**The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

I was captivated by this book from beginning to end, and I kept thinking that if I had read something like this in high school biology, I would have been a lot more fascinated by cells and their behavior.  This is the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose famous HeLa cells have transformed medicine, giving researchers an immortal cell line for use in labs around the world.  It’s also the story of Henrietta’s personal life and her family and the questions they ask regarding her cells.  And it’s the story of cell biology and genetics and ethics and biotech companies and patents and how we make sense of all these entities when they converge.  The questions Skloot raises are as pertinent today as they were in 1951 when Henrietta died of a virulent type of ovarian cancer.  Through ten years of research, Skloot manages to uncover the details of this story with objectivity. We see all sides of the issue: Henrietta’s family, her doctors, Johns Hopkins, the research labs, even the biotech and pharmaceutical companies. At the same time, she also brings out some very dark moments in the history of medicine and in the history of our country.  As well, we see the medical revolution Henrietta’s cells produced. But mostly we see the humans behind this revolution and the wide spectrum of behavior, from a doctor who entered into an agreement with a biotech company to commercially develop his patient’s cell line, to the researcher who graciously invited Henrietta’s adult children to his lab so they could finally view their mother’s famous cells under the microscope.  This non-fiction book is packed with science, medicine, and history, but it reads like a novel.  It’s fascinating.


  1. I absolutely loved this book, and I echo your comment that I might’ve had more interest in science reading something like this in high school. –Laurie McMahon


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