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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Audiobook

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Audible Editor Reviews

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is both a story of scientific progress and a biography of the poor Southern family whose matriarch, Henrietta Lacks, made that progress possible. It is also a critical exploration of the interplay between science, race, class, and ethics in the United States. Finally, it is, at times, the personal narrative of Rebecca Skloot, a reporter who worked for 10 years to learn these stories and to tell them. Cassandra Campbell’s performance captures the full range of tone in these elegantly woven narratives. She delivers what the story demands of her, uniting several storytelling styles into one single, dynamic voice.

In her narration, Campbell makes particularly masterful use of distance and proximity. At some points in the story, she has the cool tone of an investigative reporter, duly noting the gruesome evidence of patient mistreatment at the Hospital for the Negro Insane in the 1950s or the horrors of medical malpractice in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. When she tells the stories of the members of the Lacks family, her voice is warm and compassionate, but still carries the distinct distance of a biographer/observer. And, at a few rare but poignant moments in the story, Campbell’s voice sounds exposed and intimately close to the listener’s ear, as the narrative brings us inside Skloot’s own struggle to understand and cope with the uncomfortable truths and thorny issues Henrietta’s story raises.

Bahni Turpin, who performs the dialogue for all the members of the Lacks family, supplies those voices with more than the appropriate dialect. Though she speaks for several different characters — some of them appear only briefly or infrequently in the story — Turpin manages to give unique weight and depth to each. Her portrayal of Zacharia Lacks, Henrietta’s youngest son, is perhaps most exceptional in its taciturn conveyance of anger, love, and pain. —Emily Elert

Publisher's Summary

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, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than 60 years.

If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they'd weigh more than 50 million metric tons - as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings.

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bombs 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.

Now, Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the colored ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henriettas small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia, a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo, to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

Henrietta's family did not learn of her immortality until more than 20 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.

©2010 Rebecca Skloot; (P)2010 Random House

What the Critics Say

"One of the most graceful and moving nonfiction books I’ve read in a very long time…The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks…floods over you like a narrative dam break, as if someone had managed to distill and purify the more addictive qualities of Erin Brockovich, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The Andromeda Strain.…it feels like the book Ms. Skloot was born to write. It signals the arrival of a raw but quite real talent.” (Dwight Garner, The New York Times)

"Writing with a novelist's artistry, a biologist's expertise, and the zeal of an investigative reporter, Skloot tells a truly astonishing story of racism and poverty, science and conscience, spirituality and family driven by a galvanizing inquiry into the sanctity of the body and the very nature of the life force." (Booklist)

"Science journalist Skloot makes a remarkable debut with this multilayered story about 'faith, science, journalism, and grace.'...A rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society's most vulnerable people." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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Performance
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  •  
    Zephyris Alberta 08-05-15
    Zephyris Alberta 08-05-15 Member Since 2014

    Literature Lover

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Thought Provoking"

    Very enjoyable and moving. I like how the author tries to present both halves of the issue evenly. It was eye opening to find out about current tissue rights. Sometimes the order of information and anecdotes about the family seemed clumsily merged and repetitive, but it's well worth a listen!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    LAJ in Austin, TX Austin, Texas USA 07-29-15
    LAJ in Austin, TX Austin, Texas USA 07-29-15 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not at all what I expected however, I loved it!"

    This was definitely a story that needed to be told! Enjoyed this book so much!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 07-25-15
    ratings
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    12
    4
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    Story
    "Excellent book! I definitely recommend it. Great"

    This was a great book with a great reader and the story is amazing. I highly recommend

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CV ct,usa 07-23-15
    CV ct,usa 07-23-15 Member Since 2014

    cv

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Informative and entertaining"
    If you could sum up The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in three words, what would they be?

    Be entertained, open your eyes and heart to this women, her family and how she has changed the world. A vivid reminder of the struggles of Africian Americans and the complications of science and morality.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

    When she went to the mental hospital and found her sister's photo.


    Which character – as performed by Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin – was your favorite?

    Henrietta Lacks- so real- you felt like you could reach out and touch her.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Yes- I don't think I laughed- but I did cry and it caused me to look up some things on my own.


    Any additional comments?

    Awesome book, I hope this author writes more like this.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Theresa Adair 07-19-15 Member Since 2013
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    12
    1
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    "Excellent"

    I enjoyed every word. Easy to follow. I did not fall asleep once. Recommended to everyone.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lois 07-17-15
    Lois 07-17-15 Member Since 2009
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    70
    1
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    Story
    "Wonderful!"
    What did you love best about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

    I really loved that the author incorporated the story of Henrietta as well as the history of her cells and genetics.


    Any additional comments?

    This is definitely a book I will listen to again!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paula Tamayo 07-16-15
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    28
    8
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    Story
    "A story that needed to be told."

    Opened my eyes to times & happenings that shocked me. I will definitely be telling people that they need to read this book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marina 07-15-15
    Marina 07-15-15
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    3
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    Story
    "Awesome non fiction"

    I don't usually choose to listen to non fiction, but this is a great story with a lot of history. The story was very personal and interesting. I really liked the narrator's voice and the flow of the story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shannon L. Meddings denver 07-08-15
    Shannon L. Meddings denver 07-08-15 Member Since 2014

    smeddings

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    10
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    "Could be science fiction but it's for reelz"

    Important read especially for those unfamiliar with the world of bioethics. Worth checking it out.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Monica Wilke St.Louis, Missouri United States 07-05-15
    Monica Wilke St.Louis, Missouri United States 07-05-15 Member Since 2014
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    2
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    "Amazingly well done."

    This book is better than a novel and WAY better than a science book. I'm both a better human and more sensitive, intelligent person for having listened to it. Thank you to the author, narrator, and of course, the Lacks family.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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