Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book 9: I is for Immortal

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was coincidental that I read this after The Help, but it made a good follow on as it also tells the story of a black woman in mid-20th century America. This time it was non-fiction rather than fiction, and about both life and death. Henrietta Lacks, a young mother of five, died from a virulent cervical cancer in the 1950s but a cell culture taken from her tumour became the first to be kept alive successfully in the laboratory. The extraordinary vigour of HeLa cells has made them central to scientific and medical research ever since. This book hits the sweet spot between human interest and science, merging the stories of Henrietta herself, the family who outlived her, and the cells she left behind. It also opens up an ethical can of worms - while HeLa cells became a multi-million (or billion?) pound business, her family did not learn about them until 20 years after her death and when they did discover that Henrietta's cells were alive they were left to flounder in a mix of incomprehension and resentment. Even today the legal position regarding the use of medical tissue samples is murky. My verdict? A fascinating story, thoroughly researched and well told.


Run Quilt Knit Write said...

Isn't this a fascinating book - I read it and was just amazed - I had no idea!!

Carol said...

My book club read this, and it was one I never would have picked up but was glad I did. Fascinating!