79. THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, BY REBECCA SKLOOT
Recommended by Michelle.
This book should be obligatory reading for all biology-related students and researchers. Being a med student myself, I can safely say I’ll probably be a better professional for reading it.
I knew, of course, about the HeLa cells. I even knew, on some level, that they came from a black woman; but, like so many others, it had never truly hit me that they came from a real person. As scientists, we have to emotionally distance ourselves from our patients and research subjects. It’s important and necessary, both for us and for them, that we do so, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to perform our function, but quite often we lose track of what we’re doing.
It’s also important to never forget that horrible things have been done in the name of science. Most of them are not in the distant past, either. Scientists are not magical creatures immune to bigotry and social pressure, the work we do will always reflect the way we think and the society we’re immersed in. So, even while keeping our “distance”, there should always be a point where we stop and think of these “subjects” as people; try to understand how what we’re doing affects them.
This is a very well constructed book. It’s not hermetic by any means, I’m sure people who don’t have a background in science wouldn’t have any problem following it. She explains scientific concepts clearly and concisely. It’s also worth noting that it’s not boring or obvious if you do have a background in science; those explanations are quick and straight to the point. She states the humane part of the story very eloquently, not losing any of the emotional impact because of the science part.
Her afterword is also very interesting, talking about “tissue rights” and bringing all that history to the present. We’re not exempt from our flaws, and questionable behavior is not a thing from the past.
Up next: A House Divided, by Pearl S. Buck