The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Book - 2010
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Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer, yet her cells--taken without her knowledge--became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer and viruses; helped lead to in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks is buried in an unmarked grave. Her family did not learn of her "immortality" until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. The story of the Lacks family is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of--From publisher description.
Published: New York : Crown Publishers, c2010.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9781400052172
Branch Call Number: 616.0277 SKL
Characteristics: x, 369 p., [8] p. of plates :,ill. (some col.) ;,25 cm.


From Library Staff

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 »

This book won the 2011 National Academies Communication Award for best creative work that helps public understanding of topics in science, engineering or medicine. Henrietta Lacks was the unwitting donor of the cell line that has allowed so much cancer research.
“She's the most important person i... Read More »

This is another one of my favorites books. It tells the story of a black woman whose cancer cells were harvested from her without her or her family's knowledge. She lives on in the research cells that still help scientists today. This book actually won the 2011 National Academies Communication Aw... Read More »

Chances are you've already heard of this book. Henrietta Lacks had cancer. She had her cancer cells taken without consent. They have since become the immortal stock cells, HeLa, that have helped science to discover so much about cancer.

The winning One Read title for 2011.

From the critics

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May 12, 2021

The general public is unaware of the existence of Henrietta Lacks, yet her life, or more exactly, her cells, have been vital in vaccinations against many diseases including polio. Henrietta was diagnosed with cancer of the cervix and doctors and scientists realized that her cells could help prevent the spread of some deadly diseases. The problem was that neither Henrietta nor her family were informed, and so were prevented from giving or withholding permission, perhaps because they were Black. Skloot reveals her own bias beautifully, supporting both Henrietta and her family. I had some difficulty keeping the many characters straight and frequently had to go back to refresh my memory. It must have been difficult from a technical viewpoint to write this book. Its central tenet: should scientists and doctors have the right to take from their patients whatever they want (and make money from it) without first obtaining informed consent? Henrietta and her family received nothing from the medical profession as represented by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The family lived their entire lives in virtual poverty, with the problems that attend it, especially crime. Skloot has a big winner here.

Nov 09, 2020

Wow! absolutely loved this book. Before the book was adapted into a movie, my co-worker told me about this book and how it was on her reading shelf. I've heard a few things here and there about Henrietta Lack. I'm glad I picked up this book. I enjoyed how the book was written. You get to know a lot about the Lacks family. Certain parts of the book are heart breaking and you get to see the Lack's family as real people. They all play a part in this book. The author is respectful and I enjoyed to see the friendship the family and the author developed. I think this book should be read by all who work in healthcare because this book has so my knowledge to offer.

Jul 06, 2020

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot is a biography that delves into the unique life of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells remain in use in hospitals till today. Rebecca Skloot, the author, did all the research of Henrietta on her own since doctors kept hidden from her family and others. Henrietta Lacks had cervical cancer which was discovered by doctors when she was pregnant with another child. Her cancer cells were later known as “HeLa” cells, to represent her name. In the early 1900s, doctors were unable to keep normal cells alive for a long time for the laboratory, but Henrietta’s cancer cells were a big investment for curing diseases and they were able to remain alive. Researchers never mentioned her name when they made this discovery but eventually, when she had died, the news had spread. People were earning profit from her useful cells and the family never received any money or regard for this. This book allowed me to acknowledge the fact that discoveries in the laboratory are very remarkable but oftentimes, research has limitations of how much information is given, covering important details of a person and their story. I found the story interesting and I believe that general knowledge about biology is useful since I was able to understand some things better. Overall, it is a book full of research and a personal story about Henrietta Lacks.

IndyPL_BethP Jul 01, 2020

In the past sixty years, science has found cures for many diseases, and provided great medical advances. The polio vaccine, gene therapy, and a host of other amazing breakthroughs have dazzled the world. But what was the key that made these discoveries possible? In a word, HeLa. HeLa is the name of an immortal line of human cells first cultured in the 1950’s. But where did these cells come from? From a woman named Henrietta Lacks, a poor black tobacco farmer. And, for the author, it became imperative to tell not only the story of Henrietta, but also that of her family and the scientific advances HeLa cells made possible. This book is part biography, part science journal, and totally absorbing.

Jun 19, 2020

What a great book to read. The author did a lot of research and put together the life history of an unappreciated woman.

This was a great read. The stories of Henrietta’s life, the medical discoveries her cells were used for, and the impact that those discoveries have left on her family are woven together in a brilliant fashion. Rebecca Skloot’s writing pulls you into the story and gives everything a great sense of realness. If you’re interested in the world of medicine (and the injustice that arises alongside it), I highly recommend this book to you.

May 15, 2020

did this for book club

Apr 08, 2020

A well-written and researched book about a woman with cancer and what happened to her - or more specifically her cells - during treatment. Her story is astonishing and infuriating at the same time - and one her family didn't discover until decades later.

Mar 01, 2020

Tragic, true story about how a woman's DNA was used without her permission. The impact on her and her family is heartbreaking. If you like a happy ending, the closest this comes is the scientific studies done based on her DNA.

READ Book Club pick

Jan 15, 2020

From the title of this book, the way Rebecca repeatedly referring HeLa cell as Henrietta’s cell, and the uneducated and superstitious Lacks’ family member continually refer HeLa cell is a prove that Henrietta being alive, I have to strongly disappointed with this book and author. Because HeLa cell is Henrietta’s cancer cell, aka anti-Henrietta cell. It has different Karyotype profile and different DNA sequence from Henrietta’s cell, based on “Center of Molecular Medicine and Genetics, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, US, 2007”.

As the author, Rebecca states in the book that this is a nonfiction book, and a book with facts, I strongly feel that Rebecca didn’t properly did her job. Because she didn’t correct Lacks’ family misunderstanding about HeLa cell; she didn’t states clearly in the book that HeLa cell is not Henrietta’s cell. If she was what she claims to be, then either she didn’t do her proper research, or she tried to persuade the readers to agree with the Lacks family.

The successful of HeLa cell should be contributed to scientists and geneticist’s hard work, because without them HeLa cell just a cancer cell that Henrietta and her family want to get rid of.

Rebecca, author, spend about 6 pages talking about God, indicating that Henrietta believed in God so HeLa cell become “immortal cell”. But HeLa cell is not only human cell line. There are A549 cell which is from a 58 year old caucasion male’s cancerous lung cell, Jerkat cell which is from a 14 year old boy’s T cell leukemia, HEK293 cell which is from an aborted fetus cell in 1973. I don’t think all of them believe in God, especially HEK293 cell.

Also Rebecca used about 100 pages on Lacks’ irrational behaviour from page 218 to page 304. And the whole book not included “Where They Are Now” “About the Henrietta Lack Foundation” “Afterword” “Cast of Characters” “Timeline” are about 300 pages. So Rebecca spend about one-third of books telling the readers in detail about Lacks’ family reactions. It makes me question what she wants to tell us. How illogical this family are?

Lack of healthcare in Lacks’ family are not hospital or scientists' problem. They didn’t cause this. It is society's problem. And not just Lacks' family are lacking healthcare in states. There are lots people as Lacks' family in states need better healthcare, but can't affort it. So it is whole country's problem, please don't blame it on those hard working scientists.

Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and Mississippi Appendectomy are not relate as HeLa cell issue. The previous two are directly doing experiment on human body, but HeLa cell is doing experiment on paitient's cancer cell which is out of paitient's body already. But Rebecca repeatedly put those to link with HeLa cell are not seeing issue in a logical way.

If Rebecca really wants to talk about HeLa cell, she should spend more time on those scientists and geneticists, not Lacks family. Because it is not Henrietta Lacks has immortal life, it is her cancer cell, HeLa cell, has immortal life. And it is those scientists and geneticists make HeLa cell famous and useful. Lacks' family didn't actually contribute anything to any of those.

If anyone want to read this book, I strongly suggest "Do your own research".

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Jul 06, 2020

gurleen03 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

May 03, 2019

katboxjanitor thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

Mar 11, 2016

CarolJ33 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


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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.

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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