- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot was released in February 2010
- Publisher: Crown
- 384 pages
The Bottom Line
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is the story of a family and a look at developments in science over the past 50 years. Sound dry? Amazingly, Skloot writes scientific journalism in a way that makes the book read more like a suspenseful novel than scientific article. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will keep your attention and will make you think about science, ethics, poverty, education, capitalism and race. It is a great pick for book clubs or individuals (although you'll want to pass it on when you're done so you have someone to talk about it with!).
Henrietta Lacks grew up in poor, rural Virginia. As an adult, she moved near Baltimore, where she lived when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 30. She was treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins University, where she eventually died. Unknown to her or her family, a researcher at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her body. From those samples came a breakthrough in cell reproduction -- her cells could be reproduced in a lab forever. Henrietta's cells are still used in labs around the world today. Research on her cells are responsible for some of the biggest breakthroughs in science, including the development of the polio vaccine and advances in genetics.
Although Henrietta's cells have been invaluable to science, her family remained poor and unable to afford their own healthcare. Researchers ran tests on them without their knowledge, and when they found out about their mothers' cells being used, it caused considerable stress on the family.
Skloot spent 10 years researching "HeLa Cells" and interviewing Henrietta's family and people who knew her. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, she interweaves Henrietta's family story with scientific history. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks covers more than 50 years, but does so in a way that is clear, narrative and easy for lay people to understand.