Weidenfeld & Nicolson has acquired a popular science book about cancer by geneticist and science writer Kat Arney, taking the reader back to the dawn of life on planet Earth to get to the heart of what cancer really is and explain how by better understanding it we might one day overcome it.
Paul Murphy, editorial director at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, bought UK and Commonwealth rights in Selfish Monsters: Cancer, Evolution and the New Science of Life’s Oldest Betrayal from Chris Wellbelove at Aitken Alexander Associates. It will be published by W&N in hardback, e-book and audio in March 2020.
Running counter to cancer's reputation as a "contemporary killer" of our own making, caused by modern lifestyles, Arney - who herself spent 12 years in Cancer Research UK's science communications team - instead positions the disease as "a glitch in the system of life" that has "always been with us", explaining it also killed our hominid ancestors, the mammals they evolved from and even the dinosaurs.
"We get cancer because we can’t not get it," the book's blurb explains. "Cancer starts when cells revolt, throwing off their molecular shackles, and growing and dividing out of control in a shambolic mockery of normal life. This is why we can’t avoid cancer: because the very genes that drive it are essential for life itself. The revolution has raged, on and off, for millions of years. But it was only in the 20th century that doctors and scientists made any significant progress in understanding and treating cancer, and it’s only in the past few decades that we’ve finally begun to get the upper hand. Now the game is changing. Scientists have infiltrated cancer’s cellular rebellion and are finally learning its secrets."
Murphy called the book "popular science at its very best" in its treatment of the subject from a natural storyteller, exploding myths along the way.
"I was hugely impressed by Kat's fascinating and entertaining proposal, which made me think about cancer in a completely new way, exploding common myths and misconceptions," he said. "As with the very best science writers, she has a deep knowledge of her subject but wears her learning lightly. She is also a natural storyteller, and there is something inherently optimistic and uplifting about her approach, which suggests that deeper understanding of cancer’s evolutionary and genetic roots is our best defence against it. This is popular science writing at its very best, and I am thrilled to be publishing what promises to be an extremely timely and important book."
Arney added: "We’ve all lost people we love to cancer’s relentless march, and we all have questions about it, so I’m delighted to be working with W&N to bring this book to life.
"Today’s advances in DNA technology have transformed our understanding of this disease, but the shifting genetic chaos within tumours reveals why we’re still searching for effective cures. By digging into cancer’s biological back story – finding out where tumours come from and why they’re so difficult to treat – I want to discover what’s really going on when our own cells go rogue."