Archive for March 9th, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

By Rebecca Skloot

The Short Take:

Read this book! It is phenomenal. You will be amazed, inspired, shocked, intrigued, and well rewarded for your time. Skloot’s scientific writing is clear and totally accessible. Best of all, her book avoids casting people as heroes or villains. The humanity of every person — from the first Johns Hopkins researchers to the offspring and friends of the immortal Mrs. Lacks — is presented with nonjudgemental honesty and respect.


I was intrigued by this book in advance, but never expected to be so thoroughly delighted. I usually read a fiction book alongside my non-fiction reads; mainly because non-fictions just don’t satisfy the “What’s going to happen next?” factor that propels me forward at top speed.

Not this time. I could hardly put Skloot’s book down.

You would never think a book built around the cultivation of cancer cells for medical research could be so fascinating to a total layman. Skloot avoids jargon and never comes close to overwhelming you with scientific facts. On top of that, she portrays a complex family that is transformed and shattered first by Henrietta’s death as a young mother, then by learning of the vitally important life her cells still lead.

And, Skloot does it all with a true journalistic eye, without bias or melodrama. This is one amazing book; almost as amazing as Henrietta’s unstoppable, eternal cells.

A Little Plot:

During treatments, a doctor takes samples of Henrietta Lacks’ cervical cancer cells and attempts to grow them in a culture. For the first time in history the cells survive and multiply, and are dubbed HeLa. They become a scientific jaggernaut, contributing to countless medical miracles including the polio vaccine. Decades later, her children learn totally by accident that their mother’s cells still live. Confused and angry, they want answers, but they don’t know where to start.

Fate brings them Rebecca Skloot. And we should all be thankful.

For more about Skloot and her great book, visit her website by clicking here.


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