BOOK REVIEW: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This review is going to focus on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks written by Rebecca Skloot. This book was published in 2010–which means it’s out there for you to read folks! I had heard many good things about this book and bought it several years ago. Then I went back to graduate school and reading for fun wasn’t at the top of my priority list so this book lived on my TBR shelf for quite a while.

This book is a non-fiction biography that tells the story of Henrietta Lacks and her legacy through science and her family’s story. If you’re into science you may have heard of HeLa cells–they came from Henrietta.

Henrietta was a tobacco farmer. She lived and worked on the same land that her ancestors did. Then she got sick. She went to Johns Hopkins for some tests and found out that she had cervical cancer. The cells that were taken for biopsy were also used to try and grow more cells for research, without her consent. These cells were the beginning of HeLa, and they are still alive today.

Although Henrietta succumbed to her disease, her cells were responsible for virus and cancer research, studying the aftermath of an atom bomb, and helping to develop the polio vaccine, in vitro ferilization and gene mapping to name a few uses.

Not only did Rebecca Skloot bring to light the scientific importance of the cells, but she highlights the wrong doing that the scientific community performed by taking human cells without permission, and also by not financially helping the Lacks family.

Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah is a large part of the research that Rebecca did to uncover the story behind HeLa. Deborah and her siblings did not handle learning about the cells well. Deborah didn’t understand how cells work, and had many health problems of her own.

This book was very interesting in that it talked in both science and emotion. I finished reading this book in just a couple days and would love to learn more about what HeLa has helped develop around the world. However, it is also an important work highlighting injustices against African Americans in this country and an example of how they were taken advantage of and experimented on.

Happy reading 🙂