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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Paperback – March 8, 2011
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“I could not put the book down . . . The story of modern medicine and bioethics—and, indeed, race relations—is refracted beautifully, and movingly.”
“Science writing is often just about ‘the facts.’ Skloot’s book, her first, is far deeper, braver, and more wonderful.” —New York Times Book Review
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a triumph of science writing...one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read.” —Wired.com
“A deftly crafted investigation of a social wrong committed by the medical establishment, as well as the scientific and medical miracles to which it led.”
“Riveting...a tour-de-force debut.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“A real-life detective story, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks probes deeply into racial and ethical issues in medicine . . . The emotional impact of Skloot’s tale is intensified by its skillfully orchestrated counterpoint between two worlds.”
“A jaw-dropping true story . . . raises urgent questions about race and research for ‘progress’ . . . an inspiring tale for all ages.” —Essence
“This extraordinary account shows us that miracle workers, believers, and con artists populate hospitals as well as churches, and that even a science writer may find herself playing a central role in someone else’s mythology.” —The New Yorker
“Has the epic scope of Greek drama, and a corresponding inability to be easily
explained away.” —SF Weekly
“One of the great medical biographies of our time.” —The Financial Times
“Like any good scientific research, this beautifully crafted and painstakingly researched book raises nearly as many questions as it answers . . . In a time when it’s fashionable to demonize scientists, Skloot generously does not pin any sins to the lapels of the researchers. She just lets them be human . . . [and] challenges much of what we believe of ethics, tissue ownership, and humanity.” —Science
“Indelible . . . The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a heroic work of cultural and medical journalism.” —Laura Miller, Salon.com
“No dead woman has done more for the living . . . a fascinating, harrowing, necessary book.” —Hilary Mantel, The Guardian (U.K.)
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks does more than one book ought to be able to do.” —Dallas Morning News
“Above all it is a human story of redemption for a family, torn by loss, and for a writer with a vision that would not let go.” —Boston Globe
“This remarkable story of how the cervical cells of the late Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman, enabled subsequent discoveries from the polio vaccine to in vitro fertilization is extraordinary in itself; the added portrayal of Lacks's full life makes the story come alive with her humanity and the palpable relationship between race, science, and exploitation." —Paula J. Giddings, author of Ida, A Sword Among Lions; Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor, Afro-American Studies, Smith College
“Skloot’s engaging, suspenseful book is an incredibly welcome addition for non-science wonks.” —Newsweek
“Extraordinary . . . If science has exploited Henrietta Lacks [Skloot] is determined not to. This biography ensures that she will never again be reduced to cells in a petri dish: she will always be Henrietta as well as HeLa.” —The Telegraph (U.K.)
“Brings the Lacks family alive . . . gives Henrietta Lacks another kind of immortality—this one through the discipline of good writing.” —Baltimore Sun
“A work of both heart and mind, driven by the author’s passion for the story, which is as endlessly renewable as HeLa cells.” —Los Angeles Times
“In this gripping, vibrant book, Rebecca Skloot looks beyond the scientific marvels to explore the ethical issues behind a discovery that may have saved your life.”
“More than ten years in the making, it feels like the book Ms. Skloot was born to write . . . Skloot, a young science journalist and an indefatigable researcher, writes about Henrietta Lacks and her impact on modern medicine from almost every conceivable angle and manages to make all of them fascinating . . . a searching moral inquiry into greed and blinkered lives . . . packed with memorable characters.” —Dwight Garner, New York Times, Top Ten Book of 2010
“Astonishing . . .No matter how much you may know about basic biology, you will be amazed by this book." —The Journal of Clinical Investigation
“Rebecca Skloot did her job, and she did it expertly . . . A riveting narrative that is wholly original.” —THEROOT.COM
“Moving . . .” —The Economist
“Journalist Rebecca Skloot’s history of the miraculous cells reveals deep injustices in U.S. medical research.” —TIME
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating look at the woman whose cultured cells—the first to grow and survive indefinitely, harvested without compensation or consent—have become essential to modern medicine.” —Vogue
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a remarkable feat of investigative journalism and a moving work of narrative nonfiction that reads with the vividness and urgency of fiction. It also raises sometimes uncomfortable questions with no clear-cut answers about whether people should be remunerated for their physical, genetic contributions to research and about the role of profit in science.”
—National Public Radio
“An indelible, marvelous story as powerful as those cells.” —Philadelphia Inquirer
“As much an act of justice as one of journalism.” —Seattle Times
“A stunning book . . . surely the definitive work on the subject.” —The Independent(U.K.)
“Graceful . . . I can’t think of a better way to capture the corrosive effects of ethical transgressions in medical research. It’s a heartbreaking story, beautifully rendered.” —The Lancet
“Read this . . . By letting the Lackses be people, and by putting them in the center of the history, Skloot turns just another tale about the march of progress into a complicated portrait of the interaction between science and human lives. —BOINGBOING.NET
“[A] remarkable and moving book . . . a vivid portrait of Lacks that should be as abiding as her cells.” —The Times (U.K.)
“I can’t imagine a better tale. A detective story that’s at once mythically large and painfully intimate. I highly recommend this book.” —Jad Abumrad, Radiolab
“Skloot is a terrific popularizer of medical science, guiding readers through this dense material with a light and entertaining touch.” —The Globe and Mail (Canada)
“A rare and powerful combination of race, class, gender,medicine, bioethics, and intellectual property; far more rare is the writer that can so clearly fuse those disparate threads into a personal story so rich and compelling.” —Seed
“Powerful story . . . I feel moved even to say on behalf of the thousands of anonymous black men and women who’ve been experimented on for medical purposes, thank you. Thank you for writing this important book.” —Kali-AhsetAmen, Radio Diaspora
“Skloot has written an important work of immersive nonfiction that brings not only the stories of Henrietta Lacks and HeLa once more into line, but also catharsis to a family in sore need of it.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“A masterful work of nonfiction . . . a real page turner.” —Hanna Rosin, Slate
“Skloot explores human consequences of the intersection of science and business, rescuing one of modern medicine’s inadvertent pioneers from an unmarked grave.” —US News & World Report
“Remarkably balanced and nonjudgmental . . . The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will leave readers reeling, plain and simple. It has a power and resonance rarely found in any genre, and is a subject that touches each of us, whether or not we are aware of our connection to Henrietta’s gift.” —The Oregonian
“This is the perfect book. It reads like a novel but has the intellectual substance of a science textbook or a historical biography.” —The Daily Nebraskan
“Illuminates what happens when medical research is conducted within an unequal health-care system and delivers an American narrative fraught with intrigue, tragedy, triumph, pathos, and redemption.” —MS.
“A tremendous accomplishment —a tale of important science history that reads like a terrific novel.” —Kansas City Star
“Good science writing isn’t easy, but Skloot makes it appear so.” —The Wichita Eagle
“Encompasses nearly every hot-button issue currently surrounding the practice of medicine.” —Madison Capital Times
“Defies easy categorization . . . as unpredictable as any pulp mystery and as strange as any science fiction.” —Willamette Week
“An achievement . . . navigates both the technical and deeply personal sides of the HeLa story with clarity and care.” —The Portland Mercury
“[A] remarkable book.” —London Review of Books
“An essential reminder that all human cells grown in labs across the world, HeLa or otherwise, came from individuals with fears, desires, and stories to tell.”
—Chemical & Engineering News
“Blows away the notion that science writing must be the literary equivalent to Ambien.” —Chicago Tribune
“Seldom do you read a book that is science, social history, and a page turner.” —British Medical Journal
“Thrilling and original nonfiction that refuses to be shoehorned into anything as trivial as a genre. It is equal parts popular science, historical biography, and detective novel.” —Ed Yong, DISCOVER.COM
“Best book I’ve read in years.” —Brian Sullivan, Fox Business Network
“Thanks to Rebecca Skloot, we may now remember Henrietta—who she was, how she lived, how she died.” —The New Republic
“We need more writers like Rebecca Skloot.” —E.O.Wilson
About the Author
REBECCA SKLOOT is an award-winning science writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; and many others. She is coeditor of The Best American Science Writing 2011 and has worked as a correspondent for NPR’s Radiolab and PBS’s Nova ScienceNOW. She was named one of five surprising leaders of 2010 by the Washington Post. Skloot's debut book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, took more than a decade to research and write, and instantly became a New York Times bestseller. It was chosen as a best book of 2010 by more than sixty media outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, People, and the New York Times. It is being translated into more than twenty-five languages, adapted into a young reader edition, and being made into an HBO film produced by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball. Skloot is the founder and president of The Henrietta Lacks Foundation. She has a B.S. in biological sciences and an MFA in creative nonfiction. She has taught creative writing and science journalism at the University of Memphis, the University of Pittsburgh, and New York University. She lives in Chicago. For more information, visit her website at RebeccaSkloot.com, where you’ll find links to follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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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.
In “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” Rebecca Skloot introduces us to the “real live woman,” the children who survived her, and the interplay of race, poverty, science and one of the most important medical discoveries of the last 100 years. Skloot narrates the science lucidly, tracks the racial politics of medicine thoughtfully and tells the Lacks family’s often painful history with grace. She also confronts the spookiness of the cells themselves, intrepidly crossing into the spiritual plane on which the family has come to understand their mother’s continued presence in the world. Science writing is often just about “the facts.” Skloot’s book, her first, is far deeper, braver and more wonderful.
This work has the most human of stories at its core, and never deviates from that important, and often heartbreaking, humanity. When science appears, it does so effortlessly, with explanations of cell anatomy or techniques like “fluorescence in situ hybridization” seamlessly worked into descriptions of the coloured wards of Johns Hopkins hospital to Lacks’s hometown of Clover, Virginia.
But The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is not a comfortable read. I visibly winced at descriptions of Henrietta’s blackened, burned skin after multiple rounds of devastating radiation treatments. I put the book down with a heavy sigh after reading about the experiments that black Americans have been unwittingly subjected to over the years. I cried twice, at events that I can’t talk about without seriously spoiling the book. But it is uplifting too, particularly in a stand-out chapter where Henrietta’s children, Deborah and Zakariyya, visit a cancer researcher to see their mother’s cells under a microscope.
All of this is to be expected of a book that refuses to shy away from tackling important themes – the interplay between science and ethics, the question of who owns our bodies, and the history of racism in the US. And yet for all its grand scope, skilful writing and touching compassion, there is one simple element that makes As a final thought, I was struck by the parallels between Henrietta’s cells and her story. Henrietta’s entire family history was eventually condensed into a small sliver of cells that you could carry in a glass vial. They have achieved immortality, used by scientists throughout the world. Similarly, her entire life has been condensed into a moving tale and an exceptional book that you could read in a comfortable day. By right, it will achieve the same immortal status.
But it's more than that, it's the story of Henrietta's family finding out 20 years later that their mother's cells are alive, and helping medical science! They deal with anger, disbelief, and a feeling of betrayal, since others have made money from her Henrietta's cells and they, ironically, can't afford health insurance! Skloot does a wonderful job describing the ongoing difficulties meeting the family and gaining their trust, describing their emotions and reactions (including superstition) in a way that humanized them. Many books have been written about the HeLa (HEnrietta LAcks) cells and the their effect on medical science. This book tells you what kind of person she was, and how it affected her family. One of the best books I've read in a while.
The book is really several parallel stories tied closely together. First, there's Henrietta Lack's own story and those of the HeLa cell line developed from her biopsy tissues in 1951. Then there is the story of the Lacks family; impoverished, poorly educated, and ignorant of their mother's medical signifiance. Finally, there's the author's own story about her multi-year effort of research, interviews, and writing Henrietta Lacks' story. At times, the intertwined stories seemed to get in each others way. The disappointing thing to me, is that Henrietta's story itself, gets rather short shrift while the peripheral stories of Henrietta's children, grandchildren, etc.; as well as the author's story, take up the lion's share of the book.
These are fairly minor complaints, however. The book is unique, interesting, and most importantly, a joy to read and I recommend it.