The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Book Review

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot tells the story of the womanHenriettawhose cells led a scientific revolution. Henrietta died from cervical cancer in 1951, but her cells are still used in many laboratories to this day. This book takes you through the life of Henrietta as well her children’s lives after her death. At the same time, in a parallel fashion, we learn about the many scientific advances that were made with the use of  Henrietta’s cells, which are known as HeLa cells. The ethical implications of this scientific practice are questioned throughout the book because her cells were taken without her consent. Many scientists profited and became famous in the scientific community by experimenting on Henrietta’s cells, while her family lived in poverty and suffered from health complications. Her descendants were unable to afford medical attention, yet many of the medical advances of the time traced back to Henrietta.


As biology student I think this book is fundamental to our education. I have been studying biology for the past three years, and I’ve had many lectures describing HeLa cells and the experiments they have been used for. I did not know that HeLa cells were named after Henrietta Lacks, a woman of color whose cells were taken without her consent.

This book is great for anyone who wants to know more about the ethics of science as well as the history of HeLa cells.

In addition to reading the book, you can watch a couple videos Gleeson Library owns. The library recently acquired HBO’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, starring Oprah Winfrey. The library also has a CBS news recording featuring the story of Henrietta Lacks called The Gift of Life by Jason Sacca. Both of these videos are available at the Circulation Desk of the library.

Heading image, “HeLa” by Sarah R

Furriends for Finals: SPCA Therapy Dogs are Visiting Gleeson!

Are final papers, projects, and exams finding you a bit stressed? Gleeson has some friends visiting the library this week (and next!) to help with that. Take a study break and relax with some therapy dogs (and their super awesome humans) from the San Francisco SPCA!

Wrigley, Tessa Rose, Brixton, Ollie, and Callie will take turns visiting the library on:

  • Wednesday, December 6th, 1-3pm
  • Monday, December 11th, 1-3pm
  • and Tuesday, December 12th, 1-3pm

Stop by the first floor lobby of Gleeson to say hi and hang out with these amazing pups!

Photo: Shawn Calhoun

Reframing Thanksgiving

Historically, Thanksgiving traditions were celebrated as gratitude to the gods after a successful harvest. These traditions date back to Ancient Greece and Rome; they are not unique to nor did they originate in the United States.  

As a matter of fact, the day we celebrate as Thanksgiving Day (currently) was not the first Thanksgiving celebration in America. The first Thanksgiving in America was celebrated by a group of English settlers on the day of their arrival, December 4, 1619, and was celebrated thereafter thanking God for their arrival. The “official” Thanksgiving Day was first celebrated in October 1621, after the Pilgrim’s first harvest in Plymouth Colony. The Pilgrims celebrated and feasted on the harvested food, with the Wampanoag tribe in attendance. Thanksgiving was first named as a national holiday by President Lincoln. Since then, Thanksgiving  has been celebrated on multiple dates, until Congress declared it be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. To find out more about Thanksgiving as well as other holidays take a look at Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary: Detailing More Than 3,000 Observances from All 50 States and More Than 100 Nations edited by Cherie D. Abbey.

Meeting of Governor Carver and Massasoit. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints & Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b42342 

Do we have Thanksgiving all wrong?  Sanitizing “Indians” in America’s Thanksgiving story by Sierra Adare-Tasiwoopa ápi & Melissa Adams-Campbell explains how the education system has overlooked the brutality and violence inflicted on the Wampanoag tribe by the Pilgrims. Children are told that the Pilgrims and the Native Americans lived in harmony, and this narrative chooses to not educate children on the dark side of colonization. When thinking about Thanksgiving, we usually associate it with family, gratitude and happiness. We do not think about the many Native Americans that lost their lives to foreign diseases, war, slavery, and genocide brought by colonization.

An encyclopedia entry on the Wampanoag, available through the library’s online resources, elaborates on the history of the Wampanoag tribe. Wampanoag people lived in various locations in southern New England. They began their relationship with the Pilgrims in 1620. “There began the now famous relationship between the Indians and colonists, and there occurred the celebration of the first Thanksgiving, although this was a Pilgrim religious feast that was observed, not shared, by the Wampanoag.”

Other online resources:

On this Thanksgiving, in addition to eating turkey, spending time with friends and family, and starting your holiday shopping, we invite you to view the ebook Massasoit of the Wampanoags, or read about other Native Americans. Take a look at the ebook American Indian Biographies, for example the entry on Squanto, whose life is simply fascinating, and who translated communication between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags after escaping from slavery in Spain and living in England.

Heading image, [King (Metacomet) Philip, Sachem of the Wampanoags, d. 1676, full length, standing at treaty table with white men], available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints & Photographs division.