by Laura Findlay
A “quick” post today. I wanted to tell you about the book I’m halfway through because it’s so interesting! I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about it but all in good time, right?
I’m reading ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks‘ by Rebecca Skloot. The book is a non-fiction/ semi-biography type book but it’s written like a good story. It’s hard to put down. The book tells three stories: it tells the story of the author writing her book and learning about Henrietta Lacks, and in that way tells the story of Henrietta (like a story within a story). It also tells the story of some of Henrietta’s cells, known to the science world as HeLa.
Henrietta was a black woman from a poor family in Baltimore who died in the 1951 from cervical cancer. At the time of her treatment some cells were taken from her body and used for experimentation in cell culture. It’s not clear whether she knew about this before she died. Henrietta’s cells were the first ‘immortal’ cells and because of this were grown and used in thousands of science experiments in the 50s. They were used, for example, in the creation of the polio vaccine. Her cells benefited science in innumerable ways. But of course, her family knew little about what was happening and were not compensated for her contribution to science (I haven’t finished the book so I could be wrong about this, they were certainly never compensated at the time).
To me this book is an absolute gem because it tells the story of race and science intersecting – two topics I’m fascinated by. Despite these lofty topics being the centre of the book, its accessible to a general audience and very readable. I’ll write again when I’ve finished!
Yours the procrastinating student*,
* I should be studying for my exam right now but my brain started feeling fury and I needed a break! Also cake, I need some cake.