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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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6,652461565 (4.15)2 / 677
Title:The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Authors:Rebecca Skloot
Info:Broadway (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Medicine, Hx, biography

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. 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)
  5. 30
    Body Hunters: How the Drug Industry Tests Its Products On the World's Poorest Patients by Sonia Shah (legxleg)
  6. 63
    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.
  7. 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.
  8. 31
    Better by Atul Gawande (Othemts)
  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.
  15. 12
    The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (macart3)
    macart3: Deals with bioethics and human experimentation without others' consent.
  16. 04
    The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy (Othemts)

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English (457)  German (1)  Japanese (1)  Swedish (1)  Piratical (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (462)
Showing 1-5 of 457 (next | show all)
Impressive in both the writing and reporting. An easy read filled with fascinating information about biology, research, race, and poverty. ( )
  amydelpo | Dec 9, 2014 |
(33) This is an interesting non-fiction account of the legacy of the first immortal cells grown in culture in the 1950's. It is an accessible telling of the state of the science, the bioethics, and medical research that reads like a novel. The woman who unknowingly became the donor of the first cells to live forever was poor and black with a cheating' husband and four children who loved and needed her. She died a horrible death in the Negro ward of Johns Hopkins from an aggressive adenocarcinoma of the cervix. Her cervical cancer cells lived on and on - contributing to groundbreaking medical research in oncology and immunology. Her family knew nothing about it.

Journalist Rebecca Skloot decides to retell the story - apparently it had been told before in a BBC documentary as well as a Rolling Stones article in the 70's. She befriends the family and gains their trust, especially of Henrietta's youngest daughter and she puts together the story of what the knowledge did to the family and the ethical issues the HeLa cell line has raised. The friendship with the family for me was the roughest part. I don't mean she should of sugar-coated the Lacks family and I guess she was objective - but I am sure poor Henrietta would not have been pleased by how her children were depicted.
Was the vernacular necessary? I came away with the feeling that Deborah et al. were a bit made fun of. As well as the Chinese post-doc who's English was poor. I don't think that was Ms. Skloot's intent but it was a bit inelegantly done.

Anyway, overall interesting, easy reading which only just scratches the surface of fascinating subject matter, not the least of which is the racism which has been almost intrinsic to medicine; such paternalism; almost a master and slave type dynamic. Anyway. . I digress. A good read especially for medical students. ( )
  jhowell | Nov 28, 2014 |
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a hybrid book about medical science and biography. The book contrasts several diverging lines, around racial issues in the United States. The book contains many shocking facts, and shockingly graphic descriptions of medical conditions. As a result, the book is not entirely free from sensationalism.

The sensationalism is conjoined with a sentimentality that is at once appropriate, but with a peculiar twist. This twist originates in the conditions the relatives of the object of the study have made to share their story with the author. She does not achieve that entirely successfully.

Science writing shares with medical science a general focus on the object, as opposed to the subject. The experiment, the discovery, the method is always more important than the people involved. The book describes the history of cancer research, particularly the successes in medical research based on the use of a strain of cells that has always been known, more or less anonymously as the HeLa cells.

The author's research into the origin of the HeLa cells literally means the opening of a Box of Pandora. Obviously, anonimity in medical procedures and medical science must serve a purpose. As the quest of "test tube babies" for their biological fathers shows, and breach of anonimity can cause all kinds of painful conflicts. Fortunately, such issues play no role, as yet, in organ transplants and blood transfusions. But it is not unimaginable that it one day might.

The United States has a shameful history of dealing with African-American people, whom they treated very badly until very recently, or even into the present. The US has a reputation of being a type "Wild West" of lawlessness which lasted until the end of the Nineteenth century, and some of its inability to treat its citizens as equals pervades until the middle of the Twentieth century, as late as the mid-1960s, when the Jim Crow laws were finally abolished in 1965. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks contains some shocking descriptions of the ways in which American doctors ignored the Nuremberg laws which forbid experimenting on patients without their consult, and neglecting and deliberately withholding treatrment from African-American patients in experiments which ended with the unnecessary suffering and death of those patients, as in the Tuskegee study. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks describes the beginnings of cancer research and treatment through, initially, the 1950s and 1960s, using the HeLa cells and injecting them in experimental fashion into patients unaware of the medical procedures and experiments they were submitted to.

The HeLa cells were originally takes from an African American woman, named Henrietta Lacks. The first part of the books is devoted to the biography of Mrs Lacks. Thus, the author turns the spot light from the object onto the subject: "the cells" get a face. And, a pretty face it is. However, Skloot's biography drags out every sordid detail about the life of Henrietta Lacks life and death.

In a apparently entirely objective descriptions, investigating the causes of the resilience of the HeLa cells the author reveals that, while 90% of adults become infected with at least one strain of human papillomavirus (HPV), Mrs Lacks was infected with multiple strains (p.212) On the next page, the author writes up what is in the mind of the relatives: namely that the disease was "the Lod's way of punishing Henrietta for leaving home (...) the wrath of the Lord.

Throughout the book, the author depicts the decendent family members as a bunch of the lowliest simpletons, emotionally unstable, financially insecure, and eccentric: a class of degenerates. In the meantime, the author has by inference imposed the firm impression on the reader that Henrietta Lacks was a promiscuous lovey.

In Henrietta Lacks' suffering, she was described as if "she had been possessed by the Devil of pain itself." (p.85). This chapter describes the incredible progress of the cancer in Mrs Lacks body, in tremendous graphic detail, descriptions which are outright shocking. The title of the chapter is "The Devil of pain itself", a suggestive abbreviation, as it links the horror of her condition and suffering to demonize Henrietta Lacks and prepare the reader for the verdict of the Lord's wrath.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a peculiar book that has no clear point of focus. The books consists of the descriptions of cancer research, centred on the history and role of the HeLa cells, the biography of Henrietta Lacks, and the research of the author documenting the life of Henrietta Lacks and dealing with the descendant family in the process. These three ingredients create a peculiar dymanic, of both attraction and repulsion, and a strong undercurrent of racism. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Nov 28, 2014 |
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is easily one of the best nonfiction books I've ever read (or listened to, as this was an audiobook). Deeply moving, I experienced so many emotions while listening to this book: shock, outrage, sympathy, anger, frustration, fear, astonishment, enlightenment and wonder. I was astounded when I read about how the cancerous cells of a young, poor, black woman were used after her death, and without her consent, to develop vaccines and other equally valuable medical and scientific breakthroughs to benefit countless people, while her own family languished in abject poverty. Henrietta's cells are still alive today and continue to be used although she died in 1951. They have been multiplied to a number that if measured, according to one assertion, would wrap around the earth three times!! That's a whole lot of cells considering the fact that about 5,000 could fit on the tip of a pin. Although most of us have probably benefited in one way or other from Henrietta's cells in the form of medicines, vaccines, etc., the problem is her family didn't get anything, and could not even afford medical care. Most of them didn't even have medical insurance. This is unjust and disconcerting considering the family never truly consented to having Henrietta's cells used for medical research, her name (or by extention, theirs) revealed, and her privileged medical information exposed to the world. This was clearly an invasion of privacy in the severist form and my heart went out to the family. I learned so much while listenting to this book; terms such as bioethics, civil liberties, and informed consent were spoken of. I found myself thinking about how important it is to take a closer look at documents that are presented for signature before having medical procedures performed in doctors' offices, hospitals, etc. I also pondered how some medical professionals and others related to the field can take advantage of the minimally educated, unsuspecting and underprivileged individuals to advance their own objectives; exploiting those who lack knowledge of complex medical terminology and biological science without regard for the humiliation, pain and suffering they may cause to fellow human beings in the process. I came away from the book feeling sad, as though the story was somehow incomplete in some way. I wanted more justice for the family-for them to have been compensated for the way they were dealt with. I salute Rebecca Skloot for taking on such a monumental task as writing this book which I read took roughly 10 years of research before its completion. I felt it was masterfully written and I recommend it to anyone breathing. ( )
  Lauigl | Nov 25, 2014 |
Discussion of this book at the Willett Free Library on Saturday, Aug. 2, at 10am.

There's a lot to talk about! ( )
  jpe9 | Nov 5, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 457 (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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