Friday, May 28, 2010

#BookReview: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot

Imagine having something taken from you without your knowledge.  Now imagine that what was taken becomes one of the most valuable discoveries in science, you still don't know about it and others profit from it without your knowledge.  This is the story of Henrietta Lacks and her descendants.

Authored by Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is the true story of a poor, black woman from Clover, Virginia who finds herself with cancer.  Upon her arrival at Johns Hopkins University, the doctors remove sections of her tumors for further study, without her knowledge.  In today's world, this would not happen without consent.  In the 1950s, not only could this happen, it frequently did.

Like most hospitals, Johns Hopkins also served as a research center and doctors had been trying to grow immortal human cells.  The growth of them would allow scientists to experiment with somewhat of a human entity without actually experimenting on a living being.  While the growing of cells had been tried numerous times, it had always failed.  And then along came Henrietta Lacks.  Scientists found that not only would the cells from her cancerous tumors grow, they grew rapidly and could be transported globally without dying.  The university and its researchers shipped vials of Mrs. Lacks cells all around the world so that other researchers could use them in various projects.

While all of this happened, the Lacks family was clueless as to what was happening.  The Lacks' children were without a mother and Day Lacks was without a wife.  In reading the book, you'll find that each child had their own personal issues.  Whether those were a result of being born poor and black in the south or being raised without their mother are judgements that you'll have to make for yourself.  What was understandable was their healthy fear of doctors and whites, especially in light of their experiences with them.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one that will cause you to question the morals and ethics of the medical field and be thankful for an author brave enough to do the research and tell this story.  She put a lot of time and effort into making sure the story has been told properly and for that, we should all be thankful.

To date, the HeLa cells continue to be sold and used in research around the world .

What did you like about the book?
Although the book deals with a fair amount of medical terminology, the author does not overwhelm the average reader with them.

What did you dislike about the book?

What could the author do to improve this book?
I can't think of a thing.

Published February 2010

Theme: Every Little Thing She Does is Magic by The Police


  1. I have been wanting to read this book! There was an interview in Psychology Today about the author and what led her to write this book, and that intrigued me, and your positive review makes me even more excited! Congrats on a great blog!

  2. This is so funny. I just watched an episode of Law & Order where this happened to a family. Man, deja vu! I didn't think to google to see if there was some merit to the episode. I have to read this book. Man, the things that people do and have done to people less fortunate and not always to AA's just poor people in particular. America has to do better. I'm going to check this one out.

  3. I put this book on my reading list when I read an interview with the author; it sold me. There are so many topics that can be discuss once finish reading a book like this. It makes me think about my family and "testings" that are done in hospitals.