The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

4.33 out of 5 based on 3 customer ratings
(3 customer reviews)

4.33 out of 5 based on 3 customer ratings
(3 customer reviews)


Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave. The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

Genre, Biography

About The Author

Rebecca Skloot is an award-winning science writer and journalist. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is her debut novel, for which she has bagged several awards. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; and Discover amongst others. She was also an editor at Popular Science magazine and guest editor of The Best American Science Writing 2011. She has also taught creative non-fiction and science journalism in the University of Memphis, the University of Pittsburgh, and New York University.

Average Reader Rating

4.33 out of 5 based on 3 customer ratings

Reader Reviews

3 reviews for The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

  1. 4 out of 5

    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.though Skloot claims she tries to give an unbiased view of the history of HeLa cells and the family from whence it came, I am concerned that lay people who read this will not understand some of the finer points and it will increase the already rampant fear of science that pervades American culture. The majority of Americans are woefully un-educated in the sciences, to the point that many people view it as no different than magic,but weirder and scarier.

  2. 4 out of 5

    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 others. And her story is not over yet. Her cells are still being used in medical research all over the world. But these benefits came at the cost of a violation of her rights, in a time when it was commonplace for doctors and researchers to just do and take, without consent, especially among poor populations and people of color. It’s a story that her biographer, Rebecca Skloot, handles with grace and compassion. Henrietta is not some medical spectacle, she was a real woman. If she has been deified by her friends and family since her death, it is maybe the homage that she deserves, not for her cells, but for her vibrance, kindness, and the tragedy of a mother who died much too young.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Excellent Book
    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 for restitution they would not have got it, but that’s a moot point as they couldn’t afford a lawyer in any case.

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