Emily Rae Robles

the paradoxymoron

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I’ve never been too much of a non-fiction reader, usually preferring made-up worlds to the real one.  When I first picked up The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and saw that it was non-fiction, I’ll admit I was somewhat skeptical.  Science has never been my strong suit, so a book about some woman’s cells didn’t sound all that enthralling.  Still, I had heard several recommendations, so I opened it up, started reading, and was immediately hooked.

Henrietta Lacks was a black woman who, in 1951, developed and died of a particularly invasive cancer.  Her doctors took a routine sample of the cancer cells and discovered that, unlike all other cancer cells they had examined, hers never died.  I’m not going to even try to go into more details about what happened or why, because I don’t retain science very well and will just sound ignorant.  To quickly summarize, the rest of the story follows the groundbreaking research for which HeLa cells were responsible, the history of Henrietta and her family, and the attempts of the author, Rebecca Skloot, to uncover the injustices done to the Lacks family.

Rebecca Skloot’s writing style is honest and easy to follow, pulling the reader into the journey she took to discover the history behind Henrietta Lacks’ immortal cells.  The scienctific aspects are clearly explained without being condescending, and the family stories are told with detail and reverence.  Skloot paints a vivid picture of the Lacks family and their struggles, which stays with the reader for some time after finishing the book.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating read, well worth the reader’s time.

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July 13, 2011 - Posted by | book review

1 Comment »

  1. I have heard the story – though not read the book to date (I might when there is time). It is fascinating and maddening at the same time. Particularly because at the very same point in US history all sorts of experiments were being performed, most especially on black Americans – many very poor) who received no compensation, for the discoveries that were to become commercial successes, and make some people a lot of money! Many were allowed to die in order to be a “control group.” It is indeed a very sordid part of our history, and there are efforts still made by the “establishment” of the time and now, to rationalize it, explain it away, ignore it, or just plain hide it!

    Comment by Paula Tohline Calhoun | July 13, 2011 | Reply


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