The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
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I'd heard about Lacks' cells long ago, probably via a Reader's Digest article, but it only dealt with the unusual properties of her cells. This book covers all that, and much more, focusing primarily on the lives of everyone involved - Lacks herself, her family, the doctors - including a close look at their situation at the time and where the surviving family members are now. In some respects it's a scientific triumph, and in others a horror story - the discovery that the HeLa cells were so insanely robust that they'd effectively contaminated a HUGE percentage of labs around the world was nothing short of terrifying, and while it hasn't (that we know of) produced any B-movie franken-bugs it did terrible damage to ongoing experiments that had to start over.
The suffering that Lacks went through was pretty horrifying too, and the troubles of her family members didn't stop with her death; the book made me feel as if I'd met them all, and the author's persistence and patience vs. the reluctance of the family to get involved with a public that hadn't done them any good at all was quite remarkable.
Science, history, and a very personal biography - fascinating story.
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