Scot's Reviews > The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
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's review
Nov 30, 10

Read from November 25 to 30, 2010

This is a fascinating work of nonfiction from the NYT bestsellers list. it will be out in paperback in March 2011, and including notes and index, runs to 370 pages (although the Afterword is over by p. 328). It certainly reaches across the disciplines, as it touches on the history of science, ethics, and the African American experience in 20th century America.

It is two tales combined in one: the history and significance of HeLa cells in using human tissue for scientific advancement, and the life story of Henrietta Lacks, the unheralded African American woman in Baltimore in 1951 who contributed the first of these cells unknowingly, as she died from cancer in her 30s, leaving a struggling family behind. It is the story of how and why those cells went on to change life on this planet in some significant ways, while making some people and companies incredibly wealthy. It is also the story of what happened to Henrietta's family, and what effect the subsequent prominence of HeLa cells in scientific experimentation had on their lives.

It is written in a compelling manner, with timeline markers at the start of each chapter to help ground the reader, as the story jumps around in time and space. The writing is clear and straightforward, one comes to truly trust the authorial voice. Such blending of culture studies and science models the sort of integrative learning I strive to help my students be ready to recognize and learn from--so if you appreciate a book that helps you see new connections while reflecting on questions of ethics and justice, put this on your "to read" list.


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