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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
8,907595338 (4.15)2 / 786
  1. 140
    The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (kidzdoc)
  2. 50
    Medical Apartheid 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 (590)  German (1)  Japanese (1)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  Catalan (1)  All (595)
Showing 1-5 of 590 (next | show all)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of the famous (or infamous) immortal line of cells known as HeLa, the woman from they were taken, her family and the growing relationship between the author and Henrietta's daughter, Deborah. It is well-paced story that moves easily between the story and the biography. By far the most powerful part of the story is the relationship between Deborah and Rebecca Skloot. The climax of this is as riveting and emotionally charged as anything you will ever read. This is a brilliant, moving book. ( )
  Scott_Hercher | Nov 25, 2017 |
I'd give it 5 stars except I like to reserve that designation for books that knock me for a loop. This story about a poor black woman's cancer cells were preserved for research and used for countless cures the world over, without the donor's knowledge. Henrietta Lacks also received no money for these cells.

I love that the book is a science story with a fantastic history but it also tells a story of Lack's family, who Sloot admired and respected tremendously. ( )
  Bakhtin | Oct 24, 2017 |
The science and ethics part of the book was interesting, but the family story went on for too long and took away from the overall story for me. ( )
  Nlan | Oct 5, 2017 |
I was impressed by the readability of this work of non-fiction. It was true to the people and issues, just as was promised and intended. ( )
  lissabeth21 | Oct 3, 2017 |
In the 1950s, a poor African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks went to Johns Hopkins hospital for treatment of cervical cancer. Without her knowledge, some of her cancerous cells were scraped from her body, put into culture, and grown. As her cells multiplied at astounding rates, they were distributed throughout the country and came to be influential in many medical research studies from creating the polio vaccine to mapping DNA. Meanwhile, her children suffered the loss of their mother at a young age and consequently grew up in poverty and abuse, lacking education and health care. Science writer Rebecca Skloot made it her mission to get Henrietta's story told and her decades of research lead to this book.

This was such a fantastic read. It was thought-provoking and led to many questions that lack easy answers (particularly those related to biomedical ethics) and no clear-cut "bad guys." It is scientific and though some of that science was a bit over my head, the book is not bogged down with excessive details that are too hard to understand. Skloot also provides a great deal of historical details to place everything into context. And last but certainly not least, the Lacks family plays a large role in the book, making the book ultimately a human story of suffering and of hope.

The book is not told strictly in chronological order, but it flows in a way that makes perfect sense. I was very impressed with the writing and the storytelling. After years of hearing hype about this book, I was a little bit hesitant that it would not be able to live up to that, but it did and then some.

Photographs, extensive notes, a timeline, and other back matter make for a well-rounded nonfiction book that allows the reader to examine more on their own if desired. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Sep 23, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 590 (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 twll 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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