Abby's Reviews > The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
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Feb 10, 11

bookshelves: ebook, favorites, non-fiction
Read from December 26, 2010 to February 09, 2011

Every so often a non-fiction book comes out that is so well-researched, well-written and on such a fascinating topic that it reads like a novel. The characters are compelling and complex and the writer is as much a part of the story as the reader. THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS is a sterling example of such a book.

Henrietta's story begins in the tobacco fields of Clover, Virginia. Like many Black Americans at that time, when the bottom fell out of the tobacco market, Henrietta and her husband, Day, (who's also her first cousin) moved to Baltimore where Day got a factory job. Complaining of abdominal pain, Henrietta checked herself into Johns Hopkins where she was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. As a young mother of four children, Henrietta kept this news pretty much to herself, even though the treatments for such cancer at the time must have been incredibly painful and debilitating. It was during her visit to Johns Hopkins that a sample of her cervical tumor was taken and sent to the lab where the scientists had been trying to grow cells in culture. To everyone's surprise, Henrietta's cells grew ... and thrived. Thus was born HeLa (HEnrietta LAcks) which has been part of all major genetic and cancer research since 1951.

That's where the story starts. Woven amidst the story of Henrietta is the story of the family she left behind, the fascinating history of modern genetics and science, and the complex and contentious issue of tissue samples and use in research.

I heard of this book in a Fresh Air interview on NPR back in May, 2010 and the book has been in my TBR since. It's been impossible to get one from my local library: the wait list is that long. When I got my ebook reader in December, this was one of the first books I downloaded. I couldn't wait any longer to learn more about this immortal woman who's been all over the news, even though she died in 1951.

Skloot's research is impeccable and her way with the narrative shows her passion and respect for her subject. Her perseverance with this story has paid off in spades and, hopefully, will bring light to the subject of tissue samples and medical research. I know there are lots of little piece of me sitting out there in freezers and it has made me wonder if any bit of me has been used for medical research.

If you haven't yet heard of this remarkable story, or are at all curious, definitely get this book. Library, purchase or ebook. It's one of those truly good books that does it all right.


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message 1: by Diana (new) - added it

Diana After reading your review, I know I must read this!


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