Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Published July 2010 by Gale Group
Source: I bought this one
There are probably very few people left out there who don't know the story of Henrietta Lacks, either from having read the book or from having heard about the book on numerous news sources. For those of you who may have missed the hubbub surrounding this book, Henrietta Lacks was a poor, black, mother of five who died from cervical cancer in 1951. If that had been all there was to the story, no one except Henrietta's family would probably remember her; her grave is even unmarked.
But that is not all there is to Henrietta's story and her legacy, already sixty years in the making, continues to live on because one doctor at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore decided to take a sample of Henrietta's tumor to see if he could grow her cells. Doctors had been trying for years to grow human cells with very little success. So as the technician in the lab prepared the sample, she had little hope to see anything happen. She could not have been more wrong. By the next day, the number of cells in each sample container had doubled and they continued to double on an almost daily basis. Never before had doctors seen anything like it; to this day, nothing on the same scale has ever been replicated. The cells were soon being sent nationwide and, before long, worldwide. In the past sixty years, hundreds of diseases have been studies and hundreds of advances and treatments have been developed using Henrietta's cells. Along the way, many have made a lot of money because of the cells; Henrietta's family is not among them. Her family did not even know until years after her death that the cells had been taken. Once they found out, the emotional impact of her death became many times greater as the family struggled to come to terms with the facts.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one of those books that came with extremely high expectations, almost always certain to leave me at least a little disappointed no matter how good the book is. This book was an exception; it is every bit as good as I was hoping. Skloot has crafted an amazing blend of human interest story and scientific lesson book. My heart broke for Henrietta as she died in agony and for her family as they lived in agony. By the time Skloot began looking into the story, the family had become so mistrustful of anyone asking about Henrietta that they refused to speak with her for months and months. Fortunately for us, Skloot refused to give up, eventually earning the trust of Henrietta's children. The book is exceptionally well-researched and Skloot has done a fine job of explaining the science behind the use of the cells in a way that makes sense to the layman. At the same time, she knows how to write a human story that will touch the heart.
The Omaha Bookworms are reading this for February and I can't wait to discuss it with them. In addition to the story itself, there is so much to discuss about the ethics of cell research, the way cells are procured, and the money that can be made by research on our cells by corporations and researchers. I highly recommend this book.