Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Finds: February 26th

What great books did you
hear about/discover this past week?

My Finds:

About The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks from Rebecca Skloot's website:

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 effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live, and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family—especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother’s cells. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn’t her children afford health insurance?

I think that this book sounds fascinating and very interesting. A book that will make you think and it sounds like it would be a great book to discuss with a book club. The author will be in my area next month and I plan to go to her book signing and discussion.

*For more Friday Finds go to Should be Reading, here.


  1. I can't wait to start reading this for my book club.

  2. It's amazing to me how scientists or anyone for that manner, feel that they could profit from this person without her consent nor any regard to her as a human. I think this sounds like a truly fascinating book!

  3. Wow...this sounds like it would spark a great discussion!

  4. I bought this one last week and am anxious to start it.

  5. I love the title of this one. My find is at The Crowded Leaf.

  6. I just bought this one and waiting for it to arrive; great pick.

  7. I've been seeing this one all over. What an interesting story!

  8. I've heard about this book too and think it sounds like a must read!

  9. I've seen this book around but I just don't think it's for me. I'll wait and see what you think of it first. lol.


Thanks for visiting and sharing a comment!