First Chapter First Paragraph: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week I’m featuring The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is one of the books that I’m currently reading.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

 

Prologue

The Woman in the Photograph

There’s a photo on my wall of a woman I’ve never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape. She looks straight into the camera and smiles, hands on hips, dress suit neatly pressed, lips painted deep read. It’s the late 1940s and she hasn’t yet reached the age of thirty. Her light brown skin is smooth, her eyes still young and playful, oblivious to the tumor that would leave her five children motherless and change the future of medicine. Beneath the photo, a caption says her name is “Henrietta Lacks, Helen Lane or Helen Larson.”

Blurb (Amazon)

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta’s family did not learn of her ‘immortality’ until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences . . .

Rebecca Skloot’s fascinating account is the story of the life, and afterlife, of one woman who changed the medical world forever. Balancing the beauty and drama of scientific discovery with dark questions about who owns the stuff our bodies are made of, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an extraordinary journey in search of the soul and story of a real woman, whose cells live on today in all four corners of the world.

~~~

So far, I’ve read 34% and I am thoroughly enjoying this book. It tells Henrietta’s life story, explains the details of her cancer, and the medical details of how her cells were grown, how they have stayed alive and multiplied. It also considers the ethical issues around ownership of her cells, racism and the distress, anger and confusion this caused her family.

I know ‘amazing’ is such an over used word – but this book really is amazing!

If you’ve read it I’d love to know what you thought of it. If you haven’t, does it tempt you too?

8 thoughts on “First Chapter First Paragraph: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot”

  1. It does sound fascinating, Margaret. And it’s not an area of medicine or history that I know as much about as I should. I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Just from that bit you’ve shared, it sounds like an engaging writing style, too, which always helps.

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  2. I am glad that you are enjoying this so much. I had come across the story of the HeLa cells in a few scholarly books on the history of molecular biology, biotech and cancer research, but was concerned that this more ‘lay audience’ book might overdramatize the important human and ethical angles. I am happy to learn from your review that it does not, and will add the book to my TBR pile.

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