Despite the name, this is not some kind of vampire fiction book. It is entirely true. So how can someone be immortal and this book be true, I hear you ask? Well, Henrietta Lacks is gone in soul, but her cancer cells live on, having been responsible for many advances in science. Little was known previously about her life and her family (and conversely, her family knew little about her cells’ scientific life) but Skloot brings this together in a fantastically written book. She combines the heartache of Henrietta’s family with clear, simple explanations of the research involving Henrietta’s cells and how they were grown in the lab for the first time.
The book brings to the fore many things that are not generally discussed – did an African-American woman and her family have a right to know that her cells were being used for research in the 1950s and beyond? Should they have been asked for consent? Why did scientists evade the truth when taking blood from relatives? Was there a racial element to not discussing further with Henrietta and her family? Do we automatically give up the rights of research and potential profit if surgeons remove noxious parts of our bodies?
This is an exceptionally well written book and all the twists and turns in it are true. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a scientist, the author describes scientific processes (such as the cultivation of human cells) in such terms that you wish she was your high school science teacher. As someone who works in oncology, I found it fascinating to see the differences in treatments and the role Henrietta had to play in it – thank you. This was the kind of book that had me reading in traffic jams – a rare thing!
Read it if: you’re interested in how people and science can link together.
9.5 out of 10.