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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by…

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (edition 2011)

by Rebecca Skloot

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7,988569406 (4.14)2 / 734
Title:The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Authors:Rebecca Skloot
Info:Broadway (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 400 pages
Collections:Main Collection
Tags:Human experimentation, cancer

Work details

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

  1. 130
    The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (kidzdoc)
  2. 50
    Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington (lives4laughs, fannyprice)
  3. 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.
  4. 40
    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)
  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 by Atul Gawande (Othemts)
  8. 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.
  9. 20
    The Plutonium Files: America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War by Eileen Welsome (barbharris1)
  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. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 00
    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)
  14. 00
    The Juggler's Children: A Family History Gene by Gene by Carolyn Abraham (sboyte)
  15. 11
    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.
  16. 00
    The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry (LKAYC)
  17. 12
    The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (macart3)
    macart3: Deals with bioethics and human experimentation without others' consent.
  18. 04
    The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy (Othemts)

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Showing 1-5 of 563 (next | show all)
It's amazing how much research Rebecca Skloot poured into this book. I doubt a more thorough account could ever be written. But that bulk of research also weighs down the book. While I understand that a measure of information on cell lines and their importance to medicine is necessary to the greater context of the story, the more interesting parts of the book are those that delve into the Lacks family history and Deborah Lacks' journey of discovery. I think the book would have been stronger overall if the focus had stuck to the human interest elements and not strayed off into scientific and legal details quite so much. ( )
  trwm | Oct 6, 2016 |
“Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multimillion-dollar industry. More than twenty years later, her children found out. Their lives will never be the same.”
-Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells were taken by doctors without her knowing in 1951. Those cells became one the most important resources for medicine and are still alive today.

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks", by Rebecca Skloot, is one of the most capturing non-fiction books of our time. Skloot does not only provide detailed knowledge of her cells, but of her entire life and those of her children as well. Skloot demonstrates years of difficult research and passion for her work. She even mentions a few stories of how she obtained that information right in the text.

There are few themes of this book as it is non-fiction, although there is one particular theme that I can relate to. At the start of the book, Henrietta Lacks goes with her gut and knows that something is wrong with her body. She soon travels to the doctor to find that her instincts were right. This teaches us to trust our instincts especially when you think something is wrong.

I would recommend this book to people that love science and genealogy because much of the book discusses her cells and I myself, find that topic fascinating. I would not recommend this book to someone who does not like non-fiction because although the book is very well-written, there is a lot of information and details to process and it may become confusing for some. ( )
  allyw2 | Sep 12, 2016 |
This is book that is almost perfect. We have a very interesting subject, a nice mix of human interest story to Science, plus an incredible ethical problem that has no good answers.

First, this is an amazing story. Its not just a story about Henrietta Lacks, but the story of her family and her station in life. The story of the poor black American recently off the tobacco farms in early 1950's is one that isn't often told. How that situation affected generations of her family is also not told. In ways it was eye opening. Its so easy to judge a group of people on what they don't know, between the scientists that came and took samples without an explanation - to how society failed to help them out of poverty.

Its a sad story - that a family has no idea how important their mother's cells were to science, how many people were saved - but also how much money was made - and them not seeing a dime of it.

Which leaves the question - was what was done immoral? The author makes no case for or against- she discusses both sides, the ethics of the day (and even the ethics of this era). Henrietta was given the best possible care based on her station in life. The treatment she was given was standard for the day (for both black and white people), even taking a sample cells for culture was within the norm, regardless of race. However, how scientists would keep coming back for more samples from the family, without explaining why (Henrietta's daughter thought they were testing for cancer). Is this ethical? I don't know. But it is heartbreaking.

The author tells the story with compassion, and is very upfront about her biases. Including herself in the story allowed a reader to view this family as something other than poor, impoverished ignorant people - but as a family utterly confused about the use of their mother's cells. If Rebecca hadn't written about it - I'm not sure if this family would ever find closure.

This was a book selected for my workplace Book Club. It garnered a lot discussion, and I believe it was the highest rated book so far. ( )
1 vote TheDivineOomba | Sep 10, 2016 |
What most stood out for me was learning more about the inhumane and horrifying things done to minority ethnic groups as well as mentally ill and the poor in terms of medical research. I don't believe we are far removed from the Nazis. Also heartbreaking to read of people in such poverty. Wouldn't it be just if just a percentage of the money earned off those cells were used to improve the lives of Henrietta Lacks' family? ( )
  Luke_Brown | Sep 10, 2016 |
Review to follow.

Probably more of a 3.5* because the book didn't need added emotional manipulation by the author. The story itself was hard-hitting enough. ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 563 (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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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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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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