Wednesday, 16 March 2011
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
I’m not a big reader of non-fiction books but the story of Henrietta Lacks and the immortal cell line that came from her cervical cancer cells in 1951 appealed because of the human interest story and the ethical issues surrounding the case.
Product description, pitched from Amazon - Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells -- taken without her knowledge -- became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta's family did not learn of her 'immortality' until more than twenty years after her death...
The book is well written and is mostly well told, the story of Henrietta, what happened to her cells once they were removed and the impact on her family is interesting and makes for a gripping read. The science is not overdone and is dumbed down enough to appeal to a large audience. That’s not a criticism, the author decided to focus on the human element side so has not gone into too much technical detail on the science thus giving the book more appeal.
The book contains details of Henrietta's life and death, the medical advances made possible as a result of Henrietta's cells and information on the ethics surrounding the issues raised. Unfortunately though the author only half succeeds on human story side as the book started to go downhill during the second part of the book.
Skloot relied very heavily on the co-corporation of the Lacks family to gain information that she needed for her book. The Lacks family could have at any point cut Skloot off and as a result a troubled relationship between Skloot and Henrietta’s daughter Deborah springs up which the Skloot chooses to focus on during much of the second part of the book which gets in the way of the more interesting story. I would have liked to have learnt more about why Henretta's cells were so important rather than endless details about how Deborah refuses to take her calls.
At 300 pages this book is too long but this is a book still well worth reading as it is interesting and very accessible.
Posted by Jess