Friday, June 8, 2012

Astonishment At "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"

 There is little I can add to the cacophony of reviews that are already out there. Still, I have to gush about how wonderful this book is. I am typically a fiction reader but often  dip into nonfiction as long as it proves to be interesting and insightful. This seemed like it would be right up my alley, but I shied away from it because there seemed to be so much hype surrounding it. I dislike hype, on principal and try to stay away from most bestseller lists. Actually, I picked this book by default because the audiobook was in my partner’s car. Halfway through the first disc, I was completely enthralled. I even crossed state lines to go to a bookstore and buy a paperback copy so I could read it 24/7. After I finished it, I wanted to so back and read it all over again!

Unless you live under a rock, you have probably heard about this book. Still, I’ll give you a brief overview just in case you’ve been trapped in a time capsule. Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman who lived in Maryland when she felt a hard ball on her cervix. Having no health insurance and little money, she went to Johns Hopkins where they removed her tumor and took some of her cells for future testing. However, the doctors did this without anyone’s knowledge or approval. Though Henrietta eventually died from this cancer, her cells became the first immortal cells. Since her death, they’ve been used in thousands of experiments in numerous field. Though people have made millions on Henrietta’s cells, her family saw none of the money and still has no health insurance.
Killing of Cancer Cell

What makes this book so fantastic is that the author takes a holistic approach to her writing. She doesn’t simply focus on the science of the cells but spends an equal amount of time on Henrietta’s family and their history. This adds an emotional edge that left me crying at times, which a book strictly on cells would never do (unless I was crying with boredom). The most exceptional aspect of the book is how well researched it is. Clearly, Henrietta’s family has been misrepresented since the 1950s. Fortunately, the author took years to get to know the family, understand their plight, and write objectively. I could ramble on for pages and pages but I will end by saying this: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is by far one of the best books I have read in my entire life (and I read a lot).

1 comment:

  1. I have this one in my to-read pile, thanks for the review!! (Stopped over from Blogaholic, just subbed to you! I think we have similar tastes)