Wed 7 Sep 2011
Generally I tend to read more non-fiction books than fiction. In the summer I am apt to mix it up a little more and read more fiction, albeit stories with a historical background as you have seen from my past few posts about the books I have read this summer. I put the fiction aside for my most recent read: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
I am drawn to real-life stories that are new to me or under-told. Such is the case with this remarkable book about something I had knew absolutely nothing about. As a result of reading this story I now am extremely interested in learning more about the subject – a sign of a good reading experience for sure.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the fascinating story of the short life of a woman who unbeknownst to her or her descendants, contributed to major advances in medical research..
About The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: “Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.”
As compelling as the basic story is – a woman’s cells living on – Ms. Skloot presents a great back-story of her own search for the truth about Henrietta Lacks. Although the science is interesting, it is really the family and their stories that give this book its heart. Ms. Skloot presents the story through an arc of helping one of Lack’s children understand her late mother. Ms. Skloot’s personal relationship with the family members as she seeks information is compelling.
Part mystery, part road trip, and part oral history, this book is fascinating and I can truly say I learned a lot about this seemingly minor piece of history. In the end, you will agree that this is a story that had to be told and we can thank the author for making it come alive.
If you are looking for a true-life story that is as compelling as any fictional novel, then you may just want to pick up a copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.