Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Image courtesy of Goodreads

I couldn’t put this book down. I’m a bit of a science junkie, although a rather clueless one. But this was a fascinating exploration of the the evolution of cell cultures, the culture of African American healthcare treatment, the history of consent in medical testing, and the injustices of the modern healthcare system.

The author weaved in the part she played in the story–tracking down the human behind the “indestructible” HeLa cells, the scientists who had developed them, finding the descendents of Henrietta Lacks, and learning that they had benefited in no way from their mother’s legacy. The author’s part was a little distracting maybe. But I think it enhanced the humanity and the reality of the story, to see from a third party perspective the contrast between the glamor and renown of Henrietta Lacks’ cells, and the dismal poverty of Henrietta’s descendants.

Completely captivating story, and I love that the author has created a foundation for the descendants of people who were used for medical testing without their knowledge. This was unfortunately rather common in the 50s and 60s, notably with the experiments conducted at the Tuskeegee Institute, giving rise to modern medical privacy and protection laws.)

I finished this over the summer, just before the Supreme Court decision that the BCRA cancer cells–or, in fact, any cells, genes, or mutations that are created by nature–cannot be patented by any company or individual. Highly relevant, and highly recommended :)

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About amyhaha

YA Writer, Editor, Publisher, Community Builder, Dog Lover, Knitter, Adventurer. DFTBA.
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5 Responses to Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

  1. cellenbogen says:

    Great book; great review!

  2. I found Skloot’s book fascinating too. Yes, her part in it was a big distracting, but the whole story of Lacks captivated me. I had no idea. A few years ago, I got to go hear Skloot speak at UCLA and it just drove home the importance of getting this story out there.

    • amyhaha says:

      Captivating is a good word. This was one of those books I couldn’t put down. I handed it off to my mom after and she read it in two days! The complicated science was explained in such a clear way. To hear her speak would be fascinating; I’ll have to see if she’ll be in my area!

      • Beyond college level science classes, I don’t have a huge science background and like you said, she explained it in such a clear way. This was a huge part of the appeal of the book. Yes, you should see if she is still touring. She was a great speaker.

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