The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot (2010), New York, NY: Broadway Books.

November 2013

 

"I could not put this book down. The story of modern medicine and bioethics and indeed race relations is refracted beautifully and movingly."

- Entertainment Weekly

 

"Science writing is often about the facts. This book is far deeper, braver, and more wonderful."

- New York Times Book Review

 

"A deftly crafted investigation of social wrong committed by the medical establishment, as well as the scientific and medical miracles in which it led."

- Washington Post

 

The reviews for this book say it all. This is a story of the life, death, and immortality of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African American woman who died at an early age from untreatable cervical cancer. She left behind a husband, five children, and cells that were immune to death. These immortal HeLa cells have been used to create the polio vaccine as well as aid in the development of AIDS and cancer research. "The shocking story is that doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multi-million dollar industry. More than 20 years later her children found out." Their lives, ravished by poverty, crime, and medical concerns, could have been different if they could have benefitted from their mother's gifts.

 

When this book first came out, many encouraged me to read it, but I kept putting it off. Although I am an avid reader, there are certain books that I have to prepare myself to read. For instance, I did not read The Help until I was mentally ready for it. The historical exploitation of African Americans and the profits rendered from an oppressed people is not the nighttime reading that nestles you before sleep. I chose to read this book during a time in which I had the energy and fortitude to make it through. This book reads like a medical journal in places; therefore, you need the patience of a technical reader. But it is also a compelling narrative that harnesses and haunts. The lives of Henrietta Lacks' children are brutally and beautifully displayed as the reader traverses the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of their humanity.

 
Dr. Dwight C. Watson, Dean

College of Education

University of Northern Iowa