The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Review – ****1/2

Somewhere in my house are pages and pages (ok, maybe two pages) of review notes I made while reading this book, full of insights and specifics and quotes. But I can’t find them, so you’re getting this instead.

A lot of people have said that Rebecca Skloot was born to write this book. I can see what they mean. It is almost unbelievable to me, and singularly admirable, how much time and effort she has spent on researching, writing, and marketing – getting to know and gaining the trust of Lacks’ family, uncovering the history despite inaccuracies, sloppy reporting, old and faded memories and records – it’s no surprise it took her over 10 years to write it.

Thankfully, the result is worth it. This book was an incredible read. I’m not sure why I have it in my records as 4 1/2 stars instead of 5 – presumably the last 100 pages, which I first skimmed and then read again in full, were slightly less effective the second time around. I don’t know. Anyway, they’re just numbers. The fact is, this book was intellectually stimulating, emotionally fulfilling, and endlessly engrossing.

The story itself was a great find – it’s got it all. Science, emotion, family, racism, secrets, drama, injustice, even an exorcism. All these superlatives – I’m not trying to say it’s the most fantastic and amazing thing I’ve ever read in my life, but I’d recommend it to anyone. If you’re a professional scientist and somehow already familiar with the story of HeLa, read it for the story. If you’re…not a fan of story, read it for the accessible explanation of the science. Read it for whatever you like. There’s something in there for everyone.

Cannonball Read III: 7/52


Posted on June 30, 2011, in 100 things in 1000 days, Book Reviews, Books, Cannonball Read 3 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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