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Summary

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first ‘immortal’ human tissue grown in culture, HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta herself remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey in search of Henrietta's story, from the ‘coloured’ ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live, and struggle with the legacy of her cells. Full of warmth and questing intelligence, astonishing in scope and impossible to put down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.

©2009 Rebecca Skloot (P)2010 Random House, inc

What listeners say about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Great Read!

I was really moved by this book. I had heard of HeLa cells before, having studied and worked in medical science for most of my career, but I had never heard the real story behind them. Apart from being a great read the book raises a lot of questions about bioethics, fairness and the injustices of the past. Definitely a story that needed to be told!

7 people found this helpful

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Fascinating...and I don't really like science

This is unlike anything else I have read. It is hugely enjoyable and the narration superb. Read it and enjoy.

5 people found this helpful

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remarkable story.

loved the book and the narration. it has really opened my eyes about research. a must read.

4 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

An interesting read

I enjoyed the book on the whole. I found the science and the story of Henrietta really interesting. I have to say I did find the story of the author and her involvement with the family a bit self indulgent and tedious at times. I think the interesting story makes up for the negatives and I would recommend reading it.

4 people found this helpful

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Exceptional

This book was not what I expected but it is very well written and very sympathetically recorded. It is a tale of a woman born in the very shadow of her ancestors slavery who unknowingly changes the face of modern medicine. At the same time the medical miracles are beginning Henrietta dies in pain and her family are left bereft, poor and traumatized. The tale is equally parts inspiring and tragic.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Extremely over hyped, and in no way a science book

I went into this having read many positive reviews, and I expected a in depth story into the scientific breakthroughs which resulted from the discovery of HeLa cells.

Instead what I got was an in depth story of how the writer of this book struggled to research the history of the person from whom these cells were drawn - Henrietta Lacks. It's incredibly self indulgent, and spends literally hours on how diligent the author was. The rest is all about the life (and death) of Henrietta and her family. Aside from her remarkable cells, the life of Henrietta was unremarkable in the extreme (for the time), and this book could have simply been a general history of the lot of poor, ultra religious African Americans in the deep south in the 1940s and 50s.

There is virtually no science in this book at all, so if science is what interests you, this book will not. I also found the narrator extremely irritating, as she spends much of her time either attempting (and failing horribly) to do deep south African American accents, or adding quivers and shakes to her voice during emotional moments in the text. It's one of the worst readings of a book I've yet encountered on Audible, and I've listened to a lot of audiobooks.

16 people found this helpful

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A Book Everyone Should Read

This one of the most distressing, moving, informative and important books I've read, thus far. I appreciate the time and effort the author put into researching and writing this book. I believe it's a book everyone should read.

1 person found this helpful

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Interesting

A bit academic, but a great listen. I may have given up if reading it as quite a lot of technical bits.
I do like an interesting factual book, occasionally.

3 people found this helpful

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Irritating reader

Any additional comments?

The story is fascinating in and of itself, but it seems that the author cannot really decide whether to go for good story-telling or scientific accuracy. The result is an enjoyable, but somewhat wobbly book. The real problem herr lies in the narrator. Far too grating and un-nuanced a voice for my taste.

3 people found this helpful

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What a story!

This story has everything: history, science, morals, family, racism reality, health, greed, death and it's true, makes yoy think.... my kind of book.

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  • Penni
  • 16-12-11

Wow

What did you love best about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

I loved the layering of experience: the story of Henrietta herself, the utterly compelling narrative of the destiny of the HeLa cells, the story of Skloot's own search, and then the moving narrative of the descendants of Lacks.

What other book might you compare The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to and why?

I also listened to The Help this year, and think there is something to be gleaned from these two extended works about the healing power of storytelling. While I often shrink back from white people telling black people's stories, both these books actually tackle this problem head on, exploring the problem of who is telling whose story and why. Restoration through narrative.

Have you listened to any of Cassandra Campbell???s other performances before? How does this one compare?

She was one of the narrators in The Help apparently (must have been that weird third person section?) Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed her reading.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

A story of science that comes from the heart.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Sarah G
  • 23-06-11

Excellent read through changing ethical practice

I found this a very interesting history about the people involved in changing the face of biology as we know it. From the family and their experiences of being involved in the process to the scientists. Ethical practices have changed over time and it is interesting to consider whether the same thing could happen today.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 27-04-17

RHerrera

What a great book. There were several times I got emotional, hands to Rebecca. Thank you

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 25-04-17

great

just wait the first chapters, it don't get to the bottom of it. then it gets exciting!