Pulitzer-winning author Mukherjee visits Gwinnett Center

DULUTH -- Pulitzer Prize-winning author and cancer biologist Siddhartha Mukherjee visited the Gwinnett Center on Thursday night, reading selections from his most celebrated work and discussing his thought process as a writer and researcher.

Mukherjee's book "The Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" intricately, and humanely, details the history and future of cancer, from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago to the current battles to cure, control and conquer it.

The New York Times best seller attempts to find the "essence" of cancer.

The close to 200 audience members that attended Thursday's reading walked away impressed.

"It was very informative. He spoke at a level that was easy to understand and was very human," gushed Barbara Spruill, a librarian who attended the event presented by Gwinnett County Public Libraries. "Can you tell I'm a fan?"

Mukherjee, a professor at Columbia Medical Center, credited one patient's single question for inspiring the work that won him a 2011 Pulitzer for general non-fiction. The question was simply, "What am I battling?"

There was no definitive, comprehensive answer.

"The only way we can understand our future is to understand the history of cancer," Mukherjee said.

"It's not a question of if we conquer cancer in our lives," he added, "it is a question of when we conquer cancer in our lives."

Following an hour-long series of readings from the book, Mukherjee joined the audience in a brief question-and-answer session.

Questions ranged from more general cancer-related questions to the recent death of Apple founder Steve Jobs from pancreatic cancer, an inquiry to which Mukherjee responded passionately and claimed that Jobs' particular type of the disease would be "one of the most easily cured" in the near future.

"We failed Steve Jobs," he said. "He had given us an incredible series of innovations, and we did not give him back the kind of innovation that he deserved."

In a reading and discussion dominated, naturally, by cancer, levity came in the final question from the crowd: As an author and reader, what were Mukherjee's thoughts on e-readers like Nooks and Kindles?

Simply put, he "hates" them.

"I like the smell of a book," he said with a smile.