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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (edition 2011)

by Rebecca Skloot

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,387452607 (4.15)2 / 659
Member:missjomarch
Title:The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Authors:Rebecca Skloot
Info:Broadway (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 400 pages
Collections:Read and reviewed., Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

Work details

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Recently added byldeana, private library, MaowangVater, syaffolee, elya33, sncase1, blog_gal, KRoan, ShandaB
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    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)
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    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)
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    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.
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English (448)  German (1)  Japanese (1)  Catalan (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (452)
Showing 1-5 of 448 (next | show all)
In 1951 a doctor at the Johns Hopkins Hospital removed tissue samples from patient Henrietta Lacks, just prior to treating her for cervical cancer with radium. The samples were passed along to the lab for a biopsy. In this lab, under the direction of George Gey, cancer researchers were attempting to grow cultures of tissue outside the body. The cells from Lacks, labeled using the first two letters of her first and last name as HeLa, did something that had eluded the researchers for three decades. They grew. And they continued to grow. Henrietta, however, died soon afterward. The cell culture at first shared freely with other researchers soon became a staple item for researchers, and an extremely profitable item for commercial suppliers.

Twenty-two years after Henrietta’s death in 1973, her family was shocked to discover that she had become famous among medical researchers, and that her cells were making some people very wealthy. Most upsetting to them was that a hospital and its white staff had taken, without permission, cells from Henrietta, a poor black woman, and now white people were getting rich off those cell, while her own descendants and family could not afford health care for themselves. Coming soon after the news of the Tuskegee syphilis studies, it was a confirmation to them that their mother had been used and exploited because of her race and poverty.

So, in 1999 when twenty-three-year old white reporter Rebecca Skloot first tried to contact members of her family, the initial response she received was suspicious and hostile. Nevertheless the desire to learn more about her mother of Henrietta’s daughter Deborah born just before her mother’s death, and Skloot’s persistence led to a partnership that resulted in this book. It was an intense and emotional partnership with repeated flashes of suspicion, joy, and sorrow as they uncovered the history of Henrietta: her childhood in Clover, Virginia, the move north to Baltimore, and trials of her family. This is told as a memoir by Skloot, as a witness to the effects on the Lacks’ family life. This first person narration makes it more emotionally powerful than her crisp and effective description of the research and the medical, scientific, legal, social and ethical issues arising from the continuing life of the HeLa cells. In laboratories around the globe, cells that came from Henrietta’s body are still alive and growing six decades after her death. ( )
  MaowangVater | Jul 27, 2014 |
It's been interesting reading this at the same time as [b:The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry|222637|The Seven Daughters of Eve The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry|Bryan Sykes|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1386919940s/222637.jpg|2826627]. Both are nonfiction books that focus on genetics and the information scientists can get from people's cells. But Rebecca Skloot is an experienced science writer, while Bryan Sykes is a scientist, and it shows in the less scintillating writing. Skloot delves into the medical science as well as the social science behind the story, delivering a scathing account of how blacks were/are treated by the white medical establishment as well as a fascinating story of how the HeLa cells were discovered and the myriad medical advances they made possible. She brings the family's trials and tribulations alive as we hear their own stories in their own words. ( )
  Maggie.Anton | Jul 18, 2014 |
*Disclaimer*: I know many people love this book for its whistleblower aspects. And I totally agree that some whistles needed to be blown. I just had a major problem with...a few things.

I found the science of the book intriguing -- it encouraged me to look up things, like the Tuskegee syphilis study, on my own. I learned quite a bit, science-wise.

But, Deborah Lacks is weird--or at least, the way she is portrayed in this book is weird. I hate the way everyone tiptoes around her like she's some bastion of the family. Too much incest and rape and poverty. I know it's reality and not drummed up for drama, but the family had tools to educate themselves and they ignored it. And the father, Henrietta's husband, "Day," just sat there and stared out the window while Deborah was raped by her cousin. I found that insanely appalling -- but the author just stated it and carried out without judgement. I guess she is leaving it up to us to judge, and heck yeah, I'm going to judge.

Overall, I found the Lacks's overly concerned with money. The first thing overtly stated by them was money and it's the common theme throughout the book. No one cared about Henrietta until they got wind of how popular her cells were. They don't care about her as a person (they never did) but they care about how much money she can bring them. They are despicable.

Henrietta herself seemed like a very weak but overall kind, if uneducated, woman. I don't buy the author's references to her bring a strong woman, at all. If life were a road in front of her, Henrietta lived in a shack about fifty yards in front of it, occasionally glancing at it, but overall not bothering to step onto it and see where it takes her. ( )
  amandacb | Jul 14, 2014 |
This is the true story of the woman whose cells form the very foundation of much current medical knowledge. As a librarian and a lifelong reader, I heard much about it, but didn't think I would find it interesting. When it showed up on a cart outside my office I decided to give it a try and was pleasantly surprised.

A balanced mix of science and family, of medicine and faith and belief, it's a great story of a people, of what happened, and didn't happen, to Henrietta Lacks and to her family, and what science, and private enterprise, owes people. ( )
  JeanetteSkwor | Jun 22, 2014 |
What an interesting book that shows the human side of science. ( )
  INorris | Jun 22, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 448 (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 editionsconfirmed
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.
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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No descriptions found.

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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