rtal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot (her first book!) has been named as the Wellcome Trust book prize today. It’s just the latest richly deserved victory for this book, which is also at the top of Amazon’s best books of 2010 list,etc etc
I’m extremely pleased for Rebecca (who I don’t know personally). She has written a really fantastic book, the kind of tale you want to read. It’s about ethics, medicine, science, money and even race relations. But it’s also a well-told story, and a human one, and that’s what makes it particularly
great. “Reads like a novel” some reviews have said. Fair enough. Also reads like a (good) science book shoul
What also des
erves to be recognized and reflected on is the story of Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta was a poor African-American tobacco farmer from Virginia, who died at 31 and is buried in an unmarked grave. The remarkable thing is that cells taken from her without her knowledge have since replicated in research laboratories around the world endlessly. Called HeLa cells, they became fundamental research tools, used by scientists working on all sorts of things, from the polio vaccine, to in vitro fertilisation and gene mapping.
Incidentally, the UK and US covers couldn’t be more different for this book. Not sure which one I like best. Initially, I thought the UK one (above) was best–and certainly it suggests to me that there’s a good human story inside– but there’s also something very appealing about the bright orange
HeLa cells in the back of the US version. Now I’m not sure…