define fate, a mentality that led to the rise of eugenics in history and something he thinks lacks the nuance required to understand something as complex as human beings. The Gene was shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2016, “the Nobel prize of science writing”. The book was also the recipient of the 2017 Phi Beta Kappa Society Book Award in Science.
List of books published
- 2010: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
- 2015: The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science
- 2016: The Gene: An Intimate History
Awards and honours
Mukherjee has won several awards including:
- 1993: Rhodes Scholarship, 1993–1996.
- 2010: Gabrielle Angel’s Leukemia Foundation Award 2010.
- 2010: New York Times Magazine, “100 Notable Books of 2010” for The Emperor of All Maladies.
- 2011: Los Angeles TimesBook Award, Finalist in the category of Science & Technology for The Emperor of All Maladies.
- 2011: Pulitzer Prizefor The Emperor of All Maladies.
- 2011: PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Awardfor The Emperor of All Maladies.
- 2011: Cancer Leadership Award (shared with Kathleen Sebeliusand Orrin Hatch).
- 2011: National Book Critics Circle Award, finalist for The Emperor of All Maladies.
- 2011: Timemagazine, 100 best non-fiction books of all time for The Emperor of All Maladies.
- 2011: Time100, most influential people.
- 2011: Wellcome Trust Book Prizeshortlist for The Emperor of All Maladies.
- 2011: GuardianFirst Book Award for The Emperor of All Maladies.
- 2012: Boston Public Library Literary Lights 2012.
- 2014: Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award by Government of India.
- 2016: The Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2016 (shortlisted) for The Gene.
- 2016: Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction longlist for The Gene.
- 2016: Washington Post‘s “10 Best Books of 2016” for The Gene.
- 2017: Phi Beta Kappa Society Book Award in Science for The Gene.
- 2017: Wellcome Book Prize (shortlisted) for The Gene.
- 2018: Honorary doctorate degrees in medicine from the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, and from the University of Southern California.