The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot
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About This Book

In 1951, a 30-year-old black woman was diagnosed with cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The cells biopsied from Henrietta Lacks’ tumor, dubbed HeLa cells, soon became the basis for decades of crucial medical research: The polio vaccine, IVF techniques, and advancements in gene mapping all owe their success to the HeLa cells taken from Lacks’ body. Skloot’s impeccably reported book tells a remarkable story of scientific development but also makes an impassioned argument about the way medicine has always used black and poor bodies. In the process of reporting the book, Skloot befriended Lacks’ descendants. Rather than harming the author’s “objectivity,” these friendships transform what was already a very good science book into a deeply humane and crucial interrogation of how technological progress churns along, indifferent to the lives fueling its course.