Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first ‘immortal’ human tissue grown in culture, HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta herself remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave
Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey in search of Henrietta's story, from the ‘coloured’ ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live, and struggle with the legacy of her cells. Full of warmth and questing intelligence, astonishing in scope and impossible to put down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.
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I loved the layering of experience: the story of Henrietta herself, the utterly compelling narrative of the destiny of the HeLa cells, the story of Skloot's own search, and then the moving narrative of the descendants of Lacks.
I also listened to The Help this year, and think there is something to be gleaned from these two extended works about the healing power of storytelling. While I often shrink back from white people telling black people's stories, both these books actually tackle this problem head on, exploring the problem of who is telling whose story and why. Restoration through narrative.
She was one of the narrators in The Help apparently (must have been that weird third person section?) Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed her reading.
A story of science that comes from the heart.
Excellent read through changing ethical practice