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Paperback The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Book

ISBN: 1400052181

ISBN13: 8601400205570

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Book Overview

Now an HBO® Film starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERHer name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Something every doctor and researcher should read

This is one of the most even handed reveiws of this topic I've read. Ms. Skloot's style is in the best narrative tradition. I literally hated to put the book down. It provides good insights into the poor relations that the biomedical industry has particularly with the African-American community and the tragedy that a loose attitude toward patient confidentiality and wishes can have. Yet her book is very even handed in discussing the damage that would occur if subject rights were asserted to the maximum. I take from this that it is high time that the research community address this in a proactive manner and develop a binding policy and statutory framework that makes clear the ground rules. I thank her for sharing such a powerful and touching story with all of us. Dr. Timothy Drevyanko, MD, MS

Thank you for this beautiful tribute to Henrietta Lacks

Wow. This book should be required reading for scientists and students of life. The true story of Henrietta Lacks and her family has finally been told, beautifully, in this book. The book encompasses science, ethics, and the story of a family who was terribly wronged in the pursuit of scientific research. I could gush about this book for pages but I'll try first to hit the main points of why this book is so remarkable in list form for the sake of brevity: 1. The author clearly developed a strong relationship with the Lacks family, which was absolutely critical to ensuring the story was told accurately and with the respect to Henrietta Lacks that was so deeply deserved. 2. The storytelling is amazingly moving despite the need to convey a lot of scientific information. It reads like fiction. 3. Ms. Skloot's research into the science is impeccable. 4. The book is FAIR. It presents the unvarnished truth, obtained DIRECTLY from as many prinicpal people involved in the story as is humanly possible. It would have been easier to simplify the story into heroes vs. villians, but Ms. Skloot deftly handles all sides of the story. For some detail: I have worked with HeLa cells in the past, but did not know even the barest information about the story of Henrietta Lacks until a few years ago. It simply was not common knowledge, until a few less ethical folks released her name and medical records to the public. This obviously should not have been done without the express permission of the Lacks family, which Ms. Skloot obtained. In the past, others have not been as ethical. The book covers Ms. Lacks' early life, how her cells came to be harvested, and what happened to both the cells and her family afterward. The contributions of HeLa cells to science are absolutely staggering and cannot be over-stated. The sections where the science was described were clear and accurate. With the story of Ms. Lacks' family interwoven, this book was fairly close to perfect. I found myself moved to tears several times because of the fate of the Lacks family and Henrietta's daughter's indomitable spirit. I do not think anyone but Ms. Skloot could have written this book. She worked with the family for over a decade in order to get the story right. This was critical, as the family had been wronged too many times in the past. Thank you for this astounding work of art. I will be donating to the Henrietta Lacks foundation in honor of the entire family, and I hope many others will read the book and be similarly moved.

Absolutely superb

Equal parts history, psychological drama, expose and character study, Rebecca Skloot's gripping debut is a deeply affecting tour de force that effortlessly bridges the gap between science and the mainstream. Her subject is the multilayered drama behind one of the most important--and in many ways, problematic--advances of modern medicine. Captivated by the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American woman whose cervical cancer cells (dubbed HeLa) were the first immortalized cells grown in culture and became ubiquitous in laboratories around the world, Skloot set out to learn more about the person whose unwitting "donation" of the cells transformed biomedical research in the last century. Her research ultimately spanned a decade and found her navigating (and to some extent, mediating) more than 50 years of rage over the white scientific establishment's cavalier mistreatment and exploitation of the poor, especially African Americans. Skloot deftly weaves together an account of Lacks's short life (she died at age 31) and torturous death from an extremely aggressive form of cancer; the parallel narrative concerning her cells; and the sometimes harrowing, sometimes amusing chronicle of Skloots's own interactions with Lacks's surviving (and initially hostile and uncooperative) family members. Moving comfortably back and forth in time, the richly textured story that emerges brings into stark relief the human cost of scientific progress and leaves the reader grappling with many unanswered questions about the ethics of the scientific endeavor, past and present. While the goals of biomedical research may be noble, how they are achieved is not always honorable, particularly where commercialization of new technologies is at stake. Skloot offers a clear-eyed perspective, highlighting the brutal irony of a family whose matriarch was a pivotal figure in everything from the development of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine to AIDS research to cancer drugs, yet cannot afford the very medical care their mother's cells helped facilitate, with predictable consequences. The LA Times book review section named Skloot one of its four "Faces to Watch in 2010," an honor that, based on "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" is well-deserved. Five stars--it was hard to put down this compelling, admirable and eminently readable book.

Captivating, engrossing, fascinating, heartbreaking, englightening...ALL in one stellar book!

This is hand's down one of the best books I've read in years and I wish I could give it more stars. It is going to be difficult to capture exactly what makes this book so outstanding and so captivating, but I'm going to give it my best shot. First of all I want to say I am STUNNED that this is the author's first book. She has poured ten years of her heart, soul, mind and her life in general in this book. What she has given birth to in that long period of labor is worthy of her sacrifice and honors Henrietta Lacks and her family. Other reviews have given the outline of this amazing story. What I want to stress is that Ms. Skloot has navigated the difficult terrain of respecting Mrs. Lacks and her family, while still telling their story in a very intimate, thorough, factual manner. What readers may not know is that the Lacks family isn't just a "subject" that the author researched. This is a real family with real heartaches and real challenges whose lives she entered into for a very long season. The Lacks' family has truly benefitted from the author's involvement in their life and that is something I am very appreciative of. I believe that Ms. Skloot was able to give Henrietta's daughter, Deborah, a real sense of healing, deliverance, peace and identity that she had been searching for her whole life...that story alone would have made the book for me. It would have been very easy for the author to come across as condescending or patronizing or possibly as being exploitive as the wrote about a family that is poor and uneducated. Instead the story is infused with compassion and patience as she not only takes the family along with her on a journey to understand their current situation and the ancestor whose life was so rich in legacy but poor in compensation; she educates the family in the process. I get the sense that the author grew to genuinely love Henrietta and her family. I am in awe of this level of commitment. The author has managed to explain the complex scientific information in a way that anyone can comprehend and be fascinated by. The author's telling of the science alone and the journey of Henrietta's immortal cells (HeLa) would have made the book a worthy read in itself. Ms. Skloot and Henrietta captured me from page one all the way to the final page of the book. I read it in one pass and I didn't want it to end. The author manages to beautifully tell multiple stories and develops each of those stories so well that you can't help but be consumed by the book. This is the story of Henrietta. It is the story of her sweet and determined daughter, Deborah. It is the story of the extended Lacks family and their history. It is a story of race/poverty/ignorance and people who take advantage of that unfortunate trifecta. It is a story about science and ethics. It is a story that should make each of us reflect on the sacrifices made by individual humans and animals that have allowed us to benefit so much fr

2010 Non-Fiction Award Winner?

As I recall this book was categorized as CANCER, I believe it might be more aptly described as science based non-fiction. In the last two decades I've seen occasional news items alluding to human cells taken from a black woman in the 1950's that have been replicated millions of times. The cells are referred to as HeLa and on the face of it I wouldn't have thought there was much of a story behind the extraction of these cells and their use by the biomed industry. However, this book dispells that rather naive assumption completely and puts a name and a face, a family, and a story behind the contents of many petri dishes and slides. THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS explains how the cells were obtained, replicated, distributed, and used without informed consent of the owner and family by John Hopkins and how they benefitted mankind w/o compensation to the family. Author Skloot tells the story of a family victimized by socioeconomic conditions and racism that can't get fundamental things like health coverage while these cells make a lot of money for the health establishment. It is a disturbing read that will stay with the reader long after the book is finished. It may also make the reader take a long hard look at the need for standardized health care in our society among many other things. The one thing that I found fascinating about this book is how Skloot managed to take a generally dry topic that might have been addressed in a scientific textbook and humanized it on a very personal level by developing a close relationship with Henrietta's family. The input received from the family took this book to a higher level and made it a very personsl story. From my perspective, it was very hard not to get involved with the Lacks family and not feel their sense of betrayal and loss.

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