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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (edition 2011)

by Rebecca Skloot

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,823476539 (4.14)2 / 688
Member:misskatiamay
Title:The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Authors:Rebecca Skloot
Info:Broadway (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Medicine, Hx, biography

Work details

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Recently added byjeanh12, parkercr6, private library, jMitty, Lokweesha, LizHD, Nina.Arens, kanejd, drlesley
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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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English (471)  German (1)  Japanese (1)  Swedish (1)  Piratical (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (476)
Showing 1-5 of 471 (next | show all)
A great book so far = reminds me of Destiny of the Republic = about half way through and eager to finish.
  VictoriaJZ | Mar 14, 2015 |
the story of a group of cells that has grown collectively to gargantuan weights and that has participated in most of the 20th century’s medical breakthroughs: polio vaccine, AIDS research, regrown tissue like corneas, etc.

it’s an important story that everyone should know because it touches on so many issues in contemporary society: non-consensual medical experimentation, racial medical treatment and culture, treatment of the poor, ethics of patenting living tissues/organisms, etc., etc.

i very much enjoyed learning about Mrs. Lacks and what her cells have made possible but i have to say that interjecting out-of-sync fluff about her family sometimes derailed the narrative of the importance of the cell culture and the woman from whom it came. not because i’m too sensitive or too jaded but because it was done in great detail with dialogue as if she were writing a novel and it seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the line of continually dividing cells harvested from Mrs. Lacks’s cervix in the late 1940s.

while Skloot writes clearly and effectively, she mixes and muddles the story until there really isn’t one. i think i understand that she was attempting to bring a certain sympathy of the family to the book but i felt that it failed to do so.

the latter half of the book picks itself up and shakes itself off to become more what i had thought i was getting into: a story about the story about finding out about Henrietta Lacks and her cells. Skloot spends time tracking down peripheral family members and learning their part of the story. Very interesting overall but some parts just do not need to be there in the prosey detail in which they appear. maybe she had to agree to include what she did as she did because the family demanded it or because she thought it would be the only place to record such information for perpetuity. ( )
  keebrook | Mar 10, 2015 |
Henrietta Lacks was a poor black tobacco farmer, and only 30 years old when she died from cervical cancer in 1951. What her family didn't know though until many years later, that cells were taken from her without her knowledge or consent. Those cells became known as HeLa, and were used in research to find cures for cancer, AIDS, and were used to discover the vaccine for polio. Her cells spawned a multi-billion dollar industry, yet her children and grandchildren cannot afford to pay for the health insurance to help treat diseases that their mother's cells helped to find cures or medications for.

The author spent 10 years writing this book, trying to help find answers for the family and uncover the truth surrounding her illness and death. This book was well researched, and I believe that the author genuinely had the Lacks family's best interest at heart.

This was a fascinating book, and even though I'm not usually interested in science, the author made that part of the story very readable and almost like reading a thriller. I also very much enjoyed the human side of the story, learning about Henrietta's life, and the lives of her children.

Henrietta's story really gave me a lot to think about, especially when it comes to ethics and science. It's an amazing legacy she left behind, and she deserves to be remembered and honored. As a cancer patient myself, I find myself wondering how many of the treatments I've had over the years came as a result of research using her cells. Just out of curiosity, I Googled "HeLa cells for sale" and found that just one small vial sells for over $400 at one site; I think at the very least, Henrietta's children and grandchildren deserve to at least have their health care cost covered. ( )
  mom2acat | Feb 27, 2015 |
This book successfully contrasts the success of the HeLa line of human cells that helped medicine forward greatly, and the poor circumstances of the family of the woman the cells originally were taken from. A fascinating read, although it might have been even better if it had left out all the "how I wrote this book" chapters. ( )
  wester | Feb 25, 2015 |
What an amazing book this was. It was interesting and informative as well as very entertaining. I never knew anything about HeLa cells or the Lacks family but I thought this book did a great job of telling the story from all sides and giving a lot of information that might have been boring in a really interesting way. ( )
1 vote PrescottKris | Jan 26, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 471 (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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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)

(summary from another edition)

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