A series of catastrophes & miracles

“What’s with the title?” people often ask. Well, it’s like this.

On a golden summer morning in 2010, I received a diagnosis that upended my life. Three months to the day later, my college roommate got a similar phone call.

Eventually, I landed in a clinical trial on the cutting edge of cancer treatment, using the still developing science of immunotherapy. My friend went through the more traditional route of multiple surgeries and chemo. And here’s what I’ve learned.

Cancer is not a battle. There are no winners or losers. We’re all just human, trying to get a little more time here so we can love each other a little longer. And sometimes that’s terrible and sometimes it’s beautiful. So that’s what’s with the title.

I would never have volunteered for a front row seat for the biggest breakthrough in cancer of our time, but here I am anyway. The potential for both destruction and healing within our own bodies is fascinating. And it feels like the greatest privilege in the world to have the opportunity to talk about it, from the perspective of someone who failed one semester of high school chemistry. Part memoir, part behind the scenes look at the new world of scientific research, A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles is published by National Geographic Books.


"Exhilarating and entertaining... Williams delivers a complex tale about a complex disease." — Kirkus (starred review)

"Snarky, funny, frequently off-color, Williams is a gifted writer who turns the greatest crisis of her life into an engaging story that reads almost like a novel.... This highly recommended account ­demonstrates the value of cutting-edge cancer research, but it is also beautifully crafted." — Library Journal (starred review)

“[Williams] eloquently and generously shares her story and her emotions in this remarkably illuminating account.”Booklist (starred review)

“Devastating and wise, clear-eyed and funny, A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles is a cliché-busting tour guide through a country no one volunteers to visit (and how can you resist a cancer memoir that begins ‘Spoiler: I Lived.’) This is a book for all the survivors—of cancer, of marriage, of mothers, and of children; of all the trials and journeys that make us who we are.” – Jennifer Weiner, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“This astonishing and inspiring book reveals not only the experimental treatment that healed Mary Elizabeth Williams but also the deep reserves of grit, love, and humor that help people face life’s toughest tests. When you laugh and cry at the exact same time, you know you are reading an amazing survival story.” – Piper Kerman, author the #1 New York Times Bestseller Orange Is The New Black

“Mary Elizabeth Williams is an author you’ll want to seek out and befriend once you’ve finished her book. She bares so much of her soul on the page—her joys, her fears, her suffering—we can’t help but fall in love with her. This is as real as it gets.” – Susannah Callahan, author of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Book Circle Online interview

At the L.A. Times Festival of Books

Purchase it

You can of course find the book through all your favorite retail options, including Amazon and B&N. If you are interested in ordering the book for your classroom, work group, or corporate event, please contact Special Sales at National Geographic:

Interested in having me visit your group to continue the conversation? Let’s talk.

Gimme Shelter

My first book was published in 2009 by Simon & Schuster.

My middle class family spent three years chasing the American dream of home ownership. In New York City. At the height of the subprime mortgage bubble.

The book remains one of the first firsthand accounts of the tulip fever-like circumstances that led to the 2008 crash, and I learned a great deal along the way.


"Like an ancient storyteller, Williams keeps you amused — and engrossed in the plot — while educating you." — New York Post

"Honesty, humor, and surprising poignancy." — Elle 

“Poignant and funny.” — Kirkus Reviews

“An engaging, personal look at the home-buying process." — Booklist (starred review)