Book Review: ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot


Book Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Author: Rebecca Skloot

Genre: Non-fiction (science/biography)

Summary: Henrietta Lacks has made possibly the biggest contribution to medical science ever, yet little is known about who she is, where she came from, or how her cells came to be integral in the polio vaccine and cancer research (among many, many, many other scientific advancements and experiments). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks delves into the history behind HeLa cells and the life of Henrietta Lacks, and of her family who were ignorant of Henrietta’s role in modern science for decades after her death.

Favourite Scene: This is a non-fiction book with narrative elements detailing Henrietta’s life and Skloot’s experiences piecing it all together. My favourite ‘scene’ is Skloot’s description of Deborah and Zakariyya visiting Dr Christoph Lengauer (with Skloot) and seeing – for the first time – their mother’s cells.

Favourite Character: This is a non-fiction book so the characters are real! I do admire Deborah immensely – her passion and her determination are amazing and Skloot does a fabulous job in sharing her experiences and interactions with this amazing, “larger than life” woman.

Review:  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is extremely well-written. I am far from a science-y person and have never heard of HeLa cells or anything like it, so for the book to be captivating and interesting to me is really something. Skloot explains things really well – she doesn’t ‘talk down’ but she also doesn’t assume extensive scientific knowledge of her audience. I was expecting it to be a little difficult to understand but it was so easy to follow – a great testament to Skloot’s style of writing and explanations. I found The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to be fascinating, intriguing, and thoroughly enjoyable. It actually made me want to study science so I could understand more! Highly recommended – even for the non-science-y people out there!