Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Immortal LifeTitle: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: Rebecca Skloot
Date Read: 20 May 2017
Genre: Nonfiction/Science
Rating: 4 Stars

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman from Virginia was diagnosed with cervical cancer. During her initial surgery to remove the tumor, doctors took several of her cells without her knowledge and used them for study. Known as HeLa, Lacks’ cells became an important tool in aiding medicine’s progression including finding a vaccine for polio. Rebecca Skloot weaves between the history of modern science and one family’s obsession in finding out about the mother she never knew.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a book that has been on my to read shelf for many years. I’ve even started reading it several times only to return it to the library because the beginning was too slow for me. However, as with all books these days, Henrietta Lacks is being turned into a movie and I finally brought myself to work through my initial objections and I’m glad that I made myself work through this one.

It’s hard for me to define this book because it can fall into a few different categories that would interest a wide range of people. Skloot touches on social sciences, medical/scientific history, and family history. Throughout the book we learn about Henrietta Lacks and her family since the 1950s and how they lived and were affected by what happened to their family member. We learn about the medical progress that has been made using the HeLa cells and how black Americans were often forced to partake in this progress.

I liked this book because it made me think about how medical science has progressed through time. It’s a delicate subject to broach because many people have strong opinions about what happens to their blood, cell, and tissue matter. Should people be told what their bodily matter is used for and should they get reimbursed for any medical progress? This is something I’m afraid to touch on with my own opinion because there will be people who would be opposed to my thoughts no matter what side on.

Regardless of what conclusions you come to by the end of the book, Henrietta Lacks makes you think about race relations, medicine, and what our rights should be as patients. For this alone, I give the book 4 stars.



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