Rebecca Skloot. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010)
I saw this book reviewed several times and was intrigued by it because it is so far outside my usual fare. It was absolutely fascinating–as a history of modern medicine, as a piece of United States history, as a social commentary, as a biography of one black family. And the whole is really the story of a journalist with a passion to pursue and develop a hidden story, and one that is solidly worth the telling.
Henrietta Lacks was a black woman from Baltimore who died of cancer in the 1950s. Cells taken from her cancer happen to be the first human cells that survived and divided outside a living body. The entire science of cell culture, which includes cancer study, development of vaccines, genetics research, and hundreds of other medical and technological developments of the last sixty-odd years can be traced to this original breakthrough. The story of Henrietta’s life, the story of the scientific developments and their impact on medicine, the story of Henrietta’s descendants, and the story of the writing of the story from Skloot’s perspective are all skillfully woven together in a way that reads like a novel. Sometimes tragic, sometimes miraculous, this is quite the story.