Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

A biography of sorts of Henrietta Lax, a poor black woman whose cervical cancer cells turned out to be immortal. That cell line has since been used as one of the most common cultivated human cell lines used for scientific research. The book examines first Henrietta’s life, and later her descendants' lives alternating with chapters which tell more about the cells itself. Not very much is known about Henrietta herself, as she died fairly young and had a fairly unremarkable life, so the book concentrates more on her relatives.
The parts which dealt with the cells were very interesting - a pity there weren’t more of those. There were many things I didn't know, like the fact the HeLa cells are so resilient that at one time they had contaminated most of the available human cell lines.
Unfortunately, the family of Henrietta wasn’t very interesting - pretty normal, uneducated folks. So uneducated that I wonder how bad the schools in the US really are in the poor parts of the country? Also, they were pretty irritating, and the late part of the book, which deals mostly with them, was almost unreadably dull. Also, the way the author inserted herself in the book was totally unnecessary, a major part of the book tells about the author researching the book. Who cares? A more rational and detached approach would have been much better. As a whole, the book was pretty average and a pretty big disappointment from what I was expecting.

381 pp.

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