Originally published 2016-09-07: One woman will live forever through a part of her stolen by doctors in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Before I read this book, I had never heard of Henrietta Lacks. Have you?
From what I understand, it’s a mixed bag. Some people have heard of her, and some people haven’t, but there isn’t a clear distinction as to why her name isn’t on more peoples’ lips. Is it a lack of interest in science? History? Rights?
For those of you who don’t know, Henrietta Lacks was an African American tobacco farmer whose cells were taken without her knowledge by a doctor while undergoing cancer treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s.
These cells – called HeLa for short – would go on to help doctors with everything from vaccines to cloning, but the Lacks family would never receive any sort of compensation.
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.
This book is a detailed account of the life and impact of Henrietta Lacks and her family. Without her (however unwilling) contribution to science, it’s impossible to know where the world would be today – but it would surely not be a pretty picture.
For that she should be immortalized, and this book is one step closer to the recognition she deserves.
That being said, if you’re not into heavy backstory, this book might get a little chunky at times. Deep detail into the life of Henrietta’s ancestors, children, and grandchildren is laid out in full-focus on these pages. The research of doctors and scientists using HeLa cells is explained, sometimes more than once, at different educational levels as the author learns about it, she teaches the family about it, and as it is explained in medical findings.
In short, this book had a lot of really good information, and I’m glad I read it – even if I had a few moments when my eyes glossed over.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot gets four of five stars for being informative and interesting.
This is book #19 on my quest to #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks.
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