Reader Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Editor’s note: This reader review was submitted as part of Adult Summer Reading. We will be sharing more throughout the rest of the year. 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover

I didn’t know what to expect from the book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” I only knew it would have to do with ethics as it was recommended reading in a data ethics class I took. But I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the author blended the biography of the Lacks family, particularly Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, with the story of scientific progress in tissue culture due to the uniqueness of her mom’s HeLa cells. There were many moments I was very angry with scientists, balanced out with surprising responses from Deborah about how she didn’t want to stop the progress of science, she just wanted to understand what was happening to what remained of her mother and she wanted Henrietta to get recognition for her contribution.

This was a very powerful book to read (and listen to, in my case) as I begin PhD studies in health informatics, while Black Lives Matter protests are taking place across the country in the middle of a pandemic for which scientists are sprinting to get a vaccine and treatments out.

Three words that describe this book: insightful, unusual, provocative

You might want to pick this book up if: you want to understand how cell and tissue culture spring-boarded the study of viruses and cancer, or you’ve heard of HeLa cells but have no idea what that is.


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