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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
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Book Club 2011 > April 2011 - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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David Rubenstein | 900 comments Mod
It's getting close to the end of the month already--time to start nominating books for April. If there is a book you think that many people would enjoy reading, add to this topic with a link to the book on Goodreads, so others can easily find it. Nominations will close on February 28.


Gofita | 43 comments The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse. I listened to a podcast recently with the author and I've been wanting to read her book ever since!


Valerie (another_one_bites_the_dust) | 19 comments I recently splurged on science books at Barnes & Noble and picked up one in particular that sounds worth the time for a group reading. The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics


Eric Bingham | 72 comments I would like to re-nominate The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It almost won last time, and I still think it would be a really fun read.


Gofita | 43 comments Eric wrote: "I would like to re-nominate The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It almost won last time, and I still think it would be a really fun read."

This one is on my list too!


Donna (donnahr) I bought The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks last month even though it didn't get picked but I haven't read it yet. I agree, lets put it on the poll again.


David Rubenstein | 900 comments Mod
Any more nominations? Time is running out ...


David Rubenstein | 900 comments Mod
Nominations have closed ... it's time to vote in the poll. The poll will remain open until March 6. If you are seriously interested in any of the nominated books, please vote!


David Rubenstein | 900 comments Mod
The poll is closed. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the clear winner for the April Book of the Month.

By the way, we had 59 votes cast in this latest poll--a new record for the group!


Julie (readerjules) | 23 comments I have actually already read the book and I am looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say about it!


message 11: by Kate (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kate I'm just under halfway through the book. A lot of the science is very fast and loose and the author's slips into the speech styles of her interviewees is really distracting.


message 12: by Matt (new)

Matt | 26 comments Making my way through "Not Even Wrong" by Peter Woit. So far pretty interesting.


message 13: by Kate (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kate Finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks this morning. Really not impressed at all. Anyone else finished?


Donna (donnahr) Just finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I'm sorry if the following review is too long! I'd love to hear in more detail what other people thought of it.

I ended up feeling a bit conflicted about the book. The story of the HeLa cell line was fascinating and I would have liked to read more about the ways it has been used to advance science. The story of the family was interesting but the author rather beats it to death with a lot of repetition and it felt like it went off track at times.

The book is certainly thought provoking as it forces the reader to address the question of the ethics of tissue donation. I do see the horrible irony of her family not having health insurance while her cell line has been worth millions. But the author seems to present them as a family that was actively taken advantage of and I just don't see that. What I see is a family (in particular one member-Deborah) that tortured itself for years for no good reason. Unfortunately their lack of education left them with an inability to understand what was really going on with the cells and what resulted were many unfounded fears including that their mother had been experimented on against her will and that they might carry the same disease that killed her.

I also felt the author was just a wee bit disingenuous. Yes she did become part of this family's life and she did help answer many questions they had. But she also hounded them mercilessly and that isn't any different from any other aggressive reporter trying to get a story. And the supreme irony to me is that the author has used the family's story for her own personal gain just like all the researchers that they believed (rightly or wrongly) were profiting from Henrietta's cells. The author could have agreed to cut the family in for a percentage of the profits from the book but she didn't. For me that really dramatically sunk the moral high ground she was trying to stand on.

In the end though, I thought this was a fascinating story and I'm very glad I read the book.


Gofita | 43 comments Donna wrote: "Just finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I'm sorry if the following review is too long! I'd love to hear in more detail what other people thought of it.

I ended up feeli..."


Donna, that's why I have heard as well. I just barely started this one. I still want to read it for the history and science.


message 16: by Kate (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kate Donna, I totally agree with you and said similar things in my own review of the book. The author really hounded the family for a long time before they would talk to her and only Deborah, who clearly had a lot of mental health issues, ever opened up to her.

I felt that a lot of the science was fudged in the book too. All this talk of cancer and the author never takes a moment to define what it actually is. I guess that's how the book felt repetitive, she never goes indepth into any of the cells' uses, just glosses over with everyday jargon like DNA, cloning and cancer which most people know but fewer understand the exact processes.


message 17: by Jenny (last edited Apr 07, 2011 05:53PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jenny (jennyil) | 19 comments Rebecca Skloot is not a scientist but a journalist who writes about science so I think it may be too much to expect a lot of technical detail in her book. If you want that you can read Emperor of All Maladies -- another imperfect book but full of technical information.

When she wrote The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, she was not making much money and I don't think she had any idea how popular the book would become. Since the book has become a best seller, she has used some of the proceeds to try and help the Lacks family -- in part through setting up a scholarship fund for younger members of the family. She has also set up a foundation to provide financial support for others, like Henrietta, who made contributions to medical research without their consent.

I find this book interesting because people I know who are not particularly interested in science were fascinated by it and highly recommend it. It also provides a social history of the Lacks and the places they lived.


Gofita | 43 comments Jenny wrote: "Rebecca Skloot is not a scientist but a journalist who writes about science so I think it may be too much to expect a lot of technical detail in her book. If you want that you can read Emperor of ..."

Jenny, thanks for the update. That's good to know.


Donna (donnahr) Jenny wrote: "Rebecca Skloot is not a scientist but a journalist who writes about science so I think it may be too much to expect a lot of technical detail in her book. If you want that you can read Emperor of ..."

Skloot is described on her website's bio as "an award-winning science writer" so I don't think it's too much to expect some detailed science in her book.

She has set up a foundation to help Rebecca's descendants http://rebeccaskloot.com/ and donates a portion of her proceeds from the book and speaking fees to it. No one ever knows how much "a portion" is of course. I still think it would have been much more fair and in keeping with how Skloot presents herself to have agreed to share a percentage of the profits with the family straight out. The foundation gives grants for education and some family members have appled for help with medical bills. There is absolutely no question this is great but why not give money to them directly and let them spend it how they like? I just can't help feeling there is something a bit paternalistic to that.

The Lacks family itself has set up a bare bones website http://www.lacksfamily.com/ where donations can be made directly to the family although there is no information on how this money is distributed.

I am really not trying to bash Skloot or this book. I gave the book 4 stars. It is a compelling story. It is an important story. Skloot has brought it to the attention of the wider world and helped contribute to the important discussion of the ethics involved in tissue sampling and for that I applaud her.


message 20: by Kate (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kate Skloot has a Bachelor of Science, according to her website. Looking at her publication record I can see why she might be used to glossing over a lot of detail. It does kinda feel like the book is one long article.

Donna, I think the foundation is a great idea. It's a way to ensure the money is put to good use for the future. As it stands, biotech companies are wary of contributing to it because it could be used as evidence for sharing profits with donor's families. Giving the money straight to the Lacks would make companies and institutions even less willing to donate.


Patricrk patrick | 136 comments I just finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks last night. I agree with Donna's review. I thought it was ironic that they went to so much trouble trying to keep the early shipments of cells alive and then had so much contamination caused by the cell line in other cultures. I took it that all the animal cell lines that turned out to be primate was all HeLa contamination, though I don't recall the author stating that.


Shelley | 1 comments I finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks today and this is the first time that I have participated in a Science and Inquiry book club read. I saw the main focus of this book as the evolution of bioethics in the context of a family that happened to have made a major contribution to the medical community, whether they knew it or not. I think that it was very interesting to see the human side of such an important part of scientific history as well as seeing the process unfold within an historical context. We see the way that race and disability once played a major role in the way a person was treated by the medical community within the context of the cultural perceptions. We have made major strides as a society in this respect, but there are still lasting effects. Education continues to be a differentiating factor in patient and family understanding of what is actually occurring during medical procedures. This is important for medical personnel to understand when obtaining informed consent, especially as the battle over who has rights to tissue samples continues. I see this book as a good jumping off point for a debate on tissue sample rights and the ownership of the discoveries made as the results of these tissues.


message 23: by Betsy, co-mod (new) - rated it 3 stars

Betsy | 1703 comments Mod
Is the debate over rights to tissue samples ongoing? I haven't heard much about it. I agree this book could be an important contributor to the debate, but I think it could have been much more powerful than it was if it had concentrated more on the science contrasted with the Lacks family situation, rather than getting so caught up with Deborah's search for information on her mother. Here is my review: Review of Henrietta Lacks


message 24: by Betsy, co-mod (new) - rated it 3 stars

Betsy | 1703 comments Mod
The HeLa genome was sequenced last week and published -- without permission of the family.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/opi...


message 25: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) Very interesting. Thanks Betsy, and for the review!


Hazel | 26 comments didn't know this thread was here, my review

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


Margie | 23 comments Betsy wrote: "The HeLa genome was sequenced last week and published -- without permission of the family.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/opi......"


Without permission of the family - of course!


message 28: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) Just ran across this and thought of this thread:

You Don't 'Own' Your Own Genes: Researchers Raise Alarm About Loss of Individual 'Genomic Liberty' Due to Gene Patents

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/...


Margie | 23 comments Kenny wrote: "Just ran across this and thought of this thread:

You Don't 'Own' Your Own Genes: Researchers Raise Alarm About Loss of Individual 'Genomic Liberty' Due to Gene Patents

http://www.sciencedaily.com..."


Interesting and relevant article. Thanks for posting it.


message 30: by Betsy, co-mod (new) - rated it 3 stars

Betsy | 1703 comments Mod
The Lacks family has finally been involved in determining what happens to Henrietta's legacy ... at least who can study her genes and why.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/08/sci...


message 31: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) Excellent!


message 32: by Betsy, co-mod (new) - rated it 3 stars

Betsy | 1703 comments Mod
HBO is doing a show based on this book. Here is the trailer:

http://bookriot.com/2017/02/18/first-...


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