So I knocked out another book towards my New Year resolutions. And I tend to like non-fiction books. For someone who is not a fan of science, this was easy to understand and interesting.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of human cells and the beginning of their life in labs.
“Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.”
The book covered the scientific side of the story, with how cell cultures began, how the cells helped and harmed science, and what exactly it means for history. It also covered the human side of the story, with the history of Henrietta and her family, her daughter’s search for information about her mother, and how the medical community has ignored the family and the history of the mother.
It also covered the evolution of medical ethics. I studied some of the early mistakes in different classes, but if you’ve never heard about the Tuskegee Experiment, it’s definitely worth a read.
I would recommend it to those who like science, history, or non-fiction, or a combination of those. I know it’s been in the news lately and there’s definitely a good reason for it!