The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Some of the smallest elements will be bringing big ideas to Davidson this coming school year. Cells are the focus of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the Davidson 2013 Common Reading book, which all incoming Davidson students will read over the summer and discuss during orientation. Author Rebecca Skloot traverses the disciplines of science, history, and sociology in her quest to understand the full story of immortal cells – and the woman they came from.

As African-Americans living in Virginia in the 1950s, the family of Henrietta Lacks was never told that cancer cells had been removed from her body, or about their subsequent multiplication into a multi-billion dollar medical industry. The book explores cell research, informed consent, and racial prejudice in their historical roles, and examines how they continue to intersect in current medical research. Skloot contrasts the medical benefits available to patients on the receiving end of cell research with the ethical violations experienced by the Lacks family, and she raises tough questions about patient rights and the value of medical experimentation.

The spectrum of topics covered in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has provided an opportunity for the research librarians to highlight a variety of library resources related to the text. Check out our online guide to read about Rebecca Skloot and the Lacks family, bioethics, and historical and cultural aspects of Henrietta’s cells. The guide also includes a selection of video and audio that showcases how cellular movement has inspired artists and musicians. We look forward to the interdisciplinary campus discussions surrounding this book!