The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multimillion dollar industry. More than twenty years later, her children found out. Their lives would never be the same, Rebecca Skloot.
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as He La. 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 more than sixty years. If you could pile all He La cells ever grown onto a scale, they'd weigh more than 50 million metric tons, as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. He La cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine, uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb effects; helped lead to important advances like invitro 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 He La 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 He La 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, thestory 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 of her mother's cells. Deborah was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Had they killed her to harvest her cells? 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, capturing the beauty and drama of scientific discovery as well as its human consequences. A book so original it defies description!
The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a novel, Cathleen Schine
The Three Weissmanns of Westport are specifically, Betty Weissmann, who has just been dumped by her husband of forty-eight years, and her two grown daughters, Miranda and Annie, who quite unexpectedly find themselves the middle aged products of a broken home. When Betty is exiled from her elegant New York apartment by her husband's mistress, the three women whose lives are in varying state of disrepair and confusion, regroup in a small rundown Westport, Connecticut, beach cottage owned by Betty's wealthy and generous Cousin Lou.
The impulsive sister is Miranda, a literary agent who finds herself entangled in a serious of scandals, and the more pragmatic sister is Annie, a library director, who is compelled to move in with and keep an eye on her capricious mother and sister. As they mingle with the suburban aristocracy and wrestle with economic hard times love starts to bloom for both sisters and they find themselves struggling with the dueling demands of reason and romance.
The Boston Globe hailed Schine's most recent novel, The New Yorkers, as being "Filled with a sweetness of life." It is a perfect description, and one that also captures the spirit of The Three Weissmanns of Westport. This novel bursts with humor and surprise, woe and delight, and best of all, with characters who will stay alive in the reader's mind and heart for a long time.
See you at Rylander!