Broadway Books, March 2011
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Blogging for Books.
I decided to reread The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to add some variety to my reading and to see if it holds up on rereading. It’s still a fascinating story, I was still impressed by the writing, but I could have done with a little less about the author’s difficulties researching the story and interviewing Henrietta Lacks’s family members.
Henrietta Lacks is the person behind the HeLa cell line. She died of cancer in the 1950’s, and a sliver of a tumor generated an immortal cell line that has been used in medical research of nearly every kind. It’s a story about medical ethics (Lacks’s consent to use the tissue for medical research is faulty), it’s about science, it’s about Henrietta’s life as well as the life of her family.
During this read, I wanted more of a story about science: the sections about the workings of the lab that developed the HeLa cell line, the history of Tuskegee syphilis study, the development of things like the Institutional Review Board for testing on human subject, and Henrietta’s particular cancer were the most gripping to me compared to the story of Skloot developing a relationship with Lacks’s daughter Deborah. I’ve read other reviews that mentioned that the science portions of the book are accurate: I’m glad I was drawn into the sections that were accurate, covering issues that I don’t have a background in at all.
Henrietta Lacks is a fine read.