"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."

-C.S. Lewis

What we read has such an impact on us, and I am always on the lookout for something that will inspire me to be a better person. Here is a sampling of books that have been in the teetering stack sitting on top of what is rumored to be my bedside table.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

To say that this book was a page-turner is a definite understatement. I'm going to be wholly honest and admit that I picked this one up solely because I thought the title was interesting, and I was captivated by the picture of the young woman on the cover.

As it happens, that woman - Henrietta Lacks - isn't just a fascinating picture. In her lifetime, it was apparent that she was an amazingly inspirational woman. And then there's the little matter of her cells....

A sample of Mrs. Lacks' cells taken during a biopsy is the only line of cells that has been deemed "immortal", meaning that they have not died off after 50 generations of division. In fact, since 1951, her cells have been used for so many medical breakthroughs that most - if not all - of us, have been affected by these cells. I had never heard of the HeLa cells before this book, but they are famous in the scientific and medical communities because of their widespread use in research. The list of medical advancements that are linked to HeLa starts with the polio vaccine, and just builds from there.

This book is a very well-researched account of the life of Henrietta Lacks, the life of her cells after her death, and the effects on her family. It is also a very thought-provoking discussion of race and class in America.

As if those issues weren't enough, the book brings to light a subject which most of us know nothing about - although we should. Neither Henrietta Lacks nor her family knew what those cells were being used for. For that matter, neither do any of us know what is being done with tissue and blood that is removed from our bodies during even simple procedures. And yet, most of us have tissue or blood samples in storage somewhere.

The debate over ownership of tissue samples should be more public. Because like Henrietta Lacks, we are all much more than a conglomeration of cells. For me, that was the true message of this book.

Five out of five stars.