Nicolas Ward's Reviews > The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
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it was amazing
bookshelves: science, biology, medicine, racialissues, bioethics

This is one of the better pieces of long-form science reporting that I've ever read, and it has a healthy dose of human interest thrown in. I've wanted to read it since the author appeared on The Colbert Report, which was also the first time I was explicitly aware of the HeLa cell line, despite my past experience with biochemistry. It is also a pretty depressing story when you look at how Henrietta's rights as a patient were violated, how much money has been made off of research using her cells, and how none of it has helped her generally impoverished extended family.

My main criticism of the book is that Skloot got too close to her subjects, and her bias in favor of getting their story out, and thinking the family should get some recognition (and healthcare), is evident. That said, I think that actually enhanced the storytelling, because she was up front about it, and it brings the painful experiences of the Lacks family closer. The afterword is also a strong argument for better consent regarding tissue research, and even rails against gene patents briefly (which I think are even more terrible than software patents).

A quick read, with some fascinating trivia and some depressing realities of how poor African-Americans have been treated by the medical profession, historically and today. It is very probable that Ms. Lacks will turn out to be the most important single contributor to medical research in the 20th century, and beyond, even though she herself doesn't know it.

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Reading Progress

July 30, 2011 – Started Reading
July 30, 2011 – Shelved
July 30, 2011 –
page 110
29.73% "I've been meaning to read this since the author appeared on the Colbert Report a while ago. Finally checked it out from the library."
July 31, 2011 –
page 207
55.95% "Not at all surprised that intellectual property law has entered the stage."
August 3, 2011 –
page 278
75.14% "What happened to Lacks' family is increasingly tragic."
August 4, 2011 – Shelved as: science
August 4, 2011 – Shelved as: biology
August 4, 2011 – Shelved as: medicine
August 4, 2011 – Shelved as: racialissues
August 4, 2011 – Shelved as: bioethics
August 4, 2011 – Finished Reading

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