You may have been hearing some of the buzz about Rebecca Skloot’s forthcoming book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. 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 for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons–as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro 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.
Abel Pharmboy has a great post on it. I have not yet read it but we all know The Skloot can write, the topic is of major importance for just about any scientist, and as Abel says,
What is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks really about? Science, African American culture and religion, intellectual property of human tissues, Southern history, medical ethics, civil rights, the overselling of medical advances? The difficulty in defining the book is also what makes so appealing to academics in both the arts and sciences.
Abel also points out the advantage to everyone of pre-ordering NOW:
Forthcoming February 2, 2010, you can pre-order from your local independent bookseller, or online via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders or Powell’s
Pre-ordering the book is a mutually-beneficial proposition.
First, Amazon, for example, is currently offering the book at a 34% discount off the retail price – almost $9 off – an offer that will disappear on the release date.
Second, I learned that all book pre-orders count toward a book’s first-week sales, the major determinant of subsequent momentum and popularity of the book. Being such a vocal booster of this book, the story, and the author, I urge you to consider pre-ordering the book in the next two weeks if you have any inkling that you will ultimately be interested in reading it.
So pre-order before February 2! Let’s help make this important book’s first week sales as big as possible. We need more of this kind of science journalism, more of this kind of telling the stories that have previously gone untold – indeed, have been buried. Kudos to Rebecca Skloot for bringing this story to the scientific community – now let’s make sure we do our job as a community and help it get as much attention as it deserves.