Second Bookses

It's like second breakfast. Only with books.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot It feels like I may be the last person to read Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a New York Times Bestseller now out in paperback (which is how I picked it up: on an impulse-buy sale table at a bookstore).The book, which took Skloot over ten years to research and write, tells the complicated story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman treated for cervical cancer in the early 1950s, whose cancer cells were taken for research without her knowledge or consent and gave rise to much of the medical research we take for granted today, including cancer research, vaccine research, etc. The cells are still bought and sold, and Lacks' family had no idea any of this was going on for over twenty years -- until researchers began to wonder about the person the cells came from.Skloot tells the story by going back and forth in time: from present time to when the story about where the cells came from was first breaking, to when Henrietta was still alive and the research was first occurring. Some may balk at the presentation of Lacks' family: many still live in poverty, without education, and have had multiple run-ins with the law. Others may be frustrated at the lack of detailed explanation of the science behind the cell research, and want Skloot to have delved into this area more.What Skloot has done, however, is provide an overview that makes it easy for most to understand the complicated area of ethics when it comes to medical research. The juxtaposition of Lacks' family's current position vs. the multi-billion-dollar corporations that have been built on the back of the HeLa research should be enough to make any reader wonder.Having participated in medical research as a subject, and knowing what now goes into informed consent compared to what happened to Henrietta Lacks (and other "studies" mentioned in the book like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment), its amazing to see how far the medical industry has come in just sixty years -- and how much further it has to go.There may be readers who want more details about cell research or other types of medical research after reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, or who wished that the parts about Lacks' family were omitted, but with the number of uninsured Americans we have in the face of a huge medical industry (of which I am one), I think the social commentary is one worth looking at beyond just the science. This review originally appeared at

Currently reading

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Susanna Clarke
Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography
Elisabeth Sladen, David Tennant
Diary of a Submissive: A Modern True Tale of Sexual Awakening
Sophie Morgan
Bellman & Black
Diane Setterfield
Deep into the Heart of a Rose
G.T. Denny