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Extended Audio Sample The Secret History of the War on Cancer, by Devra Davis Click for printable size audiobook cover
4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (174 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Devra Davis Narrator: Pam Ward Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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The war on cancer set out to find, treat, and cure a disease—but it has left untouched many of the things known to cause cancer, including tobacco, the workplace, radiation, and the global environment. Evidence of how these things affect our chances of getting cancer has been either overlooked or suppressed. And this has been no accident. The war on cancer is run by the leaders of industries that make cancer-causing products and that occasionally profit from treating the disease. This is the gripping story of a major public health effort diverted and distorted for private gain.

Filled with compelling personalities and never-before-revealed information, this book by Dr. Davis, acclaimed author and scientist, shows how we began fighting the wrong war, with the wrong weapons, against the wrong enemies—a legacy that persists today.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “[Davis] illuminates the underbelly of medical research…The best watchdogs are often the most obsessive, using shock and alarm as a prelude to discussion…Devra Davis is a natural for this role.”

    Washington Post

  • “This searing book from a University of Pittsburgh epidemiologist lays out thirty-five years of medical greed and cowardice that left millions of Americans vulnerable to environmental and occupational cancer deaths. Countless political books attempt to influence the electorate, but this one stands out from the pack, demonstrating why money changes everything.”

    Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Best 20 Books of 2007”

  • “Joining this increasingly fractious debate with devastating force, Devra Davis, director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, claims that the war ‘has been fighting many of the wrong battles with the wrong weapons and the wrong leaders.’ She calculates that these ‘fundamental misdirections’ have thrown away well over a million American lives. Her aim in The Secret History of the War on Cancer is to deliver nothing less than a ‘reckoning’ of this terrible toll.”

    New York Review of Books

  • “In her devastating, twenty-years-in-the-making exposé…Devra Davis…shows how cancer researchers, bankrolled by petrochemical and pharmaceutical companies, among others, collude in ‘the science of doubt promotion’…Davis diagnoses two of the most lethal diseases of modern society: secrecy and self-interest. This book is a dramatic plea for a cure.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “A wake-up call for all those who have accepted the poisons of our age of plenty without a blink.”


  • “A well-documented, prosecutorial account of the dark side of cancer-control politics.”


  • “In writing about the history of the war on cancer, epidemiologist Devra Davis explains why such secrecy surrounds the subject…Narrator Pam Ward brings a bright light to a dark topic. Her enthusiasm never wavers; furthermore, she dominates the formidable vocabulary of scientific terms and uses subtle techniques to portray conversations and quotes. For such a lengthy discussion, Ward finds just the right speed to keep listeners’ attention and yet preserve comprehension.”


  • “Davis writes with passion, driven by the conviction that premature deaths among her family members resulted from exposure to industrial toxins…A powerful call to action.”

    Library Journal

  • “Fascinating reading…[Davis] immortalizes the many poor people in small towns next to waste dumps or downstream from hugely polluted rivers who died from cancer or whose children suffered birth defects. In almost every case, the offending corporation lied, denied, delayed or bought-off complaints, recruiting the best legal talent and, sad to say, even highly respected scientists.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “Kudos to Davis for stepping up to the plate.”

    Booklist (starred review)

Listener Opinions

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Brian | 12/15/2013

    " Being a anti-cancer warrior, I figured I should read this book to get the inside scoop. I found the the first couple of chapters hard to read but eventually decided to skip ahead and the rest of the book was actually engrossing. The first chapters represented what I liked least about the book: a style of writing that involves drifting in and out of detailed backstory, personal anecdotes, and historical vignettes. For instance, she starts a chapter describing the travels of a pathologist from Chicago to Brussels to attend an influential cancer conferene in 1936. This story then yields way to how cancer was known and treated in Egypt in 900 BC, then how x-rays were developed, then back to that cancer congress, then the story of an immigrant working in an IBM "clean room" that develops cancer, etc. I guess the personalized stories and switching back and forth from storylines is supposed to lure you in, but I found it frustrating to have to wade through - and often unclear what the point was. I think the book could be half as long and cut out a lot of the anecdotal implications of environmental hazards that make the book seem sketchy. Eventually it became more focused. There are sections on the histories of the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute which were very interesting, and still relevant today. A central theme of the book that comes through is: why does it take us so long to identify and rectify major threats to our health? Why did it take so many smoking- and asbestos-related deaths before we could agree they were a bad idea? She seems to believe that our reliance on good epidemiology essentially leads to an unacceptable delay in preventing harms. She goes even farther by implying that the rise of epidemiology as a field (and our most famous epidemiologists) was shepharded by the tobacco and asbestos industries, who sought to dismiss animal experiments and embrace long term cohort studies as the only relevant form of evidence. In this way they could delay any regulatory action until long term studies were completed. She also takes a fairly hard line on the consulting fees accepted by our most famous epidemiologists from the tobacco, asbestos, and other industries. This section will give epidemiologists something to ponder in thinking about causality and public health (and their epi heros). We can only show that something is harmful after a large enough number of people have died or developed a disease. Is this retrospective approach the preferred framework for protecting the public? Should more weight be given to animal or in vitro studies, or should we continue to encourage and demand what Davis considers involuntary experimentation on large populations of humans? Obviously this is a complicated question. I thought calling this book the "Secret History of the War on Cancer" was a little exaggerated - I can't say I was shocked about too much of anything. Overall, I did learn some very intriguing things - things that I feel I should have known about as a cancer epidemiologist. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Walt | 12/15/2013

    " Disturbing to read that most of the carcinogens believed to cause some cancers were discovered 75 to 100 years ago. Not surprising to learn that the major cancer efforts have not taken advantage of many of the earlier discoveries. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Elyssa | 12/7/2013

    " This book tells about the other "inconvenient truth"--that the war against cancer has been woefully mismanaged with a greater focus on protecting profits, rather than people's health. It was frightening to confirm what I already suspected, which is that the environment, the workplace, the water we drink and the food we eat (among a long list of factors) are linked to cancer. The burden of proof about what causes cancer has been on the scientific community rather than those who produce toxic fumes, pollute drinking water, and create products like aspartame. The greatest focus in the war on cancer has been on treatment rather than prevention for the obvious reason that there is more money to be made with treatment. As someone who has lost many close relatives to cancer, this book was quite upsetting; however, it motivated me to evaluate my life choices and ask questions so that I can try to remain free of cancer. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Dana | 12/1/2013

    " Fascinating account of government and industry's favoring of profit over human health - written by a Ph.D. Epidemiologist that knows how to write for the general public...I learned that cigarette companies once tried to convince the public that their new filtered cigarettes were safer - they used asbestos to create these filters. And I also learned not to let my kids use cell phones...this was a very good book, but definitely not fast reading for me... "

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