About the Book & Author
Each year, a faculty advisory committee selects a book to be read by all incoming first-year students before they arrive. The goals of this program are to—
Provide a common intellectual experience
Engage in interdisciplinary dialogue and debate
Build community around a shared understanding of relevant issues
Celebrate the written word
Offer opportunities for students to reflect on their roles as readers and learners
Encourage campus-wide engagement with the book’s theme
For our second selection, the Montclair Book Faculty Advisory Committee chose The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.
We hope you enjoy reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as much as we did!
In the trailer for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot says: "It's a story about family and it's a story about what happens when you lose a mother ... children trying to learn about their family, while at the same time you're learning that you actually benefitted from their mother's death. Every single person out there--there's not a single person in the world, really, who hasn't benefited in some way from these cells." The woman Skloot is talking about here is, of course, Henrietta Lacks, and the cells are the now famous "HeLa" cells.
Described as a "poor black tobacco farmer" from a small-town in Virginia, Henrietta Lacks walked into the public ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951 with a rapidly growing tumor. Months later, she died of cervical cancer. But her cells--taken by a surgeon without her or her family's consent--are still alive and reproducing today. Those "HeLa" cells have, as Skloot points out in the Prologue to the book, "helped with some of the most important advances in medicine" in the last hundred years, including the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilization.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells Henrietta's story, described on the website for this award-winning book, as "a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. It’s a story 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’re made of."
Skloot spent more than ten years researching and writing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which became a New York Times bestseller and was named a best book of 2010 by numerous publications.
Rebecca Skloot is an award-winning science writer and has worked as a science correspondent for PBS, NPR, and other news organizations. She has degrees in biological sciences and creative nonfiction and has taught both creative writing and science journalism at various universities. Skloot also founded the Henrietta Lacks Foundation.
Visit Rebecca Skloot's website for more information about this book and author.
Excerpts from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
"The Miracle Woman" (excerpt in O, the Oprah Magazine)