portrait of Henrietta Lacks with lines building on her image to a grid of connected dots

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

Start Free Trial

What is the main idea of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

The main idea of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a mixture of Lacks's biography and an exploration of race, medical research, and ethics in medicine.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an amazing book, and the general public found it amazing as well. The book spent an astonishing seventy-five weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The book stayed on that list for good reason, too. It clearly and cleanly tells readers about the personal life of Henrietta Lacks and some of her family while mixing in the complexities of medical research and medical ethics. It might not be fair to say that the book has a singular main idea, because author Rebecca Skloot gives equal emphasis to the biographical parts and the research and ethics.

When Rebecca Skloot first began researching and writing about Henrietta Lacks, her goal was mainly to provide readers with biographical information about Lacks family. The HeLa cell line had already become incredibly important to medical science, and Skloot wanted to tell the story of the woman behind the cell line. As Skloot dug more and more into Lacks, her family, and the cell line, it became more clear that the medical community took advantage of Lacks and her cells.

Skloot shows readers how those wrongs were never truly righted and how the Lacks family continued to suffer even though medical research was booming due to Lacks's harvested cells. While the book does a wonderful job of walking readers through biographical information about Lacks and her family, the book does an equally wonderful job of propelling readers to care about ethics in medicine and research.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team