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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by…
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
9,914632441 (4.15)2 / 806
  1. 140
    The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (kidzdoc)
  2. 50
    Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington (lives4laughs, fannyprice)
  3. 50
    The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (bunnygirl)
    bunnygirl: personal history and stories linked with the larger African American history. if you were wondering about Skloot's reference to the Lacks family being part of the Great Migration, this book explains exactly what it is and tells the stories of three families in a similar manner.… (more)
  4. 73
    Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (VenusofUrbino)
    VenusofUrbino: If you like well-researched and well-written non-fiction like "Immortal Life" then you will also appreciate Mary Roach.
  5. 40
    A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines (krazy4katz)
    krazy4katz: Reading "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," I was pained by the impoverished lives of people who still lived on plantations in the 1940s - lack of schooling, lack of health care, lack of any kind of decent housing etc. "A Lesson Before Dying" more directly addresses the life of people still living on plantations in the '40s. Even though I sort of knew this, it was an emotional shock to truly recognize that all the abuse and oppression did not end with the Civil War but was still there 80 years later.… (more)
  6. 30
    Body Hunters: How the Drug Industry Tests Its Products On the World's Poorest Patients by Sonia Shah (legxleg)
  7. 41
    Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande (Othemts)
  8. 20
    The Plutonium Files: America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War by Eileen Welsome (barbharris1)
  9. 20
    The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon by Robert Whitaker (sboyte)
    sboyte: Fascinating stories of the people behind great scientific discoveries.
  10. 10
    The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: In both books, journalists get personally involved with their subjects.
  11. 10
    The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry (LKAYC)
  12. 10
    The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It by Ricki Lewis (krazy4katz)
    krazy4katz: Both of these books capture and humanize the process of medical discovery and the experiences of the patients. Although the authors have somewhat different backgrounds — Rebecca Skloot is a journalist with an undergraduate degree in biology, whereas Rikki Lewis has a PhD in genetics — I think the discussion of the scientific issues and the ethical issues regarding informed consent would appeal to the same readers.… (more)
  13. 10
    Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South by Beth Macy (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: Unusual medical conditions and racism as experienced by African Americans in the Jim Crow South.
  14. 10
    The Juggler's Children: A Journey into Family, Legend and the Genes that Bind Us by Carolyn Abraham (sboyte)
  15. 21
    The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess by Jeff Wheelwright (LeesyLou)
    LeesyLou: If you have an interest in the social and personal ethics and background of medical care, this adds to your understanding. Minority cultures and personal medical ethics are equally poorly understood by many practitioners.
  16. 10
    Life Itself: Exploring the Realm of the Living Cell by Boyce Rensberger (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Cell cultures are being used to study diseases as well as cure them. Learn about the cell cultures called 'HeLa' in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and read about cell cultures' utility as a whole in Life Itself.
  17. 12
    The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (macart3)
    macart3: Deals with bioethics and human experimentation without others' consent.
  18. 12
    Tissue and cell donation : an essential guide by Ruth M. Warwick (Limelite)
    Limelite: Scientific discussion of medical/ethical, and other considerations regarding patients' rights and the medical profession's responsibilities on the subject, as well as other pertinent procedures.
  19. 04
    The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy (Othemts)
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English (626)  German (1)  Japanese (1)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (631)
Showing 1-5 of 626 (next | show all)
One never knows how your life (or body) will impact generations to come. This is a story which plunges the reader right into an ethical question. Perhaps because I don’t lack for money, I sympathized with Lacks family but was so impressed with how research was made possible by her cancerous cells. At the same time, if a company is making money from her cells, shouldn’t the family be able to reap some of the benefits as well. ( )
  brangwinn | Apr 18, 2019 |
In 1951, Henrietta Lacks died of cancer. Her doctors at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore took samples of her cancerous tissue which were instrumental in the development of many treatments for several diseases by nature of their extreme profligacy and imperviousness. However, Lacks' life and family were almost completely ignored by those who profited from her body. Rebecca Skloot attempts to recapture the humanity of Lacks' story and hopefully give her family some closure.
Although Skloot sometimes comes off a little white-savior-y, this book is important in exposing the world to both the remarkable discoveries scientists were able to make as the result of Henrietta's "donation" and the real human life behind the HeLa cells that made this possible. I'd have liked to have seen an afterword or something confirming Skloot's donation of at least part of the royalties from this book to Henrietta's family but that's sadly lacking. It seems white people continue to profit off the sacrifices of black bodies, and though part of the purpose of this book is to expose that very thing, one can't help but wonder whether it also contributes to that practice. ( )
  EmScape | Mar 26, 2019 |
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot — I’ve been listening to this as an audiobook for a few weeks when I’m in the car. It’s a riveting story that is incredibly well-told, both science and humanity. I wasn’t that familiar with HeLa cells before I started this book, it’s both mind-blowing how important HeLa has been for science and medicine in the last half century and heartbreaking to hear the stories about Henrietta and her family. I expected a science story with a bit of human-interest but this book also addresses legal, ethical, scientific, racial, financial aspects of HeLa.
As much as HeLa cells have shaped modern medicine, the institutional racism and the societal disregard for people of color in medicine and all facets of life is truly terrible. It’s difficult to hear their stories but so important. It would be easy to frame this as something that happened in in the past but this story is late-20th century and I know egregiously racist systems are not only historical.
This book is well-written, intensely researched, personal, touching, approachable explanation of science and how one woman’s visit to a doctor changed everything we know about medicine. 5/5 stars ⭐️ ( )
1 vote justjoshinreads | Mar 22, 2019 |
Wow, what audacity, and what hubris, to merely use a person's bodily components without permission, and indeed, apparently in spite of withheld permision, simply because the patient was on the public ward, and thus did not have to pay for treatment, acccording to the doctors who had no clue about the life, circumstances, nor even the proper name of the patient. How outrageous. Many thanks to this biology student who never lost her curiosity, and in becoming a medical journalist, followed the trail of a woman whose cells, according to her daughter, refused to be left in ignorant silence. Good work. ( )
  ShiraDest | Mar 6, 2019 |
At a bookstore on vacation (because that's how we roll), my twelve-year-old picked out this book. I was pleased, but argued that we already had a copy at home, he should pick something else. He insisted that he wanted to read it now -- while we were still on vacation. It was a used bookstore, it was only a few bucks, so I relented.

A week or so later, he called me from Grandma's house. "Have you read the book yet?" he demanded. I took it off the shelf.

This book slayed me. From the aftermath of slavery/reconstruction/Jim Crow, to that idea common enough in mid-century that the doctor was the authority and it really wasn't that important if the patient understood their diagnosis or treatment, to the shame and silence that surrounded disease, especially cancer, and still much later -- mental illness, to the ways that black communities have been both intentionally and disinterestedly sidelined into inferior housing, jobs, services...

I could go on and on.

And on.

This book deserves all the hype, what Skloot went through to get this story -- what the family went through to share it! The bravery it must have taken to open up after being taken advantage of over and over again. And the totally amazing healing that sometimes snuck through.

Full of so many revelations that will make your jaw literally drop, then turn to find the next any person to share your amazement with.

Five-star non-fiction. ( )
2 vote greeniezona | Jan 24, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 626 (next | show all)
Skloot narrates the science lucidly, tracks the racial politics of medicine thoughtfully and tells the Lacks family’s often painful history with grace. She also confronts the spookiness of the cells themselves, intrepidly crossing into the spiritual plane on which the family has come to understand their mother’s continued presence in the world. Science writing is often just about “the facts.” ­Skloot’s book, her first, is far deeper, braver and more wonderful.
 
I put down Rebecca Skloot’s first book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” more than once. Ten times, probably. Once to poke the fire. Once to silence a pinging BlackBerry. And eight times to chase my wife and assorted visitors around the house, to tell them I was holding one of the most graceful and moving nonfiction books I’ve read in a very long time.
 
Writing with a novelist's artistry, a biologist's expertise, and the zeal of an investigative reporter, Skloot tells a truly astonishing story of racism and poverty, science and conscience, spirituality and family, all driven by a galvanizing inquiry into the sanctity of the body and the very nature of the life force.
added by sduff222 | editBooklist, Donna Seaman (Dec 1, 2009)
 
Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in a “colored” hospital ward in Baltimore in 1951. She would have gone forever unnoticed by the outside world if not for the dime-sized slice of her tumor sent to a lab for research eight months earlier. ...
Skloot, a science writer, has been fascinated with Lacks since she first took a biology class at age 16. As she went on to earn a degree in the subject, she yearned to know more about the woman, anonymous for years, who was responsible for those ubiquitous cells....
 
Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society's most vulnerable people.
added by Shortride | editPublishers Weekly
 

» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rebecca Sklootprimary authorall editionscalculated
Acedo, Sara R.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Campbell, CassandraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grip, GöranTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Townsend, MandaPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Turpin, BahniNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
We must not see any person as an abstraction.
Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets,
with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish,
and with some measure of triumph.

----Elie Wiesel
from The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code
Dedication
For my family:

My parents, Betsy and Floyd; their spouses, Terry and Beverly;
my brother and sister-in-law, Matt and Renee;
and my wonderful nephews, Nick and Justin.
They all did without me for far too long because of this book,
but never stopped believing in it, or me.

And in loving memory of my grandfather,
James Robert Lee (1912-2003),
who treasured books more than anyone I've known.
First words
On January 29, 1951, David Lacks sat behind the wheel of his old Buick, watching the rain fall.
This is a work of nonfiction. (A Few Words About This Book)
There's a photo on my wall of a woman I've never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape, (Prologue)
When I tell people the story of Henrietta Lacks and her cells, their first question is usually Wasn't it illegal for doctors to take Henrietta's cells without her knowledge? Don't doctors have to tell you when they use your cells in research? (Afterword)
Quotations
...But I always have thought it was strange, if our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can't afford to see no doctors? Don't make no sense. People got rich off my mother without us even knowin about them takin her cells, now we don't get a dime. I used to get so mad about that to where it made me sick and I had to take pills. But I don't got it in me no more to fight. I just want to know who my mother was.
----Deborah Lacks
When I tell people the story of Henrietta Lacks and her cells, the first question is usually Wasn't it illegal for doctors to take Henrietta's cells without her knowledge? Don't doctors have to tell you when they use your cells in research? The answer is no--not in 1951, and not in 2009, when this book went to press.
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Book description
Non-fiction. This book is a memoir, a biography, a human interest story w/ racial, legal & moral issues. Covers the journey of the HeLa cells.
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Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer, yet her cells--taken without her knowledge--became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer and viruses; helped lead to in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks is buried in an unmarked grave. Her family did not learn of her "immortality" until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. The story of the Lacks family is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of--From publisher description.… (more)

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