Customer Review

266 of 329 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 5 star story, February 17, 2010
This review is from: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Hardcover)
Just so id doesn't sound like I damn this book with faint praise, let me say that this was an excellent story told well (for the most part). I'll save the synopsis for others. Needless to say, Henrietta Lacks' story is just as gripping as the science that was done with her cells. You will most likely enjoy her story (as I did).

My criticisms:

The author spends a rather substantial portion of the book describing her own efforts. It didn't add to Henrietta's story and leaving it out would have made for a better, more concise narrative.

Black people were treated inhumanely to say the least (go look up the Tuskeegee Syphilis Study, for example). At the risk of sounding callous, this is well trod ground and some of it could also have been omitted for the sake of brevity without losing any of the story's impact.

Lastly, there is an implicit condemnation of the doctors that took her cells (the author does say that this was "common practice" at the time). I can tell you that as a former cancer patient who has been biopsied more times than I care to remember, once a doctor removes something from you, it's gone. They are not going to pay you for it.

Those criticism aside, this is a worthy read.
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Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 28 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 24, 2010 11:50:01 AM PST
FEMI says:
1. Do you realize that most people in the U.S. don't even know what the Tuskeegee experiment was?
Not enough can be said about the horrors that have happened to Black Americans in America.
2. There are court cases were people have been paid once something has been removed from them when they were a patient.
Laws can be passed that benefit patients in cases like these.

Posted on Apr 5, 2010 2:02:12 PM PDT
From watching an interview aired on C-SPAN yesterday, it doesn't seem like she is really judging the doctors -- she made it pretty clear it was common practice at the time and that no monetary value was expected. Tuskegee involved using blacks as guinea pigs. The woman here was not similarly mistreated in collecting her cells. It was by mere chance decades later that her family actually was contacted to further the research. As to the other part of the first reply, I don't know how that is applied here. I'm not even sure exactly what you are talking about -- why it removed wrongly? Are we talking about cells?

Posted on Apr 10, 2010 12:21:23 PM PDT
I disagree that "once a doctor removes something from you, it's gone". One can relinquish ownership, but absent consent, one retains rights. Mrs. Lacks's doctors stole from her. I feel that Ms Skloot was charitable toward the medical profession in offering their rationalizations, but that is the best we can say: Mrs. Lacks's doctors rationalized their theft. All of humanity owes the Lacks family, and we owe them plenty.
Robert (New Hampshire)

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2010 6:03:24 PM PDT
Does anyone know if the author is sharing her royalties or profits with the Lack's family? I would be interested to know.
It's another question - who owns the story? Who profits from it?

Posted on Apr 28, 2010 9:54:02 AM PDT
For most picking up a book on cancer research and general science, the Tuskeegee syphilis experiment is rather well known. But there are many who may not know or understand just why many African-Americans are so distrusting of the American medical institution.

It is very relevent to set the tone of why Henrietta was unwilling to receive treatment.

Posted on May 2, 2010 7:50:37 AM PDT
I agree with you about truncating Skloot's descriptions of her own efforts to contact the family. If she wanted to include some of that story, I would have preferred that she include it in a later part of the book, not the beginning where she is telling Henrietta's story on one side and the story of her doctors and George Gey's lab on the other. It's a bit of a mess trying to tell three or four stories simultaneously, though all of the stories are interesting.

In reply to an earlier post on May 10, 2010 1:54:17 PM PDT
Yes, the author is providing a portion of her proceeds from the book to assist the Lack family with education needs.

Posted on Jul 26, 2010 2:53:08 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 26, 2010 3:01:56 AM PDT
I think that you missed a number of the author's points. First, it is VERY important for a young white woman to tell the story of how she gained the trust of a family who had such a history with exploitation. Another point, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study was going on at the same time these cells were taken and even when the Syphilis Study was exposed, the commercialization and thus exploitation of this woman and her family was in full force at the same institution... Plus, Tuskegee should be surfaced at least to the level that she took it every chance we get... like the holocaust, to forget is to repeat!! Also, did you read the afterword, everything that was done to Henrietta is still legal and is "common practice" in 2010 with no expectation that there will be any changes. And while I am not suggesting that everyone be paid (it is complicated as noted in the book) but there are some situations where the path from - discarded from the patient - to multimillion, if not billion dollar profits is so direct as it is criminal if the patient does not receive any remuneration.

You sound like a thoughtful person and you read the book as soon as it was released... perhaps you should read it again.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 8, 2010 10:08:39 AM PDT
Yes, I heard an interview with the author, when the book first came out. Proceeds of the books profits goes to the Lacks family. That is the predominate reason for writing the book.

Posted on Nov 27, 2010 12:05:19 PM PST
skspaz says:
Although I am an American citizen, I was not primarily educated in the US and was only minimally aware of the Tuskeegee Syphilis study. The references to that study in Rebecca Skloot's book actually caused me to look up further information on what happened, so I do not feel that the Tuskeegee study or others like it are "well trod ground" - maybe it is for those who study health related issues, but I would argue that the particulars are not well-known by everyone else. Also, to the person who asked about proceeds for the Lacks family, a Foundation has been established that will help provide health insurance for the family and academic scholarships.
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