Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This is another true story, about a woman who was never given any accolades for her contribution to science, because she never even knew that she made an earth-shattering contribution to the understanding and treatment of cancer.  It is the story of the ethics of "informed consent,"  and on a deeper level it is about who owns our cells and DNA...do we or does medical science, when it is for the "greater good?"  This book is also about a family, poverty stricken when the story begins, and poverty stricken as the story concludes.  It's about being treated in the "colored ward" of Johns Hopkins hospital, and about  the black patients's lack of confidence and trust in institutions such as Johns Hopkins.

In 1951 Henrietta's cancerous cervical cells were taken and used for research without her knowledge.  Known as HeLa cells, they reproduced at an amazing rate, and allowed clinics and laboratories all over the world to use them for research.  But Henrietta never knew about her amazing cells.  Today, though the question of payment for profitable tissues remains unresolved it’s still not necessary to obtain consent to store cells and tissue taken in diagnostic procedures and then use the samples for research. This oversight has far reaching consequences.

The book is written by a woman of great compassion, who like a true detective, is looking for the truth.  It takes Skloot, a white woman, a great deal of time to be accepted by the Lacks family.  Her book is fascinating, and an important  document in understanding medical research as it applies to human illness, and about our rights regarding parts of our own bodies.  But it is also a very human story, about a brave woman, about a suffering family, and in part about racial divides.  Following Skloot along her path for the truth is a rewarding and amazing ride.  I hope you will consider reading this important book.

The book was awarded the National Academies Best Book of the Year Award,[7] the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Best Young Adult Book Award,[8] The Wellcome Trust Book Prize, awarded annually to an outstanding work of fiction or non-fiction on the theme of health and medicine.[9] It also won the Heartland Prize for non-fiction,[10] among others, including a Salon Book Award, and a 100 New York Times Notable Books of the Year. The paperback edition had spent 75 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list.[11]

Henrietta and David Lacks, c. 1945


  1. Great review. I read this book a number of years ago and found it to be a fascinating story. I don't know if there was any mention in the book what has happened with her descendants since the book was written. Seems to me they were in the news not too long ago with a suit against the doctors and the hospital.

  2. Seems like a great story, thanks for sharing that!

  3. I read about this woman in another book. It is fascinating!

  4. Great book about a true life story!

  5. I had never heard of Henrietta Lacks but her story seems fascinating and more importantly, something we all should be aware of. Sounds like it needs to be put on all our 'to read' lists.

  6. Good review - I am interested in reading this. Sounds very thought provoking. Thank you for sharing it!

  7. Hi Marie, what a great review. This books sounds like such an interesting read. Thanks for sharing. Have a wonderful weekend!!
    Hugs, CM

  8. I enjoyed your review Marie. It sounds like one of those books we should all read.

  9. Sounds like a very interesting book.

  10. Nice review
    Follow each other

  11. Many times ago I heard of Henrietta Lacks but I had never read about her story. It seems fascinating. Thanks for sharing this review Marie!

    Thanks for your nice comment on my blog!
    Wishing you and yours a happy Sunday.

  12. Thank you all for your wonderful comments! Glad some of you have read about her already or at least know of her. Hope others will read this as well. Have a wonderful Mom's Day with your Mom, your kids, or with other loved ones!!!!

  13. I read this book a couple of years ago and was very moved by it. Great review Marie.

  14. Interesting review of the issues surrounding the HeLa cell cultures.

  15. Hi! It's very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Hi Marie, Thanks for the suggestion ... I will have to check it out. Have a great week ahead!

  17. Fascinating real story!

    ( '>

    ALOHA from Honolulu,

  18. That sounds so interesting. Thanks!

  19. Hi Marie,
    The book sounds like a great book and I will share the information with friends & family.
    The old photograph reminded me of my parents' photo taken in the early 60s.
    Lovely commentary!
    Thanks for visiting my site.
    Have a Beautiful Weekend!
    Peace :)

  20. Wow! So many great comments! I am so happy each of you stopped by to see my book review and commented on it! Thanks so much! Happy reading.....


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