Review of The Immortal Cells of Henrietta Lacks

Review of the Immortal Cells of Henrietta Lacks written by Rebecca Skloot
Rating ***

This book has made a number of best of lists. I learned about it after a mention from Stephen King in one of his best of lists. While the book had merit, there were some problems I had with the story itself that keep this book from getting a higher rating.

The book starts off promising as it tells the story of Henrietta Lacks and how some tissue samples taken from her while she was undergoing cancer treatments eventually led to the discovery of a cell line that is able to grow indefinitely.

That story and the story of the how those cells continue to be used in research is an interesting one. Problem is, that story is only one-quarter of the book. The remainder of the book is nothing more than the author’s dealings with Henrietta’s surviving family members and her research for the book. So in this case the author puts herself into the story. There is more of the author in this book than of Henrietta Lacks.

There is a compelling story involving the juxtaposition of how science benefited and profited from the cells while the family lived in poverty, but it is not compelling enough to carry the weight of a book.

I honestly can’t understand how this book has done as well as it has. Reading about Rebecca going about her research and Henrietta’s paranoid family is about as interesting as reading a scientific article about HeLa cells.

I was more interested in the parts of the book that dealt with various lawsuits individuals have brought against doctors and institutions who have profited from the use of those individuals’ tissues or cells.

Had the Lacks’ family members had the wherewithal and resources to hire an attorney, I think they probably could have ended up with some kind of financial settlement. When that happens, that’s the book I’d be interested in reading.

Lastly, as if the author needed more pages to thicken up her book, she has one of the longest acknowledgments section I’ve ever read. Actually, I didn’t read it. I stopped about the time she was thanking the taxi cab driver who drove her to the airport.

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