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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by
4.04  ·  Rating details ·  409,938 Ratings  ·  28,853 Reviews
From the back cover:

Her 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, yes she remains vi
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Paperback, 382 pages
Published March 8th 2011 by Random House Crown Publishing Broadway Paperbacks (first published February 2nd 2010)
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Kemper
The doorbell rang the other day and when I answered it, there was a very slick guy in a nice suit standing there and a limousine parked at the curb. He started shaking my hand and wormed his way into the house.

“Mr. Kemper, I’m John Doe with Dee-Bag Industries Incorporated. I need you to sign some paperwork and take a ride with me. Don’t worry, I’ll have you home in a day or two,” he said. Then he pulled a document out of his briefcase, set it on the coffee table and pushed a pen in my hand.

“Wai
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Petra Eggs
This is an all-gold five star read.

Its actually two stories, the story of the HeLa cells and the story of the Lacks family told by a journalist who writes the first story objectively and the second, in which she is involved, subjectively. The contrast between the poor Lacks family who cannot afford their medical bills and the research establishment who have made millions, maybe billions from these cells is ironic and tragic. It has been established by other law cases that if the family had gone
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Emily May
Mar 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2016
“She's the most important person in the world and her family living in poverty. If our mother is so important to science, why can't we get health insurance?”

I've moved this book on and off my TBR for years. The truth is that, with few exceptions, I'm generally turned off by the thought of non-fiction. I'm a fan of fictional stories, and I think I've always felt that non-fiction will be dry, boring and difficult to get through. Especially a book about science, cells and medicine when I'm more o
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Will Byrnes
On October 4, 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a thirty-one-year old black woman, died after a gruesome battle with a rapidly metastasizing cancer. During her treatment, the doctors at Johns Hopkins took some cells from her failing body and used them for research. This was not an unusual thing to have done in 1951. But the cells that came from Ms. Lacks’ body were unusual. They had qualities that made them uniquely valuable as research tools. Labeled “HeLa”, Henrietta’s cells were reproduced by the billio ...more
Laura
Fascinating and Thought-Provoking.

Strengths:
*Fantastically interesting subject!
One woman's cancerous cells are multiplied and distributed around the globe enabling a new era of cellular research and fueling incredible advances in scientific methodology, technology, and medical treatments. This strain of cells, named HeLa (after Henrietta Lacks their originator), has been amazingly prolific and has become integrated into advancements of science around the world (space travel, genome research, p
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Liz Nutting
Aug 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
When I was a graduate student in the field of Ethics, one of my favorite pedagogical strategies, as both a teacher and a student, was the case study. A good case study can make an abstract ethical issue more concrete. A really good case study can turn a deeply contentious issue into an opportunity for thoughtfulness and compassion; right and wrong (to the extent that those concepts even belong in the study of ethics) are nuanced by descriptions of circumstances or values or human need that can m ...more
Kathleen
My thoughts on this book are kind of all over the place. I feel for the Lacks family, I really do. It's hard to read about the poverty and lack of education and the cavalier approach towards informed consent in the early days of Johns Hopkins Research Hospital. The fact that the HeLa cell line is the foundation of so much valuable research is rightfully a source of pride for the family of Henrietta Lacks. I don't think they will ever see monetary compensation for their mother's cancer cell line, ...more
Chelsea
This could have been an incredible book. Henrietta Lacks' story is finally told--and Skloot makes very clear how important Lacks' cells have been to the last 60 years of science and, paradoxically, how much Henrietta and her family suffered because those cells were taken from Henrietta without her consent.

But in her effort to contrast the importance and profitability of Henrietta's cells with the marginalization and impoverishment of Henrietta's family, Skloot makes three really big mistakes. F
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Jacob
May 2012

Henrietta Lacks vs. Jesus: Final Exam
(With apologies to believers)

Directions
Please read the following excerpts, and answer the questions below:

From the Last Supper:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many fo
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Margitte
The gift of life is surely the greatest gift of all. So how can the story of the remarkable woman who gave that gift over and over again to millions of people have been overlooked for so long?

In 1951 a poor African American woman in Maryland became an uninformed donor to medical science. Henrietta Lacks died at age 31 of cervical cancer at John Hopkins hospital in Baltimore. Then doctors discovered that tumor cells they had removed from her body earlier continued to thrive in the lab - a medical
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Dan Schwent
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
When a poor woman dies of cervical cancer in 1951, her cancerous cells live on. But what happens when her biological material generates billions of dollars for the drug and pharmaceutical industry, leaving her dirt poor descendants in the lurch?

Yeah, I know I wrote that like the teaser for one of my mysteries but the only mystery here is how people who have profited from the diseased cells that killed a woman can sleep at night while her kids and grand kids don't have two nickels to rub together
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Carol
Dec 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This 2010 work of non-fiction regarding THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS is a sad story and a tough, draining read that shocked me more than once along the way.

Henrietta was a poor black woman only 31 years of age when she died of cervical cancer leaving five children behind, her youngest, Deborah, just a baby. Her story is a heartbreaking one, but also an important one as her cancer cells, forever to be known as HeLa taken without her consent or knowledge, saved thousands of lives.

Through t

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Rachel
Aug 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone in a white coat
Recommended to Rachel by: NYT
Full disclosure: I come to this book from a weirdly fortuitous place. Take my brief, but mind-searing, stint in gynecologic oncology research ca. 2002, which involved a weekly trek to the OR to pick up still-warm tumors, with the women who informedly consented to donate them often open on the table as I did so. Then throw in two years working in a tissue culture hood, two more in a narrative nonfiction book group, and another big chunk of time studying infectious diseases. Mix in interests in so ...more
Christy
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I do believe this book must have scored near the top of all books used in college courses these last 5-6 years - from English to history and social sciences, but I wonder how much traction it got in medical school and across the healthcare and medical research fields. It quickly became a "classic" because so many issues are covered: race, class, gender, genetics, property rights, and about the social ends of science and our technological choices. As well, it's a story of how some people are used ...more
Jean
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is is an extraordinary book. By turns it is shocking, informative and tragic. There is brilliance - but also deep injustice. It is in part an account of the development of genetics, part social commentary, and partly the story of one woman, Henrietta Lacks. She was an African-American woman descended from slaves and one white slave-owner (Lacks), and she lived as many hundreds of black people still did even as late as the 1950's, in poverty in an old slave-ca ...more
Stacey
I've started and erased my little book commentary so many times because this story is so overwhelming and so important on multiple levels, I'm not sure anything I could say about it would do justice to the complexity and dichotomy of the story surrounding Henrietta Lacks. It might not be far from the truth to state that she was the most important person who ever lived. A physical part of her body has saved hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of lives, and improved the lives of countless oth ...more
Carol.
Overall, a four star read that should probably be required reading for both biology and American history classes. (Actually, it was a far more interesting read than that makes it sound).

While I had heard a great deal of buzz on the book, I wasn't prepared for how the story evolved. The book alternates between Henrietta Lacks' personal history, that of her family, a little of medical history and Skoot's actual pursuit of the story, which helps develop the story in historical context. Skoots incl
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Matt
Oct 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Matt by: SoMany
Shelves: audiobook, buddy-read
There are some books that I finish and am left in awe, questioning everything that I thought I knew on a subject. Or, as is the case hear, having learned so much about which I knew nothing. My jaw is still on the floor after I finished this book and I can only imagine the controversies and discussions it might provoke. A thank you goes out to three Goodreads friends who recommended that I read this book and open an avenue for discussion. Aven, Brenda, and Rae, I hope we can begin a wild and intr ...more
Diane
I am late to this book party, but let me explain: I get twitchy about medical stuff. Earlier this year I had to abandon Rosemary Mahoney's book about the blind because it described an eye surgery. I have never been able to finish Dr. Atul Gawande's Complications because of its description of medical procedures. It was a small miracle that I was able to finish the Call the Midwife series, because I hate childbirth scenes.

When this Henrietta Lacks book started tearing up the bestseller lists a fe
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Lata
Dec 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: auth-f, 2016-read
A lot to process with this book. This book's been out for a while, so I'm just going to put down a bunch of thoughts rattling around in my head, and probably leave it at that:

-legacy left by slavery and how it affected Henrietta Lacks and the members of her family, and African Americans in general (where they lived, what kind of employment was available to them, the quality of education available to them, the history of abuse and violence, and the impact on their mental health, and the quality a
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K.D. Absolutely
Apr 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio
I am not sure how is it in other countries but here in the Philippines, if you bring your car for repair in a service center and the serviceman says that he replaced a part, you how to do in you should find that replaced part inside your car. I think it is their proof that they actually replaced that part and also for you to decide how you want to dispose, resell, reuse or recycle it. Normally, this practice bothers me because I have a very small space for junks at home and I do not know what to ...more
Christina
Jul 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting read. While I applaud Skloot's attempt to present a fair look at the history of the HeLa cell line used in research labs all over the world, the book is clearly skewed toward sympathy for the family. Not that they don't deserve sympathy, but really, the problems of the family is NOT the fault of anyone involved with the cell line. Don't get me wrong, Henrietta and her family have had a hard life, and they do deserve some sympathy. But not for this particular issue.

The sad
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Jennifer
You know all those forms you have to fill out while waiting at the doctor and dentist office? The tedious, repetitious ones that you could have sworn you already completed at least a thousand times? Next time you sigh loudly or roll your eyes at the prospect of this task, think about the people who came before us who were never offered the luxury of informed consent, confidentiality, and protection from discrimination. Horrendous injustices prompted these forms into action so that history does n ...more
Suzanne Leopold
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
April 22nd will be a film on HBO !!!
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Apr 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Henrietta Lacks is a woman who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. The cells cut from her body, because of their aptitude for growth and replication, still play a significant role in treating disease and other medical tests. She did not know her cells were being used, and her family did not benefit financially. The author writes extensively about her family, as they were a crucial source for the book. Because of so many trust relationships violated over the years, she had to first work t ...more
Suzy
I was completely in the thrall of author Rebecca Skloot while listening to the audio of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This is at once a scientific story of Henrietta's cancer cells, called HeLa, which were harvested from her as she was dying from cervical cancer in 1951. These are the first human cells to become "immortal", perpetuating themselves even to today, and being used in many important health discoveries including polio vaccines, in vitro fertilization, aids research, cancer dru ...more
Kate
Jun 13, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book irritated me from the beginning. It couldn't decide if it was a history of the cells, the life story of one woman, a chronicle of how an author tracks down the life story of a woman, a position paper on racism, a position paper on human tissue ownership, or a position paper on disorganized rhetoric.

I think it was all of those, and it drove me absolutely up the wall.

As a history of the HeLa cells ... I read a Wired article that was better.
As the life story of Henrietta Lacks ... it rea
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Gary
May 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that everyone should read....especially if you're ever had surgery, been to a doctor of any kind, etc., etc., etc. This situation could have happened, or might happen to anyone....

What is sad about this story is it happened to a very beautiful,and naive African American woman, who was too poor to get good medical care,and died a horrible death,and yet she lives on..... find out how by reading this engaging, horrific story, set in the 1950's and the present....

Since this is a true
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Laura
Apr 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So interesting. This book is very well done. For a very scientific subject, this is very readable. The author has a very personal approach to delivering Henrietta's message. I am ready to watch on tv.
rmn
This is a phenomenal book. If it doesn't win every non-fiction award for 2010 than whoever votes for non-fiction awards should have their library cards taken away from them*.

The author, Rebecca Skloot, does a masterful job of seamlessly weaving in the scientific story of Henrietta Lacks' immortal cells and the effect they have had on medicine and medical ethics with a real human interest story about Henrietta and the struggles of her family. Skloot does this without coming across as maudlin, pre
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Review 1 1 Aug 30, 2017 09:30AM  
EXO-L Book Club: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - August 2017 - any genre 6 9 Aug 29, 2017 08:37AM  
Play Book Tag: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot 5 stars 8 20 Jul 21, 2017 06:34AM  
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Rebecca Skloot is an award winning science writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; and many other publications. She specializes in narrative science writing and has explored a wide range of topics, including goldfish surgery, tissue ownership rights, race and medicine, food politics, and packs of wild dogs in Manhattan. She has worked as a co ...more
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“Like the Bible said,' Gary whispered, 'man brought nothing into this world and he'll carry nothing out. Sometimes we care about stuff too much. We worry when there's nothing to worry about.” 73 likes
“But I tell you one thing, I don't want to be immortal if it mean living forever, cause then everybody else just die and get old in front of you while you stay the same, and that's just sad.” 42 likes
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