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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by…

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
10,435646432 (4.15)2 / 824
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.… (more)
Recently added byARB42SE, Kobzar, sscudder68, aeidex, M0vingon, TheEllieMo, hspeete, EnoughYear, private library, adrienne
  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 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 (640)  German (1)  Japanese (1)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (645)
Showing 1-5 of 640 (next | show all)
Since I knew nothing about HeLa cells before reading this book, I found all of the information about the cells very interesting and informative. It is truly amazing all of the research that HeLa cells have been used to develop from vaccines for polio to nuclear weapons and just about everything else in between. Her contribution to science is immeasurable.

I also liked learning about Henrietta Lacks, the woman whom the immortal cells were taken from. I did not however, find her family’s story that interesting nor did I think it added to the story of the HeLa cells. A brief summary of her children’s lives would have been enough to give the reader background about their frustrations of having Henrietta’s cells being used without her permission and with no compensation to the family while research and pharmaceutical companies made millions of dollars using her cells.

I found the afterword to be particularly interesting because Skloot looks at the ongoing debate in bioethics over who has what rights over an individual’s body tissues and subsequent research and commercialization of those tissues. These are important issues that need to be publically addressed and debated and formal legislation should be enacted so everyone is on the same page, and the public will know what their rights are when it comes to disclosure, consent and future use or compensation for of their contribution.

This is an easy, but informative read by an author who’s passion for the subject comes through. Just wished she had stayed a little more on target with the subject of the HeLa cells and not veered off so much into the personal lives of Henrietta’s family which detracts rather than adds to the veracity of the book.
( )
  tshrope | Jan 13, 2020 |
Reconstructing both the life and background of Henrietta Lacks and her family, and way in which her cancer cells became the first immortal human tissue culture, Rebecca Skloot leaves us with some serious ethical questions. ( )
  quondame | Dec 31, 2019 |
I just finished reading Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," an incredibly readable and riveting account of the personal and family story behind the cell line that has affected all of our lives via medical research, and which raises huge questions about medical ethics and consent. Kudos to Rebecca for all the massive cutting she must have had to do, as it was clear that she knew enough about her subject to be able to explain it clearly, which meant she probably had 300X the research that she had space for. Narrative science writing at its best, and I think I have not often seen a book like this with a folded and spindled and flipped structure. There's a cool timeline that runs across the first page of each chapter to help orient the reader spatially, and I really liked that touch. It seemed to provide an extra graphic aid to the reader... and I am struck by this simple tool with how much more could be done in this regard, especially with complex stories that must be told in complex ways. I like the innovation of this hybrid visual element, and I found myself composing interview questions for Skloot as I read, mostly along the lines of her structural decisions, wanting to know how she kept the timelines straight as she wrote, all the configurations she must have tried, and what the conversation with her publisher was like regarding the structure. I wanted a whiteboard to graph it out as I read, as it seemed to invite that from someone really interested in structures of books. ( )
  sonyahuber | Dec 3, 2019 |
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

Thanks to my awesome friend, Sharon Murphy Donnelly for suggesting this book.

On an October night in 1951, Henrietta Lacks died from cervical cancer. She was only 31 years old. Doctors treating her cancer at John Hopkins Hospital took some of her cells from her body, without her consent or acknowledgement, and used them for research-a common practice in 1951. Henrietta´s cells were unique-they split and grew at a much faster pace than most, making the cells very valuable. Labelled HeLa cells, they were reproduced by the billions over the following 60 years.HeLa cells were a vital part of developing the vaccine for polio, and they helped to uncover much information about cancer and other viruses. It helped lead medical advances for in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping. Today HeLa cells are sold in vials for thousands of dollars, while her family lives in poverty and obscurity.

This remarkable and eye-opening book is really several stories. Foremost, it is the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor tobacco farmer living in Clover, VIrginia. But it also the story of hospitals, like John Hopkins, using the cells and even the bodies of patients without their consent. Its a story of medical advancements, which are amazing and numerous, and its the story of the Lacks family after her death. Her other family members were also used in medical experiments.

The depth of research is amazing, yet retains an intimate and endearing feeling. Fascinating and astonishing, deserving of the many Literary Awards it has been given.

#NFNov #TIL @Clwojick @ ( )
  over.the.edge | Nov 27, 2019 |
This is a book that I never had heard of but I am so glad I read it. Our Bible Study group read it and we had a great discussion on the ethical, racial, and biblical implications of using cells without informing the person or their families of what the researchers were doing.
Worth the Read. ( )
1 vote CLDunn | Nov 8, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 640 (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 (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rebecca Sklootprimary authorall editionscalculated
Campbell, CassandraNarratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Turpin, BahniNarratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Acedo, Sara R.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grip, GöranTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Townsend, MandaPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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
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.
...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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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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