Both A Travesty and a Miracle for Mankind


Henrietta Lacks:  a name that I certainly have never heard prior to being introduced to this book, and one I now should never forget. This true account details the life of a poor woman whose death, in 1951, was the springboard to many of the most amazing medical discoveries of the 20th century.

Rebecca Skloot approaches the subject of Henrietta Lacks’ life with a simple storytelling style that brings her early life alive.  She skimps on none of the harsh details of life as a young black woman in Virginia in the pre-civil rights years but neither does she leave the reader feeling sorry for Henrietta.  Henrietta’s medical history is handled with care but also is thorough (and simple) enough that even the non-medically trained layperson can understand without having to have an advanced degree in cellular biology.

You don’t have to have a degree in medical ethics, however, to understand the repercussions of what has happened in the years since Henrietta’s death. Part science-fiction-gone-awry and a family saga without a happy ending, Skloot has painted a multi-textured and multi-faceted portrait of Henrietta Lacks and her amazing cells, referred to by scientists as HeLa, and the repercussions that are still being felt around the world, in Baltimore, and in the hearts of her family.  The child, the woman, the mother and the patient, these are all Henrietta. Although she has been dead more than 60 years, Henrietta’s legacy lives on in the family she left behind, not just in the cells she unknowingly gave to the world.

For even those whose reading tastes tend towards fiction, this book will interest you. It is a true story, but told from many perspectives, including the author’s own insights as she spent years following clues and trying to build a relationship with the family whose wife and mother became more sought-after than any A-list Hollywood star, but who, until now, was virtually unknown.

Get to know Henrietta Lacks.  This book is now available for check-out!

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