Gail's Reviews > The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
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Jun 01, 10

bookshelves: science
Read from May 05 to 15, 2010

This book is so great on multiple levels but here's two:

Level 1: It's just a fascinating story. Period. The birth of today's multi-billion (trillion?) bio-tech industry started with a few immortal cells that came from the cervix of one poor black woman by the name of Henrietta Lacks. Her family didn't know her cells were taken for decades. They never received a dime of all the money made off of them. As in, to this day. And that's a damn shame.

Level 2: Rebecca Skloot is my journalistic hero. Having once been a journalist, I can recall the handful of times I worked on a story that I felt truly mattered. How I would spend but a few hours with the people I'd profile but how much work (observing, taking notes, research, etc.) was caught up in just doing that little bit. Rebecca is someone who spent YEARS working on this book. An idea that caught her attention at 16 (when she first learned about HeLa cells), followed her through college and carried her on as she began work on the novel with no advance (just her student loans and credit cards to get her by). The courage and tenacity it took to get this family behind her and then to stick with them as sources, coax them into trusting her, put up with their behavior (Henrietta's daughter Deborah ... wow, I couldn't imagine sticking with her..at one point in the book, she has Rebecca up against the wall) through publication of this book? Unbelievable.

It's for these reasons alone that I highly recommend this one. By far one of the best non-fiction books I've read by an author for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration.
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message 1: by Marla (new)

Marla One of my favorite podcasts is WNYC Radio Lab. For my long drive this afternoon I selected an episode with the unlikely title of "Famous Tumors" or as one of the co-producers kept calling it "Totally Tumors". The last third of the program was on this subject of the cells of Henrietta Lacks. Most of the story was told by the author of this book Rebecca Skloot. However, there were also interviews and tapes of various other "players" in this fascinating saga. The tapes of Henrietta's daughter Deborah were unbelievably compelling but also heartbreaking. I'm really looking forward to reading this book but would recommend the podcast to really "flesh out" some of the people involved.


Gail Hmm..interesting Marla. I SHOULD check that out. Especially b/c, reading the book, I would have loved to actually "hear" Deborah's voice. There is a bit of a shocker to the end of the novel too. You DEFINITELY have to read it. So sad, so compelling and I have the utmost respect for Skloot and how she got this story. A once-in-a-lifetime experience for her....


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