the immortal mortal

Reading is fun. Reading is much more fun when you don’t have to balance the weight of a 363 page book against handlebars of the gym’s stationary bike.

Since snagging a much coveted e-reader on loan from my local library, I’ve become addicted to reading in any and all places (I read an entire chapter in line at the grocery store yesterday and another few chapters waiting for a lecture to begin last weekend. Just think how many books I could have read waiting for buses in Pittsburgh a few years ago!).

Of course, since this e-reader is only a 2-week loaner, it came preloaded with books ranging from the classics such as Moby Dick to the children’s classics such as Little Women. Surprisingly, it also came loaded with hot-off-the-press publications such as this critic’s choice “best book of 2010” non-fiction piece I cannot get enough of: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

The book  – about the cancerous cells stolen from a poor, uneducated, gorgeous dying woman’s cervix in the “colored ward” at John Hopkins in 1951 and how these cells lived on and replicated in such massive quantities that nearly every lab around the world has worked with her (HeLa) cells, and still her descendants are uninsured while their mother and grandmother is the reason for so many modern day miracles – presents it’s premise and findings within the first 100 pages, and yet, more than 2/3 of the way in, new morsels of information are still revealed.

Although I’ve been reading this for a week now, the thought that this all (the lies, the injustice, the sickening social and living conditions in rural Virginia and urban Baltimore) took place just 50 years ago (and much more recently in some cases!) sickens me. And yet, for so many reasons, I am grateful for the gross misuse of power of the doctors and medical researchers named in this book because without them, chemotherapy treatments, stem-cell research, invitro-feritization and the polio vaccine may not exist.

It’s certainly a book that will raise your eyebrows, have you shaking your head and perhaps planning a trip to visit the unmarked grave of Henrietta so you can shed some tears and give thanks.

If you’re interested, read an excerpt or learn more about the author, Rebecca Skloot.

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