Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Author: Rebecca Skloot
Publish date: 2010
Source: Purchased
"Who, you might ask, is Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951) and why is she the subject of a book? On the surface, this short-lived African American Virginian seems an unlikely candidate for immortality. The most remarkable thing about her, some might argue, is that she had five children during her thirty-one years on earth. Actually, we all owe Ms. Lacks a great debt and some of us owe her our lives. As Rebecca Skloot tells us in this riveting human story, Henrietta was the involuntary donor of cells from her cancerous tumors that have been cultured to create an immortal cell line for medical research. These so-called HeLa cells have not only generated billions of dollars for the medical industry; they have helped uncover secrets of cancers, viruses, fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping. A vivid, exciting story; a 2010 Discover Great New Books finalist; a surprise bestseller in hardcover."

I remember hearing about Henrietta Lacks last year and being curious about her story, but I never acted on my curiosity and got the book. I recently looked it up on Amazon, and finding it for only $8, decided this was a book I needed to own and not borrow from the library. Boy, am I glad I bought it.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one of those books that made my jaw drop as I was reading and then turn to whomever was near and say, "Listen to THIS." I don't read too much nonfiction, but this book flowed just like fiction; I never wanted to put it down. I learned sciencey things, which is a shock, because I, uh, don't like science at all, but it didn't feel like I was reading a textbook. Ms. Skloot has a lovely writing style and I was never bored while reading, which sometimes happens to me while reading nonfiction.

Even if you aren't a nonfiction fan, I would definitely recommend picking this one up. You'll blaze through it because you don't want to put it down, and just learning about Henrietta's extended family and their lives is fascinating. I can't wait to lend this to people and to me, that is a sign of a great book.

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