The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: How one woman got to live forever.

I first picked up this book as part of an AP Biology research project, at my teacher’s recommendation. What I got from it, was so much more.

Rebecca Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, details the story of one important woman that history and science, up until now, forgot to attribute to. Ten years of research and writing went into this book with the ultimate goal of telling Henrietta Lacks’s story in stunning detail–the story of a woman who would save thousands of lives without even knowing it.

Who was Henrietta Lacks? A poor black woman who grew up on a tobacco farm in the midst of poverty, Lacks was a bright wife and mother who was diagnosed with cervical cancer and died on October 4, 1951. Her cancer cells, dubbed the HeLa cells, were taken unknowingly from her then sent across science labs and research centers across the globe, funding a multi-million dollar research industry to which Lacks’s family never saw a cent of.

What made Henrietta’s cells so interesting were that they kept on growing. They continued dividing and dividing, long after her own body was buried and decomposed. Because the HeLa cells thrived on their own, they could be used for testing that would be considered inhumane on humans or animals. The HeLa cells revolutionized the scientific and medical community–because of the HeLa cells, the cure to polio was discovered.

But what makes this book so interesting is the vast array of topics it covers. From biology to ethics, history to personal accounts, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has a chapter for every finicky reader. No doubt there have been numerous debates sparked over the controversy of the Lacks family–did they ever, and will they ever, receive sufficient compensation for their loss? What have the HeLa cells done for the world? How will they continue to advance scientific research?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks reads like a story. It isn’t purely scientific facts–it’s hardly a textbook. Instead, Skloot gives the basic terms of the science behind the cells in a very simple, understandable fashion. The book is easy to read. And it’s completely fascinating due to the nature of the topics it discusses.

Overall, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks left me hanging onto every other word. It was clear and simple to understand, yet the variety and depth was stunning. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will be a classic to hold onto.