Wordy Wednesday: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I’ve found that the older I get, the more I like science– not in a “I understand chemistry” kind of way, but more of a “Aren’t dinosaurs the greatest?” kind of way.  Or a “The end of Twister was cool but unrealistic” kind of way.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is the perfect scientific nonfiction book for people who are English majors at heart.  It is the true story of the woman behind HeLa cells: the first “immortal” cells, which continue to rapidly multiply almost 60 years after they were removed from a tumor on her cervix.

I definitely was never that into cells as a student.  I mean, I liked making the cell diagrams for science projects, but that was mostly because it meant that I got to go to Michael’s and pick out dozens of styrafoam balls and pipe cleaners.  However, this book  does an outstanding job of explaining some of the major breakthroughs in cell culture research from the last century.  Instead of reading like a textbook, it shows the people behind each discovery and outlines very difficult concepts in a simple way.

But the real story here is about Henrietta Lacks and her family: her cells were taken and used for research without her consent, which was often the case for patients in the African-American section of Johns Hopkins University hospital.  For decades, her family had no idea that Henrietta’s cells were being used in labs all over the world.  And while scientists were using HeLa cells to treat polio, cancer, hepatitis and dozens of other diseases, most of her family couldn’t even afford health insurance.

It’s tragically ironic, but one of the most important stories in the field of bioethics.  I highly recommend it.

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    yosoyblog said,

    I’m trying to remember why I didn’t like this book as much as I thought I would. I’m racking my brain–in hindsight I feel like I loved the book, yet I remember debating between 3 and 4 stars on Goodreads. The material was really fascinating. I too am finding I am into science more and more these days.


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