The book is read in first person and because it is factual, it is easy to confuse the reader for the author. This is especially true when the author does speak.
You probably already know he subject material before reading this review so suffice it to say that you will enjoy the read if you have made it this far.
The book doesn't delve into the topic of expectations of disposal and privacy concerning body tissue. If the laws are as it states in the book, I would certainly be very upset if the same was done to me. Concerns more specific to the plot are the inconsistencies of the stories concerning consent of Henrietta Lacks after the fact. The author admits that many facts were difficult to ascertain but this one is just missing. The story conflicts without any explanation; did she or did she not have issue with the tissue?
Would you have then or now?
Exceptionally well wrought!! A history, biology and genealogical story cleverly wrapped in well narrated format. I truly enjoyed this listen and appreciated the author's painstaking patience with the Lacks family and the in-depth explanation of the HELA cell's science. It's hard to imagine a biology lesson being presented in any better arrangement. Thanks and BRAVO Rebecca!
Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman in Baltimore who had cancer in the early 1950's. Her cancerous cells had the ability to be cultured and grown - an ability that is not present in most cells. The rare ability for these cells to be grown in culture provided a cell line that was used in the creation of the polio vaccine and numerous other cures. The cells themselves did not provide the cure, the cells provided a means in which researchers could study a disease and develope a cure. The book was written because for years, the identity of the donor of these cells was only known as Hela. Neither Henrietta or anyone in her family received and compensation or, until relatively recently, any notoriety for these cells. The author fairly protrays that, for the era in which these cells were obtained, there was nothing wrong, illegal or underhanded going on. Procedures such as informed consent were non existent in the 1950's. I was left with the feeling that the Lack's family should receive some compensation for Henrietta's cells. Not because they have a legal right to compensation (which is questionable) but because it is the right thing to do.
Although the book is supposed to be about Henrietta, almost half (sometimes seemed like more) of the book is about one of Henrietta's daughters. This may interest those who develop a personal interest in the Lacks clan, but has little to do with the cells and was distracting.
You will be disappointed if you want to learn about the cells themselves, as the author only provides general descriptions and there is little technical information provided...this book is about people. That being said, there are some very good sections where the truly unethical behavior of doctors using these and other cells is described. They are quite disturbing stories.
The last hour of the book is a discussion by the author over the ethics of cells and tissues and who really owns them.
I found the premise of this non-fiction book fascinating. It teased the idea of immortality as a possibly attainable thing and teased that one woman's cells were responsible for some of the most important advances in medicine. But after reading the book it became clear that these teases were for dramatic effect and, while not untrue per se, take the facts out of context. Lacks' cells aren't immortal really. Rather, the amazingly aggressive cancer cells that killed Lacks are "immortal". And those cells aren't really immortal either, they still need to be maintained to be kept alive and multiplying. As a by-product, those cancer cells contain Lacks' DNA. And to be clear, the cancer cells haven't caused the advances in medicine. The scientists who developed the processes and treatments were the heroes. But it helped to have an aggressive, self-replicating virus to make experimentation easier.
Other problems I had with this book were the needless details about Lacks' relatives. I understand that due to the stubborness of the family, they wouldn't consent to the writing of the book without some of this information being brought out. They wanted Lacks' story to be told (but they also wanted to sue people for violating her privacy when they tried to put Lacks' name and family DNA information in medical journals - ???).
However, some of the information is simply filler (the fact that one of Lacks' children went to prison for murder is a complete waste of time). The only reason why I believe Skloot put these stories in is because, as she admitted, she had a sheltered life prior to her experience with the Lacks family and this was her first time actually interacting with members of another race and lower socio-economic means than what she was used to. She found it interesting.
Towards the end of the book Skloot even tries to defend her reasoning for putting this information in the book. It comes off as apologetic, which seems that someone (possibly her publisher or editor) tried to tell her it was a bad idea. She should have listened.
But the biggest issue I had with the book also happened towards the end of the book. Skloot shifts her telling of events to include herself as a participant. She begins to tell the reader about some of her research and interacting with Lacks' family. The entire tone of the book changes and it almost sounds like a fictional novel. Skloot writes more than just about going to certain facilities and speaking with people. She goes on about her feelings and, at one point, has a religious experience. It's unimportant, self aggrandizing and damages any impartiality that she had about any of her research. It also caused me to question how impartial she was in the conveying of any of the information in the book. In an age when fair and balanced journalism seems to be harder to find each day Skloot should be ashamed of this particular writing choice.
I picked up this book for the possible scientific information inside and about Lacks as a curious by-product. I presumed that a certain amount of information about Lacks' history was necessary to give the book a human aspect that would prevent it from becoming a scientific journal bore. However, I didn't buy this book to hear about the shenanigans Lacks' children got into after she passed away or about Skloot.
You'd be better off reading the free Wikipedia entry (if you still feel like spending, donate to the website). You'll save time and get a clearer understanding of the facts.
This is partially a biography of Henrietta Lacks who died in 1951 of cancer. It is also a story of medical ethics and science. Reading the story through contemporary eyes I can easily see the injustice of the situation. However, tissue has been taken from me following surgery and other proceedures and used in someway(s) - forever unknown. This was not the Tuskegee syphillis sort of misrepresentation, but the deception (real or imagined; by design or default) had dramatic effects on the family and heirs.
The most moving passages for me involved the adjustments that various family members were forced to make as a result of learning of Ms. Lacks' circumstances. The narrative enabled me to understand the ingredulity and misperceptions linked one to the other.
Other sections relating the ethical issues raised by this situation and the subsequent institutional responses are very timely, contemporary , and important.
Well read, clearly written, and informative. This is a very good book deserving of every listener's attention.
I love to read, but I am time-limited. Audible allows me to keep up with all my favorite authors while on the hiking trail. Thanks, Audible!
As a biologist, I am quite familiar with the story of Henrietta Lacks. As an undergraduate, it was a story we were told in cell biology class. It wasn't until my first bioethics class in graduate school that I became aware of the long-term effects of situations such as Ms. Lacks, her family, and her descendants. This is such an important story for science. BUT it is also an important story for non-scientists, because this is a story about a person's right to know and the importance of transparency and honesty. This is a tale about how easily unintended consequences can truly harm people. The author has created a rich story that is honest, complete, and respectful. The narrators do an amazing job bringing it to life.
I'm an avid listener always searching for another good book and willing to share my thoughts with a pithy review.
No mystery or intrigue to report. Just a poor family upset by their inability to profit from the distribution of a family member's unique cancer cells...after her death. It's one chapter after the other of disappointment and complaints. It turns out the cells are very helpful to cancer researchers, but the writer doesn't provide much detail in this area. She just concentrates on the disappointments within the family. It results in a sad read.
I have not read the print version, but the audio edition is wonderful to listen too.
My favorite character is Debra, HeLa's daughter. It's evident that it took her a long time to understand HeLa, but she never stopped trying to find out the truth about her mom and her medical condition.
I loved the way Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin took on the southern speech in the audio. They made the story come alive.
The way the speakers captured the raw emotion of Henrietta throughout the book was moving. But I was particularly moved by the hospital scene, just prior to her passing.
I loved the audio version of this book. It made me feel like I actually got to meet the family members.
A True Story, often so better than Fiction. How the story was woven from historical to modern day, allowing the family views to the scientiest. It was a wonderful read who I would recommend everyone read. Why? It shows no matter how small, one person can change the world for the better!
Imagine never Knowing your mother. I had that experaince but at least at 18 I had a chance to meet her before she died shortly after. Deborah never had this, was shuffed to a horrible home, beaten and abused. As she emerged in Adult life, this haunted her.
This story allower to get to know her past, her future and bonded a family in one purpose, the get the credit due to one amazing Mother.
The ugly truth behind the Black Communities medical testing. Cruel, Horrible to Heroic at times.
The reader was just fantastic, one of my favorite so far.
The Death of Deborah, especially as explained in the post script. It hits home.
Every Human Matters, have empathy for all. This was a story about a Mother a Daughter new had a chance to know, a Sister that was lost to hear. Had not this book been written, a most wonderful family line would have never been shown the light.
What a frustrating story to try to gather. Thank you for your work. Thank you Deborah for your sharing witht eh author. Your struggle alone was almost defeating to me.