In The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks (Crown, $26), Rebecca Skloot skillfully weaves the story of a poor black tobacco farmer treated for cervical cancer in the 1950s with the persistent controversy of tissue ownership and the sale of biomedical products. The effect of Henrietta’s “immortality” on her Baltimore family, especially her daughter Deborah, will resonate with readers. Skloot carefully balances Henrietta’s story with the history of biomedical research connecting the unauthorized use of Henrietta’s cells to contemporary biomedical conundrums. Without her or her family’s knowledge, Henrietta’s cell line, called HeLa, were disseminated widely in the scientific community and employed for countless experiments. This is at once a moving personal story, an astounding piece of journalism, and an absorbing yet lucid look into the world of scientific research.
CARRYING THE HEART is a roving body systems miscellany by a disarming doctor of the old guard. F. Gonzalez-Crussi, a pathologist at Northwestern, writes in a lucid, Enlightenment register—marking him as someone who has read an awful lot of books written three hundred years ago. Whether you are an accomplished neurosurgeon or you skipped anatomy and physiology, this admixture of medicine, intellectual history, biography and literary criticism will leave you feeling breathlessly enthusiastic and astonishingly more intelligent (with every word you imbibe from the author's rich vocabulary). From Chopin to Nero, scatology to respiratory anomalies, frontier medicine to Victorian fashion, this anecdotal history seeks to revitalize our understanding of the body, and the curious ways we have understood (or failed to understand) its workings.
The exemplar of the nonfiction narrative, Tracy Kidder’s Strength In What Remains (Random House, $26) tells a moving story about a young man named Deogratius who escapes from death in Burundi and arrives on our shores penniless, friendless, and with no English. Through his intelligence, diligence, and sweetness, he does find friends who help him. He goes from sleeping in Central Park and delivering bags for Gristide’s to attending Columbia School of General Studies and Dartmouth Medical School. Before graduating he decided to return to Burundi and establish a health center; it is there that Kidder visits him. Deogratius’s story represents what the United States at its best has to offer the world: a haven, opportunity, and support, and Kidder feels that our country gains as much by this as the individuals assisted.