Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – by Rebecca Skloot

immortallifeofhenriettalacksSynopsis: Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta’s family did not learn of her ‘immortality’ until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences… Balancing the beauty and drama of scientific discovery with dark questions about who owns the stuff our bodies are made of, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an extraordinary journey in search of the soul and story of a real woman, whose cells live on today in all four corners of the world.

Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: Rebecca Skloot
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 431
ISBN: 9780330533447

Rating: 4stars

There is a woman who changed the face of science forever. Her name is Henrietta Lacks. Do you know who she is? I didn’t either.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read to date. This is an original and thrilling read that crosses over a plethora of genres (popular science, history, biography) but reads like a detective novel.

However entertaining the book, it is by no means an easy or comfortable read. Skloot not only looks at the scientific breakthrough’s made possible by HeLa cells, but also exposes the harsh, cruel world of science research. We uncover the shameful and unethical ‘research’ methods of America in the 1950’s, which was terrifyingly similar to the ‘research’ done by Mengele in the concentration camps.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is more than a scientific history of the HeLa cell; it focuses on the woman behind the cell, Henrietta Lacks, and her family. The prose jumps back and forth in time and covers Henrietta’s treatment and death, and her family’s life afterwards. This is a harrowing read without the science; with it, it is heart-breaking.

This is an extraordinary story and one that I would recommend to absolutely everyone. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is more than a book about scientific discovery, ethics, and history. It is a story of a woman whose pain and ultimate death resulted in the scientific breakthroughs that have saved thousands of lives.

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