The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot Review


Goodreads Description: Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.

The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

My Thoughts: I vaguely remember hearing about HeLa cells in college but they weren’t extensively covered. I was fascinated to learn in this book that these cells came from a woman in the 1950s and were taken without her knowledge or consent.

This book goes into great detail about the woman behind the HeLa cells, Henrietta Lacks, and also discusses the timeline of medical practices and research. Things are discussed in a factual but interesting way, although there were a few times when the author’s personal views seemed to seep in a bit.

It is good that this story was written, it was shocking at times…the way patients were treated and the lack of rights that they had was almost unbelievable. I found the story interesting but there were times when large amounts of information relating to biology and cells were presented that I started to get very bored.

I’m glad that I read this book as I gained a lot of new knowledge about cells and how they are used in research as well as the ethical controversies that arise from that research. The story of Henrietta and her family was also very interesting…it was very frustrating to read her family’s perspective on the situation and the injustices that occurred.

This was a solid 3 star book for me…I liked it but didn’t love it.

My Rating: 3 stars

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


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