2020 Great Immigrants Recipient

Siddhartha Mukherjee
Author and Physician
Born in:
India

Siddhartha Mukherjee was born in New Delhi, India, into a Bengali family. Mukherjee’s father rose from poverty to become an executive with Mitsubishi, and his mother was a teacher.

Mukherjee came to the United States to study biology, and completed his bachelor of science in 1993 at Stanford University. He was a Rhodes scholar at the University of Oxford, where he received his DPhil in immunology. He earned his MD at Harvard Medical School and trained as an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Mukherjee is a noted biologist, oncologist, and the author of several acclaimed books, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (2010). Since 2009, he has served on the faculty of Columbia University, where he is associate professor of medicine and a practicing physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Mukherjee and his team at Columbia — Mukherjee Lab — research the biology of normal and malignant blood development, focusing on diseases such as leukemia.

The inspiration behind The Emperor of All Maladies was a simple question from a terminally ill cancer patient: “what is it that I’m battling?” In beautiful prose, Mukherjee chronicles a disease that has plagued humans for more than five thousand years, and provides a compassionate portrayal of cancer patients. As the Wall Street Journal noted in its review, “He has a certain awe for cancer’s victims, for their ability to withstand the ravages of the disease and the sometimes drastic measures taken to treat it. The stories of his patients consume him, and the decisions he makes about their care haunt him.” In addition to winning the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and a host of other honors, Mukherjee’s book made Time magazine’s "All-Time 100 Nonfiction Books," a list of the best and most influential nonfiction books written in English since 1923. It was also adapted into a documentary by Ken Burns. In 2014, Mukherjee was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian honors.

Mukherjee has since written two additional books: The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science (2015), and The Gene: An Intimate History (2016), which, like his first book, was adapted into a documentary by Ken Burns.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mukherjee has used his gifts as a science communicator to educate the public about the virus through essays ("How Does the Coronavirus Behave Inside a Patient?"), in media interviews, at public forums, and via his social media accounts. Mukherjee has stressed the importance of following guidelines to social distance, to wear masks, and to self-isolate when necessary. In May, Mukherjee was selected by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to serve on the 15-member blue-ribbon commission focusing on improving telehealth and broadband access in response to the public health crisis.