Rebecca Skloot, the science writer who turned the history of a cell line into a page-turning bestseller, has a new book in the works.
In Skloot’s first title, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” she unearthed the story of the ubiquitous cell line known as “HeLa.” She mixed history and biology and ethical debates with years of dogged personal research on Lacks, a poor black tobacco farmer who never knew that her cancerous cells had been used for countless scientific advances and profits.
Skloot worked for years to gain the trust of Lacks’ descendents, overcoming what seemed insurmountable barriers of past misdeeds and mistrust. She organized her own book tour when publishers thought it wasn’t worth the expense, said The Chicago Sun-Times. The book went on to sell more than 1.25 million copies to date, according to Skloot’s website, and Oprah Winfrey signed up to co-produce an HBO film adaptation.
The new book doesn’t sound as specifically targeted. It will “explore, among many other subjects, the neurology of human-animal relationships, human nature and responsibility, and the unexamined ethics of our relationship with animals,” according to a news release. And it will draw on Skloot’s years of work in veterinary medicine, “first as a nurse for animals in general practices and emergency rooms, and later as a technician in veterinary morgues and neurology labs.” The overall bent does have some parallels with her first title, though, the release says it will combine personal stories with science, medicine, ethics, and history. And Skloot said on her website that the topic is another one that has long obsessed her, that for her “that core of obsession" is the first and most important criteria for writing any story.
With Skloot’s impressive debut, the subject may not even matter that much. As Entertainment Weekly said, “[I]f Skloot can make a story about a strain of cancer cells intensely human and engaging, I’m sure she can do the same with animals.” And as Skloot herself said on Twitter, responding to congratulations, she’s excited about the book – and just needs to stop touring in connection with her first book long enough to write it.