Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


Author:  Rebecca Skloot
Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2010)
ISBN:  9780307712509
Summary/Review: In 1951, a woman named Henrietta Lacks died in Baltimore due to cervical cancer.  The remarkably tenacious continued to survive and divide and become the subject of numerous medical studies known as HeLa cells.  This book is partly a science book recounting the medical advances HeLa cells have made possible. But the heart of this book is a biography of Henrietta Lacks and her family, particularly her daughter Deborah.  While medical supplies companies have made millions selling HeLa cells, Lacks’ own family have suffered many indignities and poverty, lacking even basic health care.  Skloot goes beyond typical journalistic barriers to become Deborah’s ally, helping her find out the history of her mother’s immortal cells. Skloot also examines the medical ethics surrounding the use of individual’s tissues and cells.  There are not clear answers but the book is a fascinating and heartbreaking account of medicine and American family.
Recommended books: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy and Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande.
Rating: ***1/2

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