The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksRebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

4.5 star

Total 2,245 Ratings

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot Book Summary

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The story of modern medicine and bioethics—and, indeed, race relations—is refracted beautifully, and movingly.”—Entertainment Weekly


NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • Entertainment Weekly • O: The Oprah Magazine • NPR • Financial Times • New York • Independent (U.K.) • Times (U.K.) • Publishers Weekly • Library Journal • Kirkus Reviews • Booklist • Globe and Mail

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine: The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, which are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. 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 remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of. 

Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family—especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah. Deborah was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Had they killed her to harvest her cells? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn’t her children afford health insurance? 

Intimate in feeling, astonishing in scope, and impossible to put down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot) Book Reviews

FantasticI have never been a science person or one who cared about non-fiction. This book changed my opinion of both..Score: 5/5

Great read, makes you wonderIt was a selection for book club, and was very interesting..Score: 4/5

So badOne of the most boring books I’ve ever read.Score: 1/5

ILHLThis is such a well rounded book. I thought I wasn't going to enjoy it since it was non-fiction and all but it proved me wrong. It's a great book and Skloot is a great researcher and author..Score: 5/5

Dear readersWhen sitting on the fence contemplating killing yourself. Reading this book will cause you to do it..Score: 1/5

Great BookSome parts can be slow but most of it is fast paced. Finishing the book makes you feel well accomplished and as if you have found a new personal level of understanding in science.Score: 4/5

A must read!Deeply moving story.Score: 5/5

Amazing!This book was absolutely amazing!!! Very enlightening, at the at of 26 I my self found out that I had contracted, although I don't have the cancerous strain or warts to prove my diagnose, I still had no clue what exactly HPV is! This book not only informed me but introduced me to a beautiful black woman who lost her life to a terrible strain of HPV and who died not knowing that her pain and suffering wouldn't be in vain. Thank you so much for taking the time to carefully write this book and getting detailed facts!! It's so much more that I would like to say but I'll just end off by simply saying thank you. 😃.Score: 5/5

Wow how far we've come and how far we still have to goAmazing book! The course of this book includes the course of my lifespan. I have worked in hospital labs for 43 yrs. I knew about cell culture but not about HeLa. This book makes me proud and ashamed at the same time. I've always believed that we've come so far in our society; in equality; in ways this book shows that we have but we had to fight every step of the way and we have far to go. Thank you Rebecca and Deborah for a book that makes you think far beyond the topic..Score: 5/5

Good ReadThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was not just a normal book. It did much more than tell a story. Of course it did include a story about a woman who contributed to a drastic part of the medical industry, but it was so much more than that. This book brings up moral and ethical issues that allow you to form a standpoint in which you believe. Is it correct to take a part of someone’s DNA without permission? Is our own body really even our own? Does it belong to only us? Should the woman who had her DNA taken away from her without consent, that shortly died after, have her family provided with health insurance so they can go see a doctor at least? Is it right that corporations are making millions but her family can’t even get health insurance? This book raises so many questions. The downside is a lot of biology and medical talk, but otherwise this is a great book..Score: 4/5

Fascinating and compassionately writtenThis is a fascinating read that intertwines the science and history of HeLa with the very real and often tragic lives of Henrietta Lacks and her family..Score: 4/5

The immortal life of Henrietta LacksGreat book. So many ethics and science.Score: 5/5

Great ReadThis book is a means he keeps you guessing every chapter and throws a curveball almost every minute. The whole entire time you're reading your trying to guess what happens next but we think happens turns out to be the complete opposite. The book is a great and brings up a lot of very interesting questions about medical ethics..Score: 5/5

HeLaFascinating, unnerving...a scientific book masquerading as a story of one family's tragic existence and their struggle for justice. It raises some mind blowing questions and gives you plenty of information for you to come up with your own answers. While the book jumped around and was a bit wordy, I still HAD to finish it, entranced by the magnitude of HeLa..Score: 4/5

The immortal life of Henrietta LacksI very much enjoyed this book. It is great for anyone who likes science and medical terminology. Skloot does a good job at keeping the reader interested in the book. It is a very educational and eye opening book. It shows you how the medical field was not very professional back in the day. As well, it shows how the medical field works with taking out tissue and who is in control of our body parts after they are taken out. It gives us a look at the research behind medicine and vaccines that you usually don't think about. The story is a compelling mix between medicine and the family behind a lady who changed the world of medicine. It shows the economic side of medicine. The book sometimes makes you angry for reasons that are acceptable. It has an emotional appeal to the reader. Overall, great book for anyone in college and above..Score: 5/5

HeLaPoverty and prejudice are the watchwords of this astonishing story of a Black woman’s cancer cells and their everlasting journey into medical history..Score: 5/5

Fascinating ReadI bought this book while I was a patient at Hopkins. I heard about the story on local news and was interested to learn who she was and how important HeLa cells are to the world of medicine. Thank you Henrietta- you in essence helped save my life..Score: 5/5

Very Educational!Henrietta contributed so much to science with her cancerous cells! It’s amazing to know that they are still being used today! What I enjoyed is the education of science by learning about cell culture in this book, the education of informed consent, the education of Black people and experiments in America’s medical history. I loved how the book also discusses Henrietta’s Family and her family history. I wish she knew how much she helped medical science so much! Very great book!.Score: 5/5

GreatThis book is excellent,we were forced to read it for our 10th grade book but once I began reading just the introduction,I rushed through all of the chapters in three nights!!?!.Score: 5/5

Well written but hard to readVery interesting but ultimately depressing ..Score: 3/5

Dragged on far too longRebecca Skloot's book sheds light on racial and bioethical issues that fill a needed spot in the rather bleak wasteland of contemporary writing, and nicely combines a historical perspective and journalistic rhythm to produce a mixture of scientific and moral commentary. The prose however, are bland, and the plot runs itself into circles as Skloot obviously runs out of things to say at the halfway point. In short, read the first 100 pages, and no more, because the ensuing pages really make no progression at all..Score: 2/5

Truly a page turner!From the very beginning this book had me interested in what was to come. It was such a touching story and it really made me feel so angry that medicine was so corrupt in the past. I just couldn't believe how people were treated. I felt like I began to really know the characters in this book as the story unfolded. I couldn't stop taking about this book!.Score: 5/5

Wish id known thenBrilliant book, enjoyable read. As a former genetics graduate and now GP I wish I'd been informed of where HeLa came from way back then. It's not just a cell line.........Score: 5/5

Great readI'm in high school and this was one of the books I was required to read. I absolutely fell in love with it and suggest it to everyone i know..Score: 5/5

This could be a beautiful place!!!It's simple~It's time Thank you #Rebecca Skloot}{{{{{.Score: 5/5

HeLaFantastic book!!!!! Hard to stop reading and sad because got to the last page. Luiz Rassi Jr Brazil.Score: 5/5

InspirationalThis book makes me want to quit my job and become a geneticists..Score: 5/5

Excellent narrationAs a frequent audiobook listener I really appreciated the effort and talent that went into the multi-voice reading of this book..Score: 5/5

WowThis is such an informative read. I vaguely remember hearing something about this years ago but then it got buried. I can't get enough. I thought this was going to be clinical and boring but this is a great story that should have been told immediately. Fantastic work Rebecca Skloot.Score: 4/5

Interesting!I read it twice. Once for my women’s health class and the other for my bioethical issues in health ed class. Both times I found it equally as interesting. It’s not just about science. Its about the actual person behind the science..Score: 5/5

The Imomortal Life Of Henrietta LacksI read this book for my college reading class and I found it to be one of the most interesting books I have ever read. From start to finish Rebecca Skloot does a magnificent job captivating and disecting the true story of a black woman who recieved medical care at Johns Hopkins in the fifties. Henrietta, the patient, unknowingly, had her cells taken from her for science experiments. Although her cells did revoloutinize medicine, it also questions the ethics of medicine. Skloot also takes a look on the family of Henrietta. They did not recieve anyh benefit from the millions probably made off of her cells, even though they were dirt poor. The format was easy to follow and very informational. Skloot did a fantastic job at capturing, what i believe to be, the truth. i learned so much about cell culture, law, medicine, and history all in one excellent book..Score: 5/5

Eye-openingThis is an amazing read that will have you by turns laughing, crying, infuriated, and thoughtful. The story of Henrietta Lacks is an incredibly emotional journey that leads to questions about the morality and ethics of modern science and makes the reader think about how far one can go in the name of science. An excellent book that I would recommend to everyone..Score: 5/5

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksI began reading this book as a challenge with my daughter, who is an upcoming freshman at East Carolina University. It was assigned for the freshman summer reading. When we were at orientation I read a synopsis about it and thought I would love to read that. Great book a very good look at how color and race really doesn't matter..Score: 5/5

Well worth the readI found the story to be incredibly interesting and compelling. The writing style wasn't my favorite but that is easily overlooked considering the subject matter. Even if you don't come from a science background it's still easy to understand since its not highly technical; it's not about the science so much as the stories behind it. I've recommended it to a few people who also greatly enjoyed it!.Score: 5/5

Fascinating bookI don’t normally choose non-fiction, but this book caught my attention. Rebecca Skloot hooks you with an introduction to Henrietta, her family and an intense lesson in biology. Henrietta and Deborah’s family history kept my attention. In addition, I learned an awful lot about tissue, cell lines and the blurred lines between rights to our body and the enormous benefits of scientific research. My heart goes out to Henrietta’s family - especially for Deborah’s awareness of all the good that HeLa cells have done and her commitment to ensuring public awareness of her mother’s contributions. Well done to Rebecca for telling a story that desperately needed telling..Score: 5/5

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks is heartfeltThis is not a book that is only about scientific research and the contributions of HeLa to Medicine. It is a heartfelt book that tells the story of Henrietta's family and their difficulties with their mother's cells. I think it's na amazing book that tells a story about a family, science, love, hate, struggles and most justice..Score: 5/5

WowI couldn't put this book down! Read it cover to cover simply because it was so fascinating..Score: 5/5

Unbelievable but trueBorn in Baltimore in 1941 I know a lot about what transpired there racially,environmentally, medically, and since 70% of my maternal family worked at Bethlehem Steel and lived in Sparrows Point and Dundalk I know a lot about that as well. I am a Medical Technologist and my husband graduated from Johns Hopkins though not in medicine, and I know first hand much that transpired medically in this time frame was not intended to be harmful but beneficial to all. Morally for some, issues might arise, however when we of the generation involved, know how medicine has evolved, how else could all that medical research has provided been obtained. And yes, perhaps in this particular instance it involved Negros, Coloreds, African Americans, Blacks. But I do know that many races, economic levels, incarcerated persons, mentally and physically impaired were also used without permission in many instances. HIPPA has provided some privacy where needed and indicated ; but for those who wish to leave a legacy that might save, or enhance lives I feel that if told prior to signing any permission that this might be the case they will comply with few exceptions. Just like Deborah thought! Since I personally lost a grandfather, three uncles, an aunt, from cancer, contacted from their many dedicated years of employment at Bethlehem Steel, and living in environmentally unsafe Sparrows Point and Dundalk I think Henrietta Lacks made a difference in many medical areas and especially this one. Never too late is my opinion! When I share with my children and grandchildren the injustices served by colored people in my youth they are flabbergasted . When I tell them that the five years I lived in Virginia 1949-1954 that colored people stepped into the street if they came upon us on a sidewalk till we passed, that they were not allowed in the movie theatre, that they could not have a coke at the drugstore counter, that any purchase from a restaurant was done from a window dedicated colored only, and there were NO bathroom facilities for them. I even recall when our schools were integrated in the 50's they had designated water fountains and bathroom facilities. I know cause I was there. We created many many injustices to them, medicine was a minor issue comparatively..Score: 5/5

OutstandingExcellent story about the advancement of medicine mixed with moral dilemma..Score: 5/5

Hard to put down!A well-written book full of characters that are brought to life by the author. By far one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Highly recommend..Score: 5/5

Awesome BookThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an interesting book, the author, Rebecca Skloot does a magnificent job in writing this book. She puts a lot of effort in writing this book as well, from first hearing about the life and significance of Henrietta Lacks when she was 16 up until a couple years ago. Skloot does incredibly awesome in blending science in the book. She is very clear and precise when she explains what mitosis is, and the functions of cells, HeLa cells in particular. Then she explains how the Lacks family went through struggles and tribulations because of the cells that belonged to their beloved wife, and mother. Reading this book helped me improve on showing empathy towards other people, if you are interested in biology and medicine, this is definitely the book for you. This book teaches many important lessons that can be used in our world today, from life in poverty, to racism, the dark history of American medical research, this book has it all..Score: 5/5

SuperbAwesome book.Score: 5/5

HorribleSo hard to follow, author gets extremely off task. I had to read it as a summer reading book and it was impossible to follow..Score: 1/5

Must read!This is a very well written book on a subject I knew nothing about until now. Rebecca Skloot's method of showing you Henrietta's story is very effective and her nonjudgmental tone throughout her storytelling really draws you into the story. This fact based books brings up so many moral issues that when I was done reading the book I wasn't sure what side I was on. Rebecca's relationship with Henrietta's family is what is truly touching and you as the reader can see how Rebecca's quest to find out about the woman responsible for the infamous and invaluable HeLa cells not only heals the family Henrietta left behind but allows the world to know Henrietta's story. This book should be required reading in high school, whether Biology, English, or History class, this book touches on all these subjects and every American should be more aware of the woman who helped cure polio, helped to develop cancer meds, and helped scientists figure out DNA. Excellent book..Score: 4/5

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksEnlightening, fascinating, riveting. Thank you for telling this story this time. One of the best “the more you know” book I’ve read thus far. It really showcase why minorities/AA/Black and Brown People continue to distrust the healthcare system, it has never really been fair to us.Score: 5/5

Wonderful!Awesome! This is a wonderful book for an amazing cause. I had to read it for class but was pleasantly surprised :).Score: 5/5

Must ReadI was completely moved every time I turned the page of this book. This is a must read story. Rebecca Skloot did a tremendous job portraying all aspects of the story. She was able to describe her journey to gather all the information, Henrietta’s life story, Henrietta’s family, and the science involved. This also conveyed many questions and theories after every single chapter. This broadened a mystery which tests human ethics and morals. With so much happening, Skloot dissected even the smallest events in order to give her audience a deciding factor of what to make about the book. There is no wonder, this novel received so many accolades. The science of this book is very interesting. Skloot was able to describe and define every detail in order to give her audience the best understanding about medical terms. The tone of this story allowed me to be alongside Skloot in her journey about the mystery of Mrs. Henrietta Lacks’s cells. I highly recommend this book for its roller coaster round of events and emotions..Score: 5/5

Love it!One of my fave books, totally recommend it and I really like the transition between the sci and the life of everyone..Score: 5/5

Wonderful read!!I became aware of this book when Oprah appeared on "The Talk" 2 days ago. I downloaded it yesterday and read it beginning to end in barely 24 hours! I couldn't put it down!! Can hardly wait to watch the movie adaptation Saturday evening! Very intriguing, informative, and thought-provoking!.Score: 5/5

SchoolThis book is terrible with an imperfect download as well. It took 10 hours to TRY to download this book. I absolutely hate it..Score: 1/5

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksI could not put this book down. A very fascinatig read about the HeLa Cells, which I was totally unaware of since I am not in the field fo science. Rebecca Skloot has done very extensive research on this subject and on the family of Henrietta Lacks. Brilliant writing and very informative about cells and research in the field fo medical science..Score: 5/5

Surprising!This book is at the intersection of where science meets journalism. I wanted to read this book because I wanted to learn more about the woman behind the immortal cell line that changed the field of science for good. Without her, the field of cell culture that brought us many therapies, vaccines and understanding of the human cell would not of been possible. What is even more interesting is t this woman who contributed significantly to science with her cervix cancerous cells is a Black woman. I wonder how many young black kids or teens or even young women would be interested in entering the science field if they knew that one of the cornerstone of science discoveries is a cell culture coming from a Black woman. I know it would of motivated me more to be a researcher. The author herself was animated enough by this discovery in her high school class to have the motivation to do a decade’s research with the Lacks family, particularly Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter to discover the story behind this woman, her mother. While the family has not benefited from the HELa cells financially and with recognition, their impact into our lives with therapies we use everyday is their legacy to science. Also they come from a time where informed consent was not yet provided into law. It makes me question the ethics behind our medical records and what rights do people have for their tissue coming from their bodies. It also make me question does science have a boundary of ethics for different races? I’m glad I read the book. I will recommend it to my students in the Fall who want to learn about ethics surrounding biomedical research..Score: 5/5

FascinatingAs amazing as the story of HELA is, the mountains the author had to climb to get the family to trust her are every bit as fascinating. The book brings the family and all its idiosyncrasies into full view without pity or malice. There is real pain in this story but it shines a light on a story that would have otherwise gone untold. If only I could write a review that was 1/100 as interesting as this book and let’s leave it at that..Score: 5/5

ReviewThis was the most important thing l have ever heard about. I could not stop reading it. The knowledge it contains is unbelievable. Thank you for education in the use of my cells alone. Great book. I think everyone should read it..Score: 5/5

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe U.S. Congress has found that the use of human cells and tissues in biotechnology holds "great promise" for improving human health, but raises extensive ethical and legal questions that "have not been answered" and to which " no single body of law, policy or ethics applies." This, they said must be clarified... This statement is the crux of the story that Ms. Skloot presents to the reader, and it raised the whole gamut of feelings in me-so many moral, ethical, and economic questions whirled through my head as I read this brilliantly written biography. I was completely blown away by how well Rebecca Skloot related the story of Henrietta Lacks. It is honestly one of the best books I have ever read, and would recommend it to anybody and everybody..Score: 5/5

Immortal LifeA great read and the science is understandable..Score: 4/5

Must readThe kind of story that is so unbelievable it has to be true. A must read at all universities I think. Given the amount of people throughout the world that have benefited from Henrietta's life, I would love to see an international holiday in her name..Score: 5/5

Excellent readRaises a lot of questions and certainly leaves the reader with a lot to think about..Score: 5/5

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