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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 December 20, 2015
From the very beginning there was something uncanny about the cancer cells on Henrietta Lacks’s cervix. Even before killing Lacks herself in 1951, they took on a life of their own. Removed during a biopsy and cultured without her permission, the HeLa cells (named from the first two letters of her first and last names) reproduced boisterously in a lab at Johns Hopkins — the first human cells ever to do so. HeLa became an instant biological celebrity, traveling to research labs all over the world. Meanwhile Lacks, a vivacious 31-year-old African-American who had once been a tobacco farmer, tended her five children and endured scarring radiation treatments in the hospital’s “colored” ward.
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.
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on January 16, 2017
What a great book. My previous boss gave me a copy to read and I then bought a copy off of Amazon. I'm sending it to my cousin. Its a must read for anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity.
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VINE VOICEon February 8, 2016
This could have been the amazing story of how a poor black woman's cells are used to combat, cancer, HIV , HPV, polio, and many more. And it is, a mother of five goes to John's Hopkins for a mass in her abdomen, a particularly aggressive form of cervical cancer, likely caused from HPV or other STD's she caught from her philandering husband. it's the casual way the medical community used (and profited from) cells samples from patients. In a world before informed consent, indeed before ethical testing laws, a young, pretty, vivacious woman deals with the culture of non disclosure to patients. A world where the doctor's word is sacrosanct. As a nurse I found this fascinating, people are much more protected now.

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.
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on February 20, 2015
I am not a lover of nonfiction books but this one kept me coming back to see if the Lacks family would ever be told what was going on with Henrietta's cells.
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on April 11, 2015
The first thing I think about after completing a book is - did I enjoy it? I absolutely did enjoy 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'. And that is despite my lack of initial interest in the book jacket synopsis. Author Rebecca Skloot wrote an entertaining and very informative book. But as with a number of other reviewers, I have a lot of different thoughts about the book, some good and some not so good.
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.
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on November 6, 2016
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, was a great book that every person should read. The book is about a mother that lives is Baltimore, Maryland and is diagnosed with cervical cancer in the 1950s. A major theme was how important family was, which caused the book to be easy to connect with for the reader. A main reason was because of the deep relationship the author had with family members of Henrietta. To have an accurate account of Henrietta and her life before she died, Skloot had to connect with her family, which was a difficult task because they were used to being taken advantage of because of who their mother was. In addition, the book was very educational and you learned how important her cells were because of how much they helped the medical industry. Even though there was a big focus on scientific information it was easy to read and understand. The book was overall a fair telling of what really happened to Henrietta and her cells because it showed all sides of the story. I think this book should be read by all students because you learn how unethical the medical industry is at times. The book was a fast read that would leave you surprised at points. The story also tackles a variety of topics such as sociology, history, and race.
The main issue I have with the book and why I did not give it five stars is because the first half of the book was much better than the second. The second half was borderline repetitive, included unnecessary details, and focused simply on Henrietta's family. If it continued to still weave in science throughout the second half it would have been a five star book, for me. In the end, you learn a lot about the medical industry and this book is definitely worth the read.
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on January 4, 2016
Slow read to begin with, It was a really great book over all, I wish i had more time to read it as a whole in a shorter time span vs reading chunks in a span of a few months because I would forget who was who. I appreciated the history lesson about a basically unknown lady to all of us (if we aren't in the medical/ research field). Its crazy to think how it really wasn't too long ago this happened (cells being taken without permission or knowledge of what it is actually being used for) . . . and although (I hope) it is no longer happening, it has created so many medical advances in 50 years.I would definitely take the time to go back and read this book when I have more time. It is unfortunate that the Lacks family ended up where they did . . . I almost really wished that they had a better ending, but knowing that the author wrote the book truthfully just reminds me that I was reading about real life and not a made up story, and it isn't all glitz and glamour, it tragic and sad, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
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on November 11, 2014
Rebecca Skloot's book is a story of a scientific development ( the HeLa cells) with a look also at the humans involved . The book follows previous books written about the Curies ( discovers of Radium) and Longitude etc. The book can be broken down into the following aspects.
. Story about the story. A significant section of the book is taken up with the author explaining why she decided to write the story, how she gradually found about the human background and how she gained the confidence of the family. It is becoming more common these days to write a story about how the film was made or book written but I find it a bit boring.
. Scientific side . It appears accurate but drawn-out. Anyone wanting to get a quick view of scientific aspects is advised to look at Wikipedia for about 5 minutes.
. Human side. There are many characters in the book and the author is one of them. Unlike Fictional novels we don't get close to understanding them intimately but get more remote descriptions of their appearance and life stories .
. Moral issues . This seems to be reason for the book's success. The highlights some of the deficiencies of the US Health system int eh 50s. Patients especially poor black ones were not given a say over their treatment or use of their cells in this case. The book even suggests that mistreatment along the line of experiments conducted by NAZI doctors occurred. 50 years later we can look back and say" Well things were different then " but it begs the question " What will people say about us and our practices in 50 years time ?"
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on September 18, 2017
This is the story of Henrietta Lacks, a mother of five who died in the 50s, her children and grandchildren, and the fact that the cells of the cervical cancer tumour that killed her were able to be cultured without dying off, making them extremely useful in modern science and medicine.
These cells are known as HeLa cells, and they are used in just about every bit of medical and scientific research today. They have helped to create the polio vaccine and been used in aids research and have been sent into outer space and exposed to nuclear radiation. They are produced in large numbers and sold all over the world for $50 a vial. There are more of Herietta's cells now living than were ever in her body.
Even so, Henrietta's descendants never saw a cent, and in fact struggle to afford the very treatments that their mother's cells made possible.
As outrageous as this sounds, it's not actually as simple as that, and Skloot explains the medicine, the science and the ethics behind all of this with sensitivity and insight, while telling the story of Henrietta's family and their desire for their mother's contribution to be recognised.
This is not a dry, nonfiction work at all, but brings both the science and the people in the story to life in an accessible and fascinating way.
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