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Showing 1-10 of 3,973 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 5,182 reviews
on February 5, 2010
Wow. This book should be required reading for scientists and students of life. The true story of Henrietta Lacks and her family has finally been told, beautifully, in this book. The book encompasses science, ethics, and the story of a family who was terribly wronged in the pursuit of scientific research. I could gush about this book for pages but I'll try first to hit the main points of why this book is so remarkable in list form for the sake of brevity:

1. The author clearly developed a strong relationship with the Lacks family, which was absolutely critical to ensuring the story was told accurately and with the respect to Henrietta Lacks that was so deeply deserved.

2. The storytelling is amazingly moving despite the need to convey a lot of scientific information. It reads like fiction.

3. Ms. Skloot's research into the science is impeccable.

4. The book is FAIR. It presents the unvarnished truth, obtained DIRECTLY from as many prinicpal people involved in the story as is humanly possible. It would have been easier to simplify the story into heroes vs. villians, but Ms. Skloot deftly handles all sides of the story.

For some detail: I have worked with HeLa cells in the past, but did not know even the barest information about the story of Henrietta Lacks until a few years ago. It simply was not common knowledge, until a few less ethical folks released her name and medical records to the public. This obviously should not have been done without the express permission of the Lacks family, which Ms. Skloot obtained. In the past, others have not been as ethical. The book covers Ms. Lacks' early life, how her cells came to be harvested, and what happened to both the cells and her family afterward.

The contributions of HeLa cells to science are absolutely staggering and cannot be over-stated. The sections where the science was described were clear and accurate. With the story of Ms. Lacks' family interwoven, this book was fairly close to perfect. I found myself moved to tears several times because of the fate of the Lacks family and Henrietta's daughter's indomitable spirit. I do not think anyone but Ms. Skloot could have written this book. She worked with the family for over a decade in order to get the story right. This was critical, as the family had been wronged too many times in the past.

Thank you for this astounding work of art. I will be donating to the Henrietta Lacks foundation in honor of the entire family, and I hope many others will read the book and be similarly moved.
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on October 24, 2016
I ordered this book to read for one of my Ethics classes. I was worried about so much assigned reading to complete in one week, but it turned out to be a book that you just can't put down.

It still amazes me that this is a woman's real life story, the story of her family, and how they have impacted science and anyone who works or benefits from the use of cellular research. That means just about every single person is connected to Henrietta in one way or another.

This was a great book that I'm so glad I read. I learned a lot and it kept me entertained and fascinated for days. It will really change your perspective and make you appreciate this woman's contribution to our scientific and health fields.
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on July 5, 2016
I was so moved by this book. Henrietta's story, the agonizing decisions and pains Henrietta was forced to endure, the incredible medical advancements she enabled, the risks Henrietta's family took to help Ms. Skloot to tell the story, the author's careful consideration for Henrietta's family--I cannot overstate what an impact all of this made on me. I am not medical professional--just a mom of and advocate for medically fragile kiddos--but in my 40 years of life I had never heard of Henrietta Lacks. A friend rec'd this book to me last month, and once I started reading I couldn't stop. I applaud Ms. Skloot for her compassion for the Lacks family and her determination to share their story as completely as possible. They are an imperfect but beautiful family, and I am grateful to have gotten to "know" them through this book.

This is also a fascinating snapshot of the state of ethics and understandable lack of informed consent in our country in 1951. The author does a very good job of explaining how and why Drs. Gey & Jones made the decisions they made when it came to their patient, Henrietta, while also illustrating the ethical implications of their decisions, how much we've learned since then, and exactly why we've changed our standards and practices to be fair and transparent to patients, their families, and to the public. Chapter 13 "The HeLa Factory" resonated with me in particular--so much logic, reason, common sense, and public health operations/obligations everywhere, but the dehumanization of Henrietta was painful to watch.

I am excited to report that my real life doctors know of HeLa! I was so thrilled when they acknowledged they knew what I was talking about! But they usually do not know WHO I am talking about. I find Henrietta's story, as told by Ms. Skloot and Deborah, so overwhelming, tragic, and exciting that I talk to all of our doctors about her! They all seem to know HeLa (!!!), but nobody seems to know Henrietta. I am always excited to share what I know of her story and am so thankful this book was written. Thank you to Ms. Skloot and the Lacks family for persevering in this endeavor. We all already benefit from Henrietta's contribution, unknowingly, but now we can benefit from the lessons learned from the stories of her and her family, and have the correct names and faces in mind when we feel gratitude for even the littlest advancements in medicine. If I could give all of you hugs right now, I sure would.
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on April 30, 2016
The book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is about the life, death, and family life of a woman named Henrietta. When she turned 30 she developed an aggressive form cervical cancer and received treatment at John Hopkins hospital. However as they were treating her the doctor took a slice of her tumor and put it into a tube for testing. They did this with a lot of people back then all without patient consent. The doctor, specifically Gey Gardener, wanted to make an immortal cell line that didn’t die like the rest. Usually a day or two after they took the sample, it died. However Henrietta’s cells lived and continued to grow in as much space and they gave it. Though thought of as a fluke at first, her cells continue to divide to this day and is used in almost every laboratory. Because of their widespread nature, it is amazing how not many people know about the woman behind the cells. This is why the author decided to write this book. While the topic alone is amazing, the author made it even better by making the book easy to understand, exploring the ethics of the doctor patient relationship, and incorporating Henrietta’s family.
The easy to understand language is what makes the book available to such a wide audience. Whenever a science term or event was refereed to instead of requiring the reader to have prior knowledge everything was explained. At times it seemed that things were explained in too much detail but this is so that anyone can read it and understand. In book of this sort, usually a lot of terms are thrown around but that is not the case in this one. There were some times that things could have been left out because they involved basic information but she also included it so that people like Henrietta’s descendants, who had little to no formal education, could read it. By no means was this a strictly scientific book, in fact one of its other strong points was the human element.
The author is in fact a character in this story. In order to write this story she had to get know the family of Henrietta which was not very easy. At one point she was calling Henrietta’s daughter every day just for the story. She got stood up in hotels, hung up on, and criticized but she stayed on the story. Because of that she got really close to Henrietta’s daughter Deborah. Her and Deborah formed a true bond and the author stayed with her even through panic attacks, health issues, bouts of extreme paranoia, and her eventual death. There was a very clear human element that pulled at heartstring that didn’t just stem from the author getting to know the family but from her researching and finding the small things. Some of these times include when Henrietta was dying. Instead of just saying that she died the author went in detail and included a really small but meaningful piece on page 81. “And everyone I talked to who might know said that Gey and Henrietta never met. Everyone, that is, except Laure Aurelian, a microbiologist who was Geys colleague at Hopkins. I’ll never forget it, Aurelian said. George told me he leaned over Henrietta’s bed and said, Your cells will make you immortal. He told Henrietta her cells would help save the lives of countless people, and she smiled. She told him she was glad her pain would come to some good for someone.” (81). That tiny moment said represented was so beautifully tragic and added a whole new level to the book.
Another part that was really special about the book was the moral and ethical dilemmas. Henrietta’s cells were taken without her knowledge or permission. “No one had told Henrietta that TeLinde was collecting samples or asked if she wanted to be a donor Wharton picked up a sharp knife and shaved two dime-sized pieces of tissue from Henrietta’s cervix” (39). The author makes a point of acknowledging that back then patients and doctors had a very strained relationship. Doctors would often experiment on their patient without permission. But also doctors weren’t required to tell the patient everything that was going on with them. There was one instant that the author pointed out a case where a man, Moore, had cancer and his doctor Golde, treated him but removed his spleen. But then the doctor started asking for numerous follow up appointments and went as far as paying for his plane ticket from the other side of the country to come see him until Moore figured out something fishy was going on. Moore found out that Golde was engineering a cell line from his cells because they produced a hard to come by protein. When Moore tried to sue he lost because Golde patented it and there was a ruling that once cells leave a patient's body, they are no longer their own. The only difference between this case and Henrietta’s was that the man was educated enough to fight this and even when the ruling was not in his favor he could make sure the doctor couldn’t take any more of his cells. The author also showed another example of the ethics of the medical practice. There was a case where a man went in for what he thought was a standard procedure but when he woke up he was paralysed from the waist down. He had no idea the risks of the procedure which could have influenced his decision of whether to get it or pursue another method of treatment.
Overall the books way of being empathetic, easy to understand, and tackling the moral and ethical nuances of the medical practice is what made it so good. Through every page I felt immersed in the story and the breakup of the chapters were masterful. I really enjoyed how the book was divided into chapter that jumped back and from when Henrietta’s childhood and when she got her diagnosis to her death and the author trying to find out more about her. It reads like a research novel. While it wasn’t as plot driven as a novel it wasn’t as analytical and clinical as a textbook. It was also more human and less persuasive than a newspaper article. I liked the way the author organised it because it guaranteed that something was always happening which is why the author organized it that way. It made it really interesting and informative. It also brought out themes of lack of health care for colored people in the 50’s, the spiritual belief of the link between body and soul, and the poverty that still exists today. I expected this book to be very clinical focus only on how the cells were used but I was pleasantly surprised. By the end of the book, the author reached the conclusion that Henrietta should be known and that her family should be either cared for or compensated for the distribution of their mother’s cells. The book as a whole goes very logically from start to finish and comes together very sadly but oddly satisfyingly with the death of Deborah and shows that the whole Lacks family had hard lives.
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on March 19, 2017
This is a remarkable book. Based on the true story of Henrietta Lacks, doors open to the reader the ability to understand the role of the medical-cellular world beginning in the 1940's to recent time, while concurrently delving into the traumas of her family, as a result of her cells being "harvested". With every twist and turn involving doctors and researchers, the paucity of laws governing medicine, and family interactions, the book gives us pause. There are times the reader will rejoice, become disgusted, cry, and laugh. It is an education with interesting and intense surprises involving what Henrietta's cells provided the world, as well as delving into personalities of doctors and researchers of whom we may or may not be cognizant. This is an incredible story, revealed by the author in a style that captures our minds.
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on October 7, 2015
This is a book that should be required reading in high school, and 9th grade is not too soon. The implications, the facts and consequences of decisions made in this "report" (the family considers it such) should be the subject of some very real academic and social discourse. It is very readable, not written for the intelligentsia or the academic. For the more academically inclined reader, all things presented as fact are supported, with references. Any book club would be remiss if it bypasses this one. I recommend to ALL.
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on December 2, 2016
On the one hand, this was an important book. The medical and social history and Henrietta's story held my attention at first, and I was fascinated by the whole concept of this disadvantaged black woman raised in a very racist society (during the Jim Crow years) providing the world with such an important and far-reaching medical breakthrough. However, as the book progressed, parts of it felt rather...repetitive. Just how many times can one repeat that certain members of the Lacks family believed that John Hopkins made millions off of Henrietta's cells and wanted to sue or that some family members believed that Henrietta had been cloned? At some point, I felt that the book was over, but I still had many pages to go. In short, I don't regret reading it. It's an important story, but had it been shorter, the book's impact would have been greater, IMO.
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on March 13, 2017
Skloot presents Henrietta Lacks' legacy to modern medicine and humanity in a well thought out, intelligent manner. Scientific explanations are presented clearly. I learned of Ms. Lacks' unknowing contribution in 1972 while working at a medical school. Her name and family should be given an award for the advances her cells has made. Shame on those who failed her and her family because of institutional racism.
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on April 11, 2015
This story is of a woman that has played a role in all our lives and we have no idea who she is. Because of Henrietta's death scientists and doctors have been able to research human cells on the moon, succumbing to polio and cancer. The story involves the human side of the poor sharecroppers lives that were her family. They had no idea how her cells had been used and when press and researchers came for their stories and blood they thought they were being tested for the same cancer henrietta had. Its a story of ethics, of medicine and should be on the reading list for biology and medical classes in high schools. And excellent purchase for the medically minded student or anyone who wants a good read of an investigative reporter.

This book I read while visiting someone in florida and got it from their library. I got my own copy once home and it is close to being my favorite non-fiction book.
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on March 20, 2017
This book is so emotional because it has a lot of medical research in it. It's so sad that Henrietta Lacks died at a young age from a horrible illness. I was learning about this in my college English Literature 2 class, and it's about doctors and scientists conducting experiments on medical issues in a hospital. It's just like learning to become a nurse or a doctor, too. I enjoyed reading it, too.
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