Staff Pick – Laura Jean– IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot, DB 70661

The imminent release of HBOs The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, featuring Oprah Winfrey on Saturday April 22nd has generated new interest in the book on which it is based. THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS explains the origins of HeLa cells, which were ultimately used in developing vaccines, medical treatments, and many other scientific breakthroughs. These cells were harvested from a young African American woman in Baltimore, Maryland, Henrietta Lacks, who was suffering from a particularly virulent form of cervical cancer. This book not only explains the impact HeLa cells have had on the evolution of medical research, it also delves into the way that the medical establishment treated Mrs. Lacks and her family and their fight for compensation and acknowledgement.

Written in a thought-provoking and journalistic manner, Ms. Skloot, does a brilliant job of explaining fairly complex scientific processes and medical procedures in a way that anyone can understand. In addition, she interviews Mrs. Lack’s family with compassion, yet maintains her journalistic neutrality. She skillfully sets their personal story against the backdrop of the racial and medical culture of the latter half of the 20th century. Winning best book awards from organizations such as The National Academies of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks remained on the New York Times Bestseller List for over two years.

NLS Annotation: Science journalist chronicles the life of African American Henrietta Lacks, who in 1951 had cervical tissue removed and grown in culture–without her permission–producing the first continuously replicating human-cell samples for research. Discusses subsequent medical breakthroughs, including the polio vaccine and AIDS treatment. Explores bioethical concerns involving tissue ownership. Bestseller. 2010.

If you have already read this book or would prefer a book that looks at the broader issue of medical ethics and race, try MEDICAL APARTHEID: THE DARK HISTORY OF MEDICAL EXPERIMENTATION ON BLACK AMERICANS FROM COLONIAL TIMES TO THE PRESENT by Harriet A. Washington, DB 66297.