Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

While my love for non-fiction is no secret I must admit that I don’t stray far from British or World War II history.

And yet, over the past year I’ve begun to venture into a section I never thought I would, scientific non-fiction. This all started when I learned that Chris Hadfield was going to be speaking in Calgary about his non-fiction best-seller An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. While I din’t end up going to the Hadfield talk, I did end up back in the science section of my local bookstore when I stumbled upon The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Did The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks spark my interest in adding more scientific reads to my TBR shelf? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

6493208The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (February 2, 2010)

Print Length: 382 pages

Audiobook Length: 12 hrs 30 mins

Narrator: Cassandra Campbell, Bahni Turpin

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells–taken without her knowledge in 1951–became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yes she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.

The Review

Rebecca Skloot has written a scientific tour de force.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is both a heartbreaking and inspiring look into  Henrietta, her death, the harvesting of her cells, her family, their struggles, and the contribution all of these incredible people had on science.

I had never heard of HeLa cells or Henrietta Lacks before picking up this book, given the fact that this is my first scientific non-fiction read, and I couldn’t help but feel guilty about it. Henrietta gave medicine so much that it almost feels cruel that up until now she was a footnote in the history books of cell culture. It’s also an injustice that Henrietta has given modern medicine so much, and yet, her family, at least at the book’s publication, is unable to afford healthcare.

When reading this, I could tell Skloot’s background was a journalistic one. The style in which she writes and the passion that was expressed for Henrietta’s story made me feel I was right along side her uncovering the story. I felt Skloot’s frustration when the family resisted having Henrietta’s story told. I cheered when Deborah and Skloot found common footing. I full on ugly cried when the pair discovered what had happened to Elsie during her stay at Crownsville State Hospital. I felt exactly what I was suppose to when I was suppose to, and it’s books like this that stick with you long after the cover has been shut.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. 

Purchase Links

Crown Publishing Group | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo

 

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