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Honestly, I can't imagine a better tale.
A detective story that's at once mythically large and painfully intimate.
Just the simple facts are hard to believe: that in 1951, a poor black woman named Henrietta Lacks dies of cervical cancer, but pieces of the tumor that killed her--taken without her knowledge or consent--live on, first in one lab, then in hundreds, then thousands, then in giant factories churning out polio vaccines, then aboard rocket ships launched into space. The cells from this one tumor would spawn a multi-billion dollar industry and become a foundation of modern science--leading to breakthroughs in gene mapping, cloning and fertility and helping to discover how viruses work and how cancer develops (among a million other things). All of which is to say: the science end of this story is enough to blow one's mind right out of one's face.
But what's truly remarkable about Rebecca Skloot's book is that we also get the rest of the story, the part that could have easily remained hidden had she not spent ten years unearthing it: Who was Henrietta Lacks? How did she live? How she did die? Did her family know that she'd become, in some sense, immortal, and how did that affect them? These are crucial questions, because science should never forget the people who gave it life. And so, what unfolds is not only a reporting tour de force but also a very entertaining account of Henrietta, her ancestors, her cells and the scientists who grew them.
The book ultimately channels its journey of discovery though Henrietta's youngest daughter, Deborah, who never knew her mother, and who dreamt of one day being a scientist.
As Deborah Lacks and Skloot search for answers, we're bounced effortlessly from the tiny tobacco-farming Virginia hamlet of Henrietta's childhood to modern-day Baltimore, where Henrietta's family remains. Along the way, a series of unforgettable juxtapositions: cell culturing bumps into faith healings, cutting edge medicine collides with the dark truth that Henrietta's family can't afford the health insurance to care for diseases their mother's cells have helped to cure.
Rebecca Skloot tells the story with great sensitivity, urgency and, in the end, damn fine writing. I highly recommend this book. --Jad Abumrad
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This book is extremely well written and informative about cell and tissue contribution to science. I thoroughly enjoyed the attitude of the Lacks siblings after Deborah's death. Read morePublished 1 day ago by Stacy Johnson
Rebecca Skloot has done a masterful job of explaining the issues around the ethics, legality, and finances surrounding bio-medical research. Read morePublished 1 day ago by Jonathan A. Smith
I found this an interesting book, again a book club book for sure. Makes for some interesting comments while sipping wine and listening to the discussion from all points of view.Published 3 days ago by lois jones
The description sounded intriguing, and I did have a vague memory of news stories from a couple decades back about contamination of human cell cultures by one very strong source. Read morePublished 3 days ago by Cynthia Ross
The reviews and the "best seller" status of this book don't give the mildest hit of what's inside. Read morePublished 3 days ago by joy316
Sklott, like Laura Hillenbrand, commands her subject. She provides a deep human dimension to what is otherwise a lab/clinical phenomenon.Published 5 days ago by Timothy E. Green