Book reviews / Non fiction

Book review: Rebel Cell

This is such a great book, even though the subject matter is so tough. What I love about Kat’s writing is that it is effortless, and also very funny, even when the subject matter is about cancer. I think this is more humanising that something like The Emperor of All Maladies. Which is somber to the point of being like a funeral. Also it makes fighting cancer feel more like a cumulative human endeavour, rather than Important Man Does A Thing.

(Full disclosure as with Herding Hemingway’s Cat’s, I know Kat in real life, whatever that is anymore).

So Rebel Cell looks at cancer from a genetic and evolutionary perspective, understanding why it happens in the first place and how different approaches are eventually catching up with the ways it resists treatment. And it’s fascinating, even if the subject matter is pretty grim. But it also points out what is inherently wrong with the cancer industry, with ‘magic bullets’ getting funding and attention (and patents) over more innovative and potentially better treatments.

So all of that is great, but my favourite chapter was the weird fucking one on contagious cancer. Omg! Those are a thing. These are mostly things like Tasmanian Devil facial cancers and some in clams, but also SOME DEEPLY WEIRD SHIT HAPPENS when you already immunosuppressed. I’ll leave you all to discover what that is when you buy the book. Ahhhh! Ugghh! Aahhh! (Amazing).

The last couple chapters are also amazing, bringing all the evolutionary concepts together, talking about some innovative cancer treatments. Some of them are more like treating cancer as a more chronic condition and others just trying to foil the evolutionary pathways cancer takes when exposed to the different treatments. It’s all so fucking cool y’all.

Finally, what I think is kind of the best message from the book is that cancer isn’t ‘your fault’. Cancer exists because multicellularity exists. Evolution brought us our delightful brains and capacity to think, but cancer is a price of all that. Sometimes you might have a particularly unlucky genetic makeup that makes it more likely you to get a certain cancer, but often it’s jus the process of aging and the accumulation of mutations that finally tip over into cancer. There are risks, but they don’t affect everyone in the same way. Anyway, I think that’s comforting, but then I find risk assessments oddly comforting…just me?

Anyway, buy it, read it, tell your friends about it. It’s super interesting!!

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