Thursday, September 22, 2011

30B430 Book #3: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I'm not a huge non-fiction reader. But several people had recommended that I pick up a copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. The book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman from Baltimore, who died of cervical cancer in the 1950s.

While being treated at Johns Hopkins University, scientists cut out a part of Henrietta's tumor without her knowledge or consent, which was then used to study her cells, HeLa, which became an immortal line of cells. The HeLa cells have been used across the world for decades and have led to a number of major scientific discoveries, including the polio vaccine.

The book follows both the history of the scientific developments of the HeLa cells and the corresponding ethical issues of their use and mass production, as well as the history of the Lacks family, from Henrietta's youth growing up in Clover, VA to the later stories of her children and grandchildren, whose lives were deeply affected by exploitation by the scientific community and the media. The book weaves in Skloot's relationship with the family, as she attempts to build trust with Henrietta's relatives and research their story.

This was another book that I listened to during my bus rides. At times I fell asleep, more from exhaustion than boredom, and so I was often tracking back to the last part of the story that I could remember hearing. Overall, it was a really interesting look at the foundation of much of the science that we take for granted today, and the woman who made it possible. Although it's nonfiction, the storytelling is engaging and keeps you wanting to know more.

Definitely a good read.

I'm one-tenth through my reading list. Twenty-seven more books to go!

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