"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

One woman's death changed the history of medicine forever.  Her name was Henrietta Lacks, and she didn't even know what she was a part of because they didn't tell her.  This book tells the amazing story of an African-American woman whose cancer cells were taken from her without her knowledge or permission.  And it was not for many, many years that even her descendants were told the whole story. 

I read this book for a book club and thoroughly enjoyed it.  As one fellow reader said, "It's the kind of book that makes you feel smart."  The description of scientific things is well written and makes it an easy read, especially as there are so many lively, interesting, and crazy characters involved.  One can tell that the author put a lot of work into researching the story fully and telling it with as much honesty as possible, considering that much of the story was covered up for many years, sometimes just by bad judgment, and sometimes by outright lies. 

The really amazing story within the books is about Lacks' descendants, specifically her daughter and the journey that she goes on to discover the truth about her mother's cells.  Mixed in with all this are issues of race, religion, poverty, health care, and the questions of what happens to body and spirit when death occurs.  No matter what your belief, the book makes clear that Henrietta Lacks truly did become immortal and has effected nearly every person living on the planet right now.  We can't change the disturbing events of the past, but by reading this book we can, in a small way, do justice to Henrietta and honor her for the part she plays in many of our lives today.

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