Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Up until a few months ago I had never heard of Henrietta Lacks, yet I, along with the rest of the world, have her to thank for many scientific discoveries. Thankfully Rebecca Skloot, who was taking a junior college science course, was curious about where He La cells came from and decided to do some of her own research. What she uncovered was the very interesting story of a woman whose life ended prematurely because of the cervical cancer she suffered from and whose cells were then harvested and continued to replicate for decades to come, offering a wealth of information to scientists who used them for numerous studies.

Henrietta Lacks grew up poor in the 1930s and had her first child at the age of fourteen. By the time she died in 1951 she had five children to care for and had agreed to let doctors use her cells, unbeknownst to her. When her youngest daughter, Deborah, was contacted by Rebecca Skloot, the author, she resisted every attempt at contact. Finally after much persistence on Skloot's part, Deborah began to work with Skloot to trace her mother's history and the history of her cells and the work they had accomplished after 1951.

I had heard a lot about this book, yet wasn't sure if it was going to be one I really enjoyed. I do like memoirs, but this book is only partly the story of Henrietta's life, the other portion being information on the He La cells' history and also historical information about cells, science and research. The ease with which this book reads and the smoot transitions between the parts about Henrietta's life and the scientific information make this book readable by a wide audience. This is also going to be a book I gift to my father-in-law (whose birthday I missed this past week), a biology professor, who will find Lacks' story interesting in an entirely different way than I did based on his vast scientific knowledge.


Diane said...

Tina, great job on this review. I definitely want to read this one; thanks so much.

Lisa said...

I am reading this one right now, I'm about 150 pages in. I really enjoy the way she fits the personal and the scientific together so well, as well as making herself a character in the story (Skloot, that is.)