book review: the immortal life of henrietta lacks

by sam on 03/10/2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I had a few fits and starts since finishing my last book, attempting to read Griftopia by Matt Taibbi which I just could not get through (I don’t think it’s anything to do with the book so much as the fact that I think I’m burned out on the subject matter for the moment).

But I finally got a copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks from the library, and, while it took me a few days to get into, I could not put it down. I mark my progress on goodreads, and when I opened the book this morning, I was on page 148. And then I spent the rest of the afternoon reading, ultimately finishing the 376-page book in one sitting (broken up only once by the fact that I had to change locations).

I’m still processing, but this book, despite a significant amount of scientific material and background, is incredibly gripping – Skloot interweaves the story of Henrietta’s “immortal cells” with the everyday plight of Henrietta and her family, as well as Skloot’s own, painstaking, years-long challenge in getting the Lacks family to trust her enough to let her write the book. As usual, I’m not going to go into too much detail on the actual details of the book (you can click the book title above to get a plethora of that type of information), but I will say that I was moved to tears at points in the story when I wouldn’t have expected to be. The combination of the Lacks’ family’s own dire circumstances and their (rightful) sense of an injustice having been done to their family, combined with their utter generosity at the end of the day is just something to behold. I highly recommend this.