Monday, April 26, 2010

56 - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Rebecca Skloot

 
(Have you read this amazing book?)

For those of you who have not heard the story of Henrietta Lacks, Henrietta was a poor young black woman who descended from slaves. She grew up in Virginia and later moved to Maryland. She was a wife and the mother of five small children, and sadly she died of cervical cancer in 1951.

Prior to her death when she was undergoing treatment at John Hopkins, doctors removed cells from her cervix, but not for biopsy. The doctors already knew that her cancer was malignant.  Her cells were removed without her knowledge for research purposes. The cells were named HeLa cells (using the first two letters of her first and last names). This book is about Henrietta, her family, and especially her daughter Deborah, who never really got to know her mother who died prematurely at the age of 31.

A research scientist named George Gey was working with other scientists on cell reproduction, when he came across Henrietta's cells which he quickly witnessed growing and growing at an amazing rate. The cells were reproduced over and over in a controlled laboratory environment. Over the years the famous HeLa cells have resulted in scientific advancements in certain types of cancers, polio, Parkinson's diseases, genetic cloning and other medical advances.  Over the years scientists have grown over 50 million metric tons of HeLa cells which have been used all over the world by scientists.

The author, Rebecca Skloot learned about Henrietta's cells in a Biology class, and became obsessed with learning more.   After much resistance on the part of the family to cooperate, the author eventually gains Deborah's trust, and together the two interviewed friends, relatives, visited family homesteads and burial grounds to learn more about Henrietta's life. They even visit Johns Hopkins to see the "amazing" cells, and investigate the early death of Henrietta's daughter Elsie, who was sent to a mental hospital after her mother's death.

Henrietta's story is truly amazing, but it also brings up all sorts of legal and medical ethics issues for debate.  The author does a wonderful job leaving the reader with a deeper understanding of the issues on both sides of the fence. The book was near perfect, and it is certainly an informative and worthwhile read.
RECOMMENDED (RATING - 4.5/5 stars)
(private purchase)

35 comments:

  1. I'm really interested in reading this one at some point. As I'm trying to read more nonfiction this year, I think that I'll pick this one up sooner rather than later. Great review!

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  2. You've convinced me to add this to my wish list! It sounds like it is an amazing story of an amazing woman (and her cells). Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Wow, great review. I've been curious about this one.

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  4. I skimmed your review because I just started this book. I'm glad to see you gave it a thumbs up, but I have to tell you that I'm mad already.

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  5. I've seen this around and I've got it on my wish list already. I'm so glad to see that you think it's a great read.

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  6. I just read about this book in my most recent edition of Bookmarks magazine. It sounds fascinating and is one book that I know I will read eventually

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  7. Certainly a worthwhile book. An amazing story!

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  8. I heard the author being interviewed on NPR a couple of months ago. I agree, the story is fascinating. Glad to hear you enjoyed the book. I may have to add this to my growing wishlist.

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  9. I've wanted this book since I first heard about it! I'm so glad you gave it the Diane seal of approval and a Giant Hulk thumbs up ;-)

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  10. This sounds like a very interesting read. I'm curious for more-like, did she know they took her cells for continued research? I can see all kinds of ethical issues in this one.

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  11. I think her story is such a fascinating one and I am so glad to see that the book keeps the story going!

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  12. I thought when I started reading this review it was going to be another 'woman survives cancer' book but I totally didnt expect the rest. Added to my wish list.

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  13. Kathy, I can understand why you would be mad as you read this book. The way they treat blacks were so terrible.

    Peaceful Reader...no, Henrietta died and never knew about the research and medical advancements. SAD

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  14. This will be my next nonfiction book... glad to see you gave it a thumbs up!

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  15. I have heard nothing but good things about this one. And, with the medical / ethical slant, I'm sure I will enjoy as well. Thanks!

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  16. Hi Diane,
    I wanted to let you know that my wrap up for the Reading From My Shelves Wrap Up is posted at my place. Thanks for having this challenge. It helped clear off some space. Have a great day!

    Sherrie
    Just Books
    http://sherriesbooks.blogspot.com/2010/04/review-life-oreilly.html

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  17. I have heard amazing things about this book, and the synopsis alone is just so intriguing to me.It's hard to believe that her cells have been used for so many good and affirming things, yet she had no knowledge of their being harvested. I am definitely going to be reading this book. It sounds fascinating. Great review!

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  18. Wonderful review, Diane. I hadn't heard of this book until I read your review. It sounds like a touching book.

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  19. Sounds fascinating story of a woman and her afterlife -- thanks for posting an excellent review - most enticing!

    Hannah

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  20. This is one that I have read several reviews of and definitely plan to read. I am fascinated by all of the ethical implications of what happened to this lady and what it means for all of us going forward. I'm glad her story could finally be told!

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  21. Oh this is nonfiction? I don't know why I thought it was a novel. This sounds like the kind of nonfiction I enjoy.

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  22. Wow, "near perfect" -- that's speaking highly! I hope to read this one at some point.

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  23. I've heard such good things about this book! The author's father is Floyd Skloot, an award-winning poet who is severely disabled by the same illness I have, CFS. Just a little factoid!

    Your review made me definitely want to read this book - I'm adding it to my list.

    Actually, I'd like to make a request, too. You and I seem to like similar books, and I always respect your opinions and enjoy your reviews. My book group is getting ready to choose its 100th book, and we want it to be something really amazing. What are your all-time top favorite 5 or so books? (we just discussed The Help!)

    Thanks for any ideas you can provide -

    Sue

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  24. Sue....some of my all time favorite books were: Molakai; Brennert;
    Middlesex; Eugenides; Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; Lisa See; Still ALice; Genova and Little Bee; Cleave

    these are the ones that immediately come to mind. good luck Sue.

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  25. I have not been convinced I would like this book until now. Looks fascinating.

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  26. I've really wanted to read this book. The whole story of of the advance of science vs. ethical issues involved plus the family story sounds like a powerful book!

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  27. I agree with you. I think this book did a really good job balancing all the issues and explaining them clearly to the reader.

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  28. This book is SO good, and it reads almost like a novel, which is great for someone like me who doesn't read a lot of non-fiction. It is amazing (in a bad way) the things that the doctors and researchers working with Henrietta (and others) got away with only 60 years ago!

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  29. Sounds so beautiful! I'm eager to read this one!

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  30. I've heard great things about this book! I'm so glad you liked it :)

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  31. This sounds like a very thought-provoking story. It would be difficult to know exactly how to think about the issues raised in it.

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  32. I've been looking forward to this one. So happy to know that it won't disappoint!

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  33. I'm glad to hear you loved this one! I've got it on my Kindle, and I'm looking forward to reading it soon!

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  34. Two of my co-workers read this book and have been raving about it ever since! I think it would make for a great book club discussion, so I'm going to hold off reading it until we pick our nonfiction title. I'll make a note to come back to your excellent review to refresh my memory. Thanks, Diane!

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