Last night I finished reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and I’m here to tell you, you should really just buy it and read it too. As in, now. Go! Because it absolutely is That Good. It reminded me a lot of Seabiscuit, actually. Not that the plots are in any way similar, but both are non-fiction, deal with topics that are on the fringes of my interests, and are magnificently well-researched. They both tell compelling stories about the underdog, come to think of it. And I couldn’t put either one of them down. Holy cow! Yes, it took a couple of weeks for me to read this one, but that’s only because I had a series of commitments that kept me busy in the evenings. (And let’s be honest. Non-fiction takes more concentration than I’ve got when the kiddos are awake!)
In 1951, a young mother died of aggressive cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins. Before she died, scientists took a sample of her cells, which they were then able to culture successfully. Henrietta’s cells became the first ‘immortal cell line’, and their availability for scientific research led to innumerable scientific achievements (beginning with the polio vaccine). Which is a good thing. On the other hand, her cells were taken without permission and used without the knowledge of her family; when that family found out, things got a little messy. Rebecca Skloot brings us along for her research ride, exploring scientific legal and ethical issues in detail. That ride is amazing. Science has NEVER been my favorite subject, but this book kept me spellbound. (Incidentally, the unscrupulous in the scientific community have conducted research in some horrifying ways.) It also posed some fascinating ethical questions that have yet to be answered.
I’m pretty sure more than one person is getting this from me for Christmas.