The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.

The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

Title:The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:370 pages

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Reviews

  • Kemper
    Dec 04, 2013

    The doorbell rang the other day and when I answered it, there was a very slick guy in a nice suit standing there and a limousine parked at the curb. He started shaking my hand and wormed his way into ...

  • Jason
    Jul 22, 2016

    You know what I think is funny? This book is called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. That makes it sound pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Henrietta Lacks’s name is in the title. Henrietta ...

  • Petra Eggs
    Jun 12, 2016

    This is an all-gold five star read.Its actually two stories, the story of the HeLa cells and the story of the Lacks family told by a journalist who writes the first story objectively and the second, i...

  • Emily May
    Mar 20, 2016

    “She's the most important person in the world and her family living in poverty. If our mother is so important to science, why can't we get health insurance?” I've moved this book on and off my TB...

  • Laura
    Aug 08, 2011

    Fascinating and Thought-Provoking. Strengths: *Fantastically interesting subject!One woman's cancerous cells are multiplied and distributed around the globe enabling a new era of cellular research and...

  • Liz Nutting
    Sep 04, 2010

    When I was a graduate student in the field of Ethics, one of my favorite pedagogical strategies, as both a teacher and a student, was the case study. A good case study can make an abstract ethical iss...

  • Kathleen
    Feb 13, 2011

    My thoughts on this book are kind of all over the place. I feel for the Lacks family, I really do. It's hard to read about the poverty and lack of education and the cavalier approach towards informed ...

  • Jacob
    May 31, 2012

    May 2012Henrietta Lacks vs. Jesus: Final Exam(With apologies to believers)DirectionsPlease read the following excerpts, and answer the questions below:From the Last Supper: While they were eating, Je...

  • Dan Schwent
    Jan 23, 2015

    When a poor woman dies of cervical cancer in 1951, her cancerous cells live on. But what happens when her biological material generates billions of dollars for the drug and pharmaceutical industry, le...

  • Chelsea
    Jan 03, 2011

    This could have been an incredible book. Henrietta Lacks' story is finally told--and Skloot makes very clear how important Lacks' cells have been to the last 60 years of science and, paradoxically, ho...

About Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot

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 other publications. She specializes in narrative science writing and has explored a wide range of topics, including goldfish surgery, tissue ownership rights, race and medicine, food politics, and packs of wild dogs in Manhattan. She has worked as a co