The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Book - 2010
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Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive--even thrive--in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta's family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution--and her cells' strange survival--left them full of pride, anger, and suspicion.
Publisher: New York : Crown Publishers, c2010
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9781400052172
Branch Call Number: 616.02774 SKLOOT
Characteristics: x, 369 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. (some col.) ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

TV movie released April 22nd.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks brings together scientific and medical research (and hypocrisy), the biography of an almost invisibly elusive black woman, the exposure of an act of exploitation, racism and social injustice, and the writer’s own deeply respectful involvement with the people f... Read More »

A magnificent fusion of science, history, and storytelling. Skloot is especially skilled at explaining scientific concepts in an accessible and engaging manner.

List - Amazing Science
ArapahoeTiegan Nov 22, 2017

Henrietta Lacks had no idea that her cells would lead to science’s greatest medical breakthroughs, nor did her family have any idea that her cells are still be alive today. Skloot explores the ethics of the scientists who first used Lacks’s cells and discovered that they would live forever, as we... Read More »

ArapahoeHollyR May 14, 2017

Skloot's book is a magnificent fusion of science, history, and brilliant storytelling. She is especially skilled at explaining scientific concepts in an accessible and engaging manner. Her rendering of Lacks' story reveals a deeply troubling history of racism, discrimination, and poverty in the... Read More »

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Aug 07, 2018

I read the book- I thought it will be boring but not at all- it read like a fiction! full of facts and information but still interesting and kept me glued until the end.
Plus I watched the movie and felt like a confirmation from the book. It helped that I understood the characters and circumstances better. I read critical reviews that the movie "glamorized and hollywoodized" the book but I think it became more accessible and approachable to this piece of medical history.

May 31, 2018

Fascinating story about a poor woman with a terrible terminal illness who unknowingly made a huge difference for medical science and many, many ill people. This books treats her family sympathetically, as well. How shocking it must have been to find out that their mother and grandmother's cells had been used without their knowledge and while they did good, the family gave no permission and received no gain. An interesting moral dilemma.

May 30, 2018

I saw the movie a year ago then read the book which is so much more detailed. Henrietta was a saintly woman who gave herself to everybody when she was able to do so. She cared for the poor and other people's children. Skloot did an excellent job researching Henrietta's life and her illness. Everybody in the medical profession should read the book as well as anybody who wants a better understanding of cervical cancer and of sexually related disease.

DCLadults Apr 23, 2018

Skloot turned what was originally a very dry medical textbook history lesson into an intriguing human interest narrative. It was very informative and I enjoyed her ability of efficiently bringing the personalities of the key players back to life. However, I felt she made more of this story than was really there and it started to go off track about 2/3 of the way through, when the emphasis turned more towards the daughter and Henrietta’s other relations.

Apr 03, 2018

What an amazing journey the family of Henrietta Lacks has been on!

I have been aware of the story of HeLa cell cultures based on NPR interviews\programs with Rebecca Skloot and I was in awe just from what I had heard there.

The acquisition and global use of cell cultures taken from Henrietta Lacks and this story of the impacts of her early death from a virulent form of cervical cancer.

Disturbing because it brought the disparities of race. The Lacks family of the early 1900s is a mix of white and black from the days of slave ownership followed by some share cropping (tobacco) and some intermarrying of too-closely related members of the family.

Medical care in the 1950s was still divided along color lines, physicians did not expect to be questioned and they presumed too much information would be distressing to patient and family.
A lot of unnecessary distress was caused to the Lacks family while they tried to understand what happened to Henrietta and needed someone to explain to them what a cell culture was - and was NOT. They struggled with this for more than 30 years until Ms Skloot helped connect them with Dr Lengauer, who was able to give them some insight into what HeLa is and showed Henrietta's daughter what the 'fuss' about HeLa is in a way that honored her memory.

Mar 23, 2018

This book is a marvel. It is a fascinating read of the history of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who had unknowingly contributed heavily to cancer research and the frightening irony of it all. It guides us through the memories of Henrietta Lacks's family members and the distress of her daughter Deborah who did not know anything about her mother. It is a must read for not just science lovers but young adults and older audiences.

Mar 04, 2018

I watched the dvd with Oprah Winfrey as Deborah. I do not like Oprah as an actor. I am sorry I watched the dvd it certainly spoiled the book for me.

Dec 27, 2017

"Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" the true story of a woman whose cells literally have reproduced themselves for more than 5 decades in medical labs around the world! Human cells die after so much time outside the body. The cells are used in cancer experiments, or HIV cure testing, or genenic disorders tests, but none live on past a certain testing date. Only one set of human cells have ever reproduced themselves and lived passed their experation date those cells are famous and they all belong to one woman, Henrietta Lacks! Born in Baltimore where her family discovers that their sister lives on in millions of people today.

The book featured photographs and family stories about the Lacks and some element of a biographical element but was marred by the blatant racism of the times and the medical industries use of individual's bio-cellular materials without consent, or compensation to desendents, even though millions of dollars have been made from the sale of Henrietta's cells.
The story is told by a lab assistant with a guilty conscience and brothers and sisters of Henrietta Lacks who dies of cancer while experimentation discoveries are made by utilization of these undead cells, which are, (hence the name) immortal! Unbelivable that science in the medical field has made such great advancements during this Era without paying any attention to the family of the cells creators. Not a good look America! But without this book who would have known about these increditable scientific discoveries was all on account of these cells that never die.

Not a bad storyline. While reading I hope for the best, but since it was a true story and in America and the people concerned were Black, well there went any hope for a happy ending. Most of the story was tough to read and leaves the reader frustrated. But immortal cells, come on this is a miracle! We all must see how this is impossible, but it's real....

I'm still recommending this book! The group was divided on their support versus their anger at the Medical Profession in 1960's America!

Ghettostone Editor/Chief

Sep 20, 2017

learned a lot
and got caught by topic

Aug 04, 2017

I really enjoyed this book, wanting to learn more after I watched the movie of the same name. The book gave a little more understanding of the mental state of Deborah, and a more in-depth look at what happened to her siblings, sons, and Henrietta's doctors in later years.

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Jun 17, 2015

True story of stolen body pieces of Everywoman Henrietta Lacks. Story readable despite presence of a great deal of science. Adult children search for their mother over years bearing up remarkably in face of medical-science establishment. Exceptional. Highly recommended.

Algonquin_Lisa Feb 24, 2011

A black woman's self-perpetuating cancer cells live past her own shortened life, providing doctors and scientists with an unparalleled opportunity to do nearly unlimited research. Her family, however, was unaware her cells were ever collected. In this book author Rebecca Skloot takes them on a journey to learn the extent to which their mother's cells changed the face of cancer research forever. Fascinating, and possibly the best work of nonfiction I've ever read.


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BookWormChelly Jul 08, 2013

“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.”

mrsgail5756 Apr 03, 2013

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” -George Washington


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Mar 11, 2016

CarolJ33 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


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