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Greaves M. (£27.50.) Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0 19 262835 6.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this compact, stimulating, and refreshingly thought provoking book. It really puts cancer into an evolutionary context. It was pitched just right for me; as for most doctors, even those involved with cancers and leukaemias, my knowledge of evolution, history, epidemiology, and molecular biology is very focused on and tends to be limited to what affects my daily practice. So, essentially, most of us are laymen. It is the sort of book that will be enjoyed by scientists, doctors, and many of those whose primary interests lie in the arts and the humanities, not to mention pathologists too. This book, with its almost conversational tone, allows us all to follow the arguments in what are potentially impenetrable arenas with surprising ease. Some of that ease is probably an illusion, but a welcome one. One's confidence in Mel Greaves to lead us through the jungle of cancer is probably as important as truly understanding the implications and fine detail of the paths and surrounding countryside through which he takes us. Just occasionally one can end up at a conclusion really believing one understands how one got there, only on reflection to realise that one might need to read the argument all over again. Perhaps I should replace all the “ones” with “I”! It's a seductive story, and well told too—that's what carried me along, rather than my own intrinsic abilities to understand. But I do confess I got almost as much pleasure rediscovering how I got to some of his destinations as I had when I first arrived.