A brief return to an old love

I’ve had no book budget this year, so when I learn of a book I think will interest me I add it to my request list at our library. I’ve been waiting months for some books, but suddenly I have five to read in the next two weeks—and I’m not a fast reader.

I read about this book before its release, but then in the midst of trying to get my own book ready to publish, I forgot about it. Now, I’m halfway through reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and I’m fascinated. Not counting memoir, this is the first non-writing non-fiction book I’ve read in two years. I missed it. I’m glad I broke my fast with this book.

From the author’s website:

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance.

Soon to be made into an HBO movie by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball, this New York Times bestseller takes readers on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers filled with HeLa cells, from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia, to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. It’s a story inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of.

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think of it?

21 thoughts on “A brief return to an old love

  1. This book is one I’ve heard about for a long, long time now and every time it crops up, I’m reminded of how much I want to read it. One of these days, one of these days! So many books. But it sounds fascinating and interesting and I loved all the interviews and bits about it I caught on NPR back when it first came out…

    You’ll have to let us know how you liked it!


    1. I know, L.S., every time I heard about it, I remembered I wanted to read it, but never got around to it. Then a Goodreads group I’m in picked it for one of its reads, so I requested it. Yes, I’ll let you know my thoughts after I finish.


  2. I’m so glad you posted about this book. I first heard this story on Radiolab last summer and the story has been coming up here and there ever since along with “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much”. I’m adding to my list. Thank you, Linda.

    Happy reading!


  3. This is an excellent read! I’ve been on a memoir-type of kick of a while. My daughter, who is now in medical school, actually used HeLa cells in one of her undergrad lab studies. She recommended it to me when it first came out. I would suggest having some tissues nearby as you finish this book.


  4. This may be my all time favorite book. I devoured it. I then got my book club to read it and it was a great discussion for all, since most of my book club members are teachers and nurses. I just was so moved by Henrietta’s story and the story of Deborah, her daughter. Skloot started this as a research project in graduate school, and I can’t believe how dedicated she was. It took her 10 years to piece together all this history and medical background. I HIGHLY recommend it, it is SUCH a powerful story!

    If anyone wants more background on the project, the book, or what’s happening now, I did a post awhile back on this book-cause it is a fave. Check it out, I could talk about this cover forever! http://jesswords10.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/do-you-have-a-favorite-book/


  5. I’ve heard really good reviews of this book, but I haven’t had the chance to read it. The author and one of Henrietta’s sons were on one of the morning shows and it sounds like an amazing (true) story. I look forward to your review of it.


  6. Like many have said here, I’ve heard so much about it, wanted to read it, but haven’t yet. Thanks for posting this as a reminder that i need to get out and get the book!


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