From toothpaste typography to sperm alphabet to typonoodles, the book’s typographic specimens both make us see with new eyes the seemingly mundane building blocks of language and reconsider ordinary objects, materials and media as extraordinary conduits of self-expression.
Yesterday, the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced and, as always, we were most fascinated by the highly contested nonfiction category, which is as much a measure of good writing as it is a reflection of the era’s cultural concerns. This year’s winner was The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Columbia professor of medicine Siddhartha Mukherjee — a thorough, eloquent and eye-opening medical and sociocultural history of the ubiquitous disease, from its origin to the first recorded cases to modern medicine’s ongoing struggle to find effective treatment.
When I started writing this book, I thought of cancer as a disease. But as I wrote more and more about it, it seemed as though it was not just a disease but something that envelops our lives so fully that it was writing about someone. It was like writing about an alter personality, an illness that had a psyche, a behavior, a pattern of existing.” ~ Siddhartha Mukherjee
The book begins with the stories of pathologist Sidney Farber and philanthropist Mary Lasker, who is credited with launching the war on cancer by urging scientists and the government to race for a cure of the little-understood killer.
The second half of the narrative shifts from the cultural to the scientific context of humanity’s battle with the disease, focusing on the incremental yet gamechanging discoveries of a various brilliant scientists over the past half-century as the scientific community raced to understand how cell become cancerous in order to better address prevention and treatment.
So fascinating is the book that one dedicated fan used its narrative to extract a visual timeline of cancer from 1950 to the present:
With its blend of cultural anthropology, rigorous research and genuine empathy, The Emperor of All Maladies is, as the Pulitzer unequivocally implies, a pinnacle of fine nonfiction that oscillates between the profound cultural distress of a presently incurable disease and the relentless scientific exhilaration embedded in the very possibility of unraveling this great and all-consuming mystery.
Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.
An antidote to cynicism by way of typography, or what it’s all right to have everything you want.
In a world brimming with cynicism, it’s a rare and wonderful occasion to find an oasis of sincerity and optimism. That’s exactly what we found in the recently released Everything Is Going To Be OK — an absolutely lovely pocket-sized anthology of positive artwork from a diverse lineup of indie artists, designers and illustrators, including Brain Pickings favorites Marian Bantjes, Marc Johns and Mike Perry. What makes the book exceptional is that it manages to take existential truisms we’d ordinarily roll our eyes at, reframe them in a context of honesty and simplicity, and deliver them through such outstanding graphic design that the medium itself becomes part of the delight of the message.
Brain Pickings has a free weekly interestingness digest. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week's best articles. Here's an example. Like? Sign up.
donating = loving
Brain Pickings remains ad-free and takes hundreds of hours a month to research and write, and thousands of dollars to sustain. If you find any joy and value in it, please consider becoming a Member and supporting with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:
You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:
Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps supportBrain Pickings by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated.