I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book but to tell the truth, it's probably the best book I've read in ten years, which is appropriate since it took ten years to write. When you're finished with it, Check out the WNYC RadioLab Podcast on Itunes (from npr) which has some of the actual recordings Skloot made with Debra, including the beautiful sequence between Debra and her cousin singing to sooth her. The episode is called Famous Tumors. I have listened to Radiolab for years and had read the book almost three months before Radiolab did a story on it. I knew Skloot was a good writer, but her power of description is so amazing that when I heard the tapes it was EXACTLY how I had pictured it in my head. How many writers can you say that about?
I know it seems to be a book about boring old science, and perhaps in the beginning that's what Skloot might have thought would happen, but the actual story is so rich and beautiful it's difficult to put into words how thoroughly amazing it really is.
Do yourself a favor, download this book. You won't regret it.
I loved this book.
I usually listen to history and science with a few novels thrown in for balance. Occasionally I listen to a mystery. This was all 4!
The narrator weaves together three stories (by my count) into one book. The juxtaposition of the stories of 1) Henrietta and her family, 2) the author's research, including interactions with Henrietta's family, and 3) the scientific breakthroughs and fallbacks because of Hela cells helps each story to bring out the strengths in the other and to cause the listener to become more invested in the story.
This was such a great story. The only complaint that I have is that the medical information was very repetitive. Learning about the contribution a black woman unknowningly made was eye opening for me. I would recommend this book to friends.
What an eye opener. The history of our discovery and exploitation of genetic material is fascinating and more complex than I had imagined. Skloot covers the subject from all angles.The chronological and technical aspect is informative. The ethical observations raised through the study of the Lacks family are both clinical and personal. As we race to find cures for disease and better understand ourselves at the genetic level, we forget that it couldn't be possible without the most important component of the research process - human genetic material.
Worth a second listen. Thank you Ms Skloot.
I'm a country potter, gardener, flute player and tin tinker living with my husband, an electrical engineer & cabinet maker.
This book is worth 2 listens. What of our bodies do we own? How can we say "liberty and justice for all" in a country where corporations own the genes and even the tissue of our brains that allow formation of the words? The author brings Henrietta's family into focus and also provides a great deal of medical and legal background for HeLa cells.
Narrated very well. Every African American needs to know the examples of violation. This is just one of many that was well researched and brought to the public through barriers. Skloot is dedicated.
The book is read in first person and because it is factual, it is easy to confuse the reader for the author. This is especially true when the author does speak.
You probably already know he subject material before reading this review so suffice it to say that you will enjoy the read if you have made it this far.
The book doesn't delve into the topic of expectations of disposal and privacy concerning body tissue. If the laws are as it states in the book, I would certainly be very upset if the same was done to me. Concerns more specific to the plot are the inconsistencies of the stories concerning consent of Henrietta Lacks after the fact. The author admits that many facts were difficult to ascertain but this one is just missing. The story conflicts without any explanation; did she or did she not have issue with the tissue?
Would you have then or now?
Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman in Baltimore who had cancer in the early 1950's. Her cancerous cells had the ability to be cultured and grown - an ability that is not present in most cells. The rare ability for these cells to be grown in culture provided a cell line that was used in the creation of the polio vaccine and numerous other cures. The cells themselves did not provide the cure, the cells provided a means in which researchers could study a disease and develope a cure. The book was written because for years, the identity of the donor of these cells was only known as Hela. Neither Henrietta or anyone in her family received and compensation or, until relatively recently, any notoriety for these cells. The author fairly protrays that, for the era in which these cells were obtained, there was nothing wrong, illegal or underhanded going on. Procedures such as informed consent were non existent in the 1950's. I was left with the feeling that the Lack's family should receive some compensation for Henrietta's cells. Not because they have a legal right to compensation (which is questionable) but because it is the right thing to do.
Although the book is supposed to be about Henrietta, almost half (sometimes seemed like more) of the book is about one of Henrietta's daughters. This may interest those who develop a personal interest in the Lacks clan, but has little to do with the cells and was distracting.
You will be disappointed if you want to learn about the cells themselves, as the author only provides general descriptions and there is little technical information provided...this book is about people. That being said, there are some very good sections where the truly unethical behavior of doctors using these and other cells is described. They are quite disturbing stories.
The last hour of the book is a discussion by the author over the ethics of cells and tissues and who really owns them.
I enjoy literary fiction with character depth and psychological exploration. I am in my 50s, work in psychology, and love the outdoors.
This book was not a good story because it had too much science and not enough science to be a good science book. I kept waiting for the characters to be developed and none of them were. Overall, this was not engaging. This story could be told in a half hour.
This is partially a biography of Henrietta Lacks who died in 1951 of cancer. It is also a story of medical ethics and science. Reading the story through contemporary eyes I can easily see the injustice of the situation. However, tissue has been taken from me following surgery and other proceedures and used in someway(s) - forever unknown. This was not the Tuskegee syphillis sort of misrepresentation, but the deception (real or imagined; by design or default) had dramatic effects on the family and heirs.
The most moving passages for me involved the adjustments that various family members were forced to make as a result of learning of Ms. Lacks' circumstances. The narrative enabled me to understand the ingredulity and misperceptions linked one to the other.
Other sections relating the ethical issues raised by this situation and the subsequent institutional responses are very timely, contemporary , and important.
Well read, clearly written, and informative. This is a very good book deserving of every listener's attention.