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
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
"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)
Although I found the story heart drenching hearing of all this families turmoil, I think the HELA project may have been one of the greatest contributions to humanity. Despite the fact that the family was robbed of the riches that came with the scientific development, the royalty that comes with being an ancestor of Henrietta Lacks is simply priceless. This most definitely a must read for all.
Sci-fi, detective, cozy. Only give 5s to those books I think stand above the rest. 4 is a good solid book. 3 is average, nothing special.
Overall a very good book. Rambles on a bit and is a bit preachy in spots. Still, one of those books everybody should read.
Just someone who likes a little bit of everything but mostly Sci-Fi/fantasy & Mystery Thrillers. I love Audiobooks because it makes whatever project I'm working on a little more enjoyable. I only wish I could leave reviews on books that I didn't get from Audible..I need another tb....
It 's rare that I write a review, especially so since it's a true story. Also, I listen or read to so many books that I get harder and harder to impress.
I started the story of Henrietta Lacks this morning and could not turn it off. By the time I finished I'd used more than a few tissues.
No question that this family was taken advantage of.
No question that a price could ever be placed on the contributions that Henrietta Lacks made to science and medicine and, no question that this book was worth every second or worth every dime.
This is not a story about how Black people were used and taken advantage of...It's about so much more. It's a story about a family, any family who might have been used and taken advantage of. It's about a daughter's love, it's about truth, it's about perseverance and yes it's about science.
Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin brought Ms Skloot words to life, making the characters seem so real and alive that I cried with them and cheered for them. I look forward to listening to more by this author and these narrators .
HeLa is a scientific phenomenon wrapped in the human character story of a young black woman named Henrietta Lacks, who died of cervical cancer. She left behind five children and cancer cells that would become immortal as they continue to be THE most powerful tool scientific research has known. The strength of her cells and the wonders that science has worked through and with them are only part of the story. Henrietta's life story and the lives of her children as they struggle to live without her & to learn 20 years later that their mother's cancer cells have become immortal. Meticulously researched and chronicled. yet rich with conversation. Choice of audiobook narrators was a wonderful addition to the story. Thank you Rebecca Skloot for your perseverance to share the truth and honor Henrietta
One of the best!
It has some of the heart and technique of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.
Rebecca Skloot draws you in to care deeply about Henrietta and Deborah as she does.
Not my typical book, but something that will forever change my perspectives and ethics. Very entertaining and OH- the humanity! I recommend this to absolutely everyone.
This book brought tears and gratefulness to tragic story for a family but progress to a nation medically. However, I can't help but wonder would this had happened if Henrietta was a white women? Why was it alright and why did it take so long for her to acknowledged?
Deborah, she was a little girl who lost her mother and a grown woman who struggled because of that loss.
This book was a wildcard for me; I'm not interested in science or scientific development or African American biographies or histories. I purchase audio books for riveting entertainment during tedious weight loss walks - I want distraction and immersion, I care nothing for 'high brow' or 'well rounded' audible libraries. Well, what a stunning change this book was. Life really is stranger than fiction and I'm still stunned that the cells of a single diseased women have been used, without permission all over the world, billions of times. That sounds so dry, and I really can't do this story justice except to tell you that although the cover looks boring, this book is stunning. I listened in disbelief as the story unfolded and at times wept for the simple naivety of this woman and the struggle of her family in continuing generations. This is a story that MUST be heard by everyone, it IS historical but is also of our present time. I think it should be mandatory reading for all college students, I know I've over used the word, but I'm stunned. On so many levels, I'm just sitting here STUNNED.
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. That audio book is similar in that it is presented by a narrator who is also the 'investigator'. Again, The Orchid Thief was a wild card book for me and I was quickly drawn in and fascinated by a wealth of knowledge I would have never sought out or even considered interesting. In that regard, both these books have a strong bond of dropping extraordinary facts in the telling of a engaging story. You feel as if you are at the centre of eavesdropping a series of events. I actually purchased an orchid after this audio book and have become a keen fanciest, so be warned that it might have such an effect on you. In regards to the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I have a new found understanding of the prevalent and blatant human disregard in the field of medical science that I had never considered was a part of our modern day practices before outside the realm of unethical Nazi medical testing stories.
A very informative and thought provoking book. Hats off to the author for her consideration of everyone involved and her sensitivity of the issues surrounding human tissue ownership and research. Thank you for writing a biologically informative book from a humanitarian perspective, and in a format that the general public can understand and appreciate.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.