Hello and Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Hi All,

I’m super excited to be joining my husband here at Darwinbookcats in an effort to have content published daily. I’ll be bringing you posts approximately three times a week about books, national parks, and bears as I move content over from the three previous blogs I maintained. I also plan on starting to write more about science as time goes on. So, I’ll dive right into my first entry, which combines science and books.

I TA Genetics in the fall under the direction of my research advisor, who teaches the lecture portion of the class. One of the things that my research advisor does for the class is require students to write a movie review, a book review, and a creative writing assignment. One of the books that students can read is the book I’m reviewing today, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I first heard about this book on NPR and had really wanted to read it. I’m so glad I finally did because this is a damn good book. Even if you don’t know a lot about biology, the human aspect of the story absolutely will absolutely hook you.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks written by Rebecca Skloot focuses on the life, death, and in a sense, after-life of the title woman, Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta Lacks was a poor African American woman who lived outside of Baltimore, Maryland. She sought help at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the only hospital in the area that would treat African Americans. In the end she passed away from a very virulent form of cervical cancer. However, unbeknownst to her, and to her family for several years, doctors removed a sample of the cancer from her during one of her first visits. This cancer ended up being able to be grown successfully in petri dishes in the lab, creating an immortal cell line known as HeLa. HeLa is used in labs all over the world today, and was used in understanding such diseases as polio and AIDS.

This story chronicles Rebecca Skloot’s journey to interview the family and the information she learns along the way. The family was very untrusting of Rebecca, or any white person who came around asking questions about their mother/wife/cousin/friend. They felt betrayed that people were making so much money off of their dead loved one’s cells when they were barely making ends meet. The author does a wonderful job of addressing the ethics of obtaining tissues from individuals and how those tissues might be used.

This story is a definite must read for everyone. You don’t have to know science to understand this book. The story of this woman and her family will make you never want to put the book down. I highly suggest everyone read this book.

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