Sunday, April 21, 2013

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2013 - S

For this year’s A-Z Challenge, I have chosen to
highlight authors and their books.I have chosen ones that we, in our book club have read as a group,
separately  or have been recommended by someone
in our facebook, Book Club, ‘What to Read Next?’

I found this letter to be a very difficult one. Not because there were no authors beginning with 'S', but because there were so many. We have read several and they were all good. But, a choice had to be made.

So, the letter 'S' is for Skloot, Rebecca - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

From Amazon:
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family—especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother’s cells. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn’t her children afford health insurance?
Intimate in feeling, astonishing in scope, and impossible to put down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.

Three of us in our 'actual' Book Club, are retired registered nurses. We are all mothers to either humans, fur babies, or both. The  fact that this could actually happen and the unsettling facts exposed during the author's search for the truth and how that impacted Henrietta's family in both the past and present was almost unbelievable. 
An absolute, must read from our perspective!

If you'd like to check out or join our facebook, Book Club, please  select the link,  What to Read Next

Also considered and greatly enjoyed were:
Stein, Garth - The Art of Racing in the Rain
Sparks, Nicholas - Safe Haven, The Wedding
Sebold, Alive - The Lovely Bones 
See, Lisa - Snow Flower  and the Secret Fan
Shaffer, Mary Ann and Barrows, Annie - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
Schlink, Bernhard -The Reader
Stockett, Kathryn - The Help


  1. Sounds like a read to suggest to my book club. We did Lovely Bones. I cried like a baby!
    A to Z-ing to the end
    Peanut Butter and Whine

    1. Thanks for your comment, Connie. I too thought that was so sad. As I said, I had a hard time choosing which to highlight. Being a retired nurse, I was quite fascinated with the one I did choose.

  2. That book was a real eye opener for me. To think that so much good came from her cells. I'm sure she would be proud if she had known.

  3. This was such an interesting book! I am in the medical profession and had no idea of the impact this lady has had on all of our lives!


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