Friday, March 18, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot I heard about this book on NPR, which reviewed it and praised it to no end.  And that praise was well deserved.

In this book, Rebecca Skloot tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, the woman whose cells are now famously known as the HeLa cells. We learn quite quickly that the cell line was derived from Ms. Lacks' cervical cancer cells and what made them unique is that scientists were easily able to grow them indpendently of anything, thereby allowing an infinite number of cells upon which to perform research.  Henrietta's cells were used to develop things like the polio vaccine and were sent to space.  Rebecca learned about them initially in one of her science classes and was immediately hooked upon finding out more about the biography of the woman whose cells had this huge impact on our world. I mean, in essence, Henrietta's cells were used to eradicate polio and may one day be credited for having sponsored the cure for things like cancer. Rebecca learned quite quickly that there was very little to  be found out about Henrietta so she decided to find Henrietta's family and write a book about it.

I loved this book - it's part science (in that Skloot explains the cells etc), part biography and part social commentary.  She tells the story of the Lacks family and how they were treated unjustly by scientists - they were never told that Henrietta's cells were taken and cultued and people have made money off of them, while her children and grandchildren couldn't afford medical care. Her research and her passion were admirable and impressive - Ms. Skloot spent ten years of her life researching this masterful piece and she was able to become trusted by the family. Without that trust there is no doubt this book would have been a much less book than it is.

I highly recommend this book!


  1. This sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for posting the review.

  2. I loved this book. I had my book club read it last summer and hosted the discussion - very thought-provoking discussion! One of the best books I've read in recent years.


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