Sunday, August 15, 2010

BOOK: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, 358 pages

Nonfiction Five 2010; Science Book Challenge

This was supposed to be my nonfiction read for August. The kind of book where I leave it in the living room and read a chapter everyday, or two if they are short like this book. And then I read it all in one day, which should give you an idea of how great a book this is. It helped to have the perfect day to lay out on the (lido) deck and have drinks served by my cabana boy, while watching the sheets dry on the line and reading a book. It was a pretty wonderful day.

I first heard of this book on The Daily Show when the delightful Rebecca Skloot charmed the pants off Jon Stewart. I had never heard of the HeLa cells, extensively used in science and cancer research. And many people using the HeLa cells had never heard of Henrietta Lacks, the woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951 whose cells were 'donated' and then lived on. Skloot ties together several stories - Henrietta Lacks and her life, her family, the history of cell and tissue study, and how she helped the family learn about their mother. Skloot writes about the science in easy to understand language, gradually building up the information. She writes as balanced a story as is possible, recognizing that while a great wrong was done, the motives of most of the people were not evil.

A great read about a woman whose contribution to science needed to be recognized. Skloot spend many years researching the book and became very close to the Lacks family. Henrietta's daughter, Deborah, at one point tried to talk to a scientist about her mother. Deborah was not well educated, and for her, the idea that her mother's cells were alive was very difficult to comprehend, not knowing what exactly a cell was. The scientist brushed her off, gave her his textbook to read and autographed it for her. Deborah was shocked to see a picture of her mother she had never seen before. It was a very sad moment to read, as the gulf between the family and the scientists was never really breached.

If you are looking for a nonfiction book, with a touch of science, well written and compelling, you can look no further - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

also reviewed:
laura at musingsdevourer of books,
kailana at the written world, maggie at maggie reads,
jill at fizzy thoughts,