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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by…

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (edition 2011)

by Rebecca Skloot

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,527455584 (4.15)2 / 673
Title:The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Authors:Rebecca Skloot
Info:Broadway (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 400 pages
Collections:Your library, read in 2013, Kindle
Tags:science, medicine, non-fiction, read '13

Work details

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

  1. 120
    The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (kidzdoc)
  2. 50
    Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington (lives4laughs, fannyprice)
  3. 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)
  4. 62
    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)
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    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.
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  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: Race, Religion, and DNA 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 Juggler's Children: A Family History Gene by Gene by Carolyn Abraham (sboyte)
  14. 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.
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    The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (macart3)
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English (448)  German (1)  Japanese (1)  Swedish (1)  Piratical (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (453)
Showing 1-5 of 448 (next | show all)
I really enjoyed this book. It had the right mix of biographical stories, science facts, and moral questions to consider. Although non-fiction, it reads like a novel and was very engaging. Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in the 1950s. At the time of her death, the doctors at Johns Hopkins took samples of her cells and were able to successfully grow and study them in the laboratory. Her cells have been vital in medical research throughout the years, and are still growing in labs today.

I found myself thinking about the Lacks family and medical research throughout the day as I was reading the book. I felt Rebecca Skloot did weave herself and her quest to research the Lacks family a bit much into the narrative, but her perspective added insights into the family and how they felt about Johns Hopkins, reporters, and the what happened to Henrietta's cells.

This would be a great book for a book club discussion, with the potential for rich dialogue regarding the potential moral repercussions and long-term advantages to medical research in general and specifically around cell research. Highly recommended. ( )
  GovMarley | Oct 7, 2014 |
Highly recommended. ( )
  kwbridge | Sep 6, 2014 |
I didn't get around to writing this review right after I finish the book, as I usually do. I won't be as detailed as I like with this review because of this. I do however remember very distinctly that I flew through this book and was very surprised since some chapters were dense with the science of HeLa. I read one of those chapters to my boyfriend who stated "how can you read that!" I loved every bit. Many reviewers have complained that there isn't enough science background to the cells in the book but I think they missed the point of the book (which is clearly defined in the pages by the Lacks Family.) I won't go into too much detail here but the important parts of the book are the STORY and this is what makes this book so wonderful. I thought it had the perfect balance of science with a side of humanity that made me want to devour every page. I would recommend this book to anyone! ( )
  yougotamber | Aug 22, 2014 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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 |
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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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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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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