"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"” by Rebecca Skloot, non-fiction
Rebecca Skloot did not just research and write this book. She chased and pursued it. She hunted it down with a club.
It is the beautiful result of an insistent obsession.
“Immortal Life” is informative, moving, and brilliant. The book tells the story—both scientific and personal—of He La cells. “He La” is a cell line taken (without permission) from a poor black cancer patient, HEnrietta LAcks, by doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the early 1950s. The cells have since been extensively cultured (it is estimated that 50 million metric tons have been grown) and utilized in labs to develop the polio vaccine, cancer and HIV medicines, and a host of other medications and procedures The book explores and explains the medical aspects but that is less than half the story. Henrietta’s family didn’t know her cells were harvested until the 1970s. The family has never received compensation and Skloot delves into the ethics—and tragedy—of this malfeasance.
But the heartbreaking beauty of this book is the story of the author’s relationship with Henrietta Lacks’ daughter Debra. Justifiably suspicious and hostile to the white medical powers-that-be Debra slowly thaws and accepts Rebecca for what she is: a writer on a mission who wants to tell the story of Henrietta Lacks truly and honestly.
I laughed; I cried. I learned about science and life. This is a great book. Buy it, read it, gift it.
Rob Loughran reads and writes a lot of stuff. Check it out at Rob's Books.