Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: “The Truth in Small Doses” by Clifton Leaf*

This is an important book about an important topic: “Why we’re losing the war on cancer – and how to win it.”

I give the book five stars for explaining “why we’re losing the war on cancer.”
The statistics Leaf provides to back up his assertion that we’re “losing the war” are absolutely compelling. If you read nothing else, read Chapter I – “Counting” which spells out very clearly that we are not winning the war on cancer.  

As I read this section it seemed to me that we’re getting the least bang for the buck that we’re investing in this war. It feels like we have a system that dilutes the “war on cancer” into numerous skirmishes that are not helping win the war or even a strategically important battle or two. The reason, in his opinion, is a “dysfunctional cancer culture.”

Leaf writes that he was driven to write this book because “If the efforts to win the fight against cancer were paralyzed by a dysfunctional cancer culture, how did we get here? Those five words – ‘How did we get here’ – became the focus of my life for the next nine years. They are, indeed, the core of this book.” In reading that I clearly got the sense that he not only has “skin in the game,” most of his body and waking thoughts are in the game, too.

The book has four sections:

Part I describes the enormity of the cancer burden – a burden that is rarely understood and horrifying when it is.
Part II “shows why the scientific strategy we have chosen cannot succeed in lessening the terrifying human cost of cancer.”
Part III examines the “dysfunctional cancer culture” in copious detail. Commonly found words in this section are “fiefdoms” and “lack of collaboration/synergy.”
Part IV provides some “tough love” medicine for healing this broken and dysfunctional system.

As an guest editor for the New York Times Op-Ed pages and a previous executive editor at both the Wall Street Journal’s SmartMoney magazine and Fortune magazine, Leaf is a good writer. He takes complex science and process issues and writes these issues about them in the simplest way possible.

Sometimes, though, “the simplest way possible” made me wish I’d remembered everything I should have learned in high school biology.

To counteract the density of the science, Leaf often illustrates his point with a very human tale about how some doctor or scientist made a significant impact in the war against cancer. I particularly liked the story about the Irish, one-eyed surgeon Denis Burkett and his 10,000 journey to “help solve the mystery of the African lymphoma.”

Who should read this book?

I hope that everybody involved in cancer research reads this book.
I wish that folks who control cancer research grants are required to read this book.
I want my doctors to read this.
And I yearn for every government officials involved with the “war on cancer” to read this.

Should cancer victims, caretakers and friends/family read this book? Maybe. This isn’t Gone Girl or The Inferno or And the Mountains Echoed. Leaf packs tons of important context into his stories and science into his explanations. As a result I had to reread several sections and probably still don’t understand the bits regarding anything happening at the cellular level.

I do hope that Mr. Leaf comes to the Chicagoland area because I’d love to listen to him talk about his book and the “dysfunctional cancer culture.”

*Yes, this is “Part II” of my review of his book. I received the book for free but didn't receive any inducement to write a favorable review. If folks want me to review their books in the future, though, please keep in mind that I really like a nice scoop of hazelnut gelato.

1 comment:

Blogger said...

You might be qualified to get a $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.