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)
This audible wasn't even the whole book! I am so mad that I waisted a chance to download a free audible book on this audio version.
It only went to part two and didn't even go to chapter twenty! WHAT A WAIT OF TIME!
One of the best. I found myself going back to listen to parts of it again since I listened on my commute and I would catch part of something and wanted to be sure that I had not missed something
Although the story is true, at times it seemed to be hard to believe that Mrs. Lacks was treated so casually by the Doctors for research
the dialects and speech patterns brought the characters to life for me.
I was moved by the piece of the book where the woman following the trail of the immortal cells finally was able to meet with and talk to the daughter of Mrs. Lacks..
If medical stories and plot shifts are your thing, I think you will like this book.
As a medical person, I was still doubtful that this story would be interesting, and I feared that the jargon would lose me. However, the author did an excellent job making this story about not just a black family, but A FAMILY, and what they suffered. She could have been writing about anyone. It was beautifully done, and I ended up feeling as if personally knew the Lackses. I was SO moved, that I plan to put up a bulletin board about Henrietta Lacks for my students during Black History month. There are no words to define the magnitude of the contribution this woman has made to the advancement of science! This is definitely a MUST READ.
Yes. I believe all medical professionals should read/hear this story. Wonderful job by the author and narrator. Often we learn of the scientific background of research and discovery. It is so much more powerful to gain understanding of the human element that makes medical advances possible. I am sure I will listen to this one again.
The scientific history well complimented by the human story behind it.
Yes, always a very nice job narrating.
If you have any interest in learning more about medical history and or advances in medical research, read/listen to this book. I trust you will be pleased that you did.
a good book makes me laugh, makes me learn, or makes me sad because it's over.
Something. For. Everyone.
This book is truly a work of art. It seamlessly integrates history, science, ethics, and a tale of an unlikely friendship. The narrators are clear, authentic, and enjoyable to listen to. I have never been much a fan of history or science books as I find them both a bit dry, but Skloot really brings these subjects to an elevated place. I didn't want the story to end!
Not possible-- it's too long.
You won't regret it.
Cassandra Campbell is one of my favorite narrators. She does an amazing job.
There are honestly too many to recount. I got goosebumps at several points. This book really makes you think. I did not want to stop listening. I feel like I know the Lacks family now. Great book.
Same answer as above.
Take the chance on this book. There was definitely some medical jargon that I'd have to listen to a few times, and probably could go back and listen to again to fully grasp it, but the author does a pretty good job of making it understandable for the person that has very little understanding of science. Just an incredible book and amazing story.
That Henrietta Lacks has been credited (finally) with the proper contribution that she has made toward humankind.
How badly her family was treated over the decades.
Wish they left out the accents. They did not sound authentic.
Yes; very compelling story.
Science facts and human factor involved.
Not sure who they are.
The discovery of HeLa's daughter's photo from the insane asylum.
Enjoyed it very much
I loved the educational/entertaining aspect of this book. The author was able to explain the details where it was not confusing and made it easy to follow along. I finished reading this book with so much insight. I am a simple person. I am easily entertained by most books but, this one in particular left me feeling like I took a college course all while meeting a family and teaching myself about the scientific facts of the human body. What a great book!
I loved the family. The realness, the rawness, the trueness.
their dialect made it easy to despiser between characters
An ordinary life behind history changing medicine.
The performance was well-done. She can talk about cell culture and keep it thrilling. The story is a beautiful mix of human interest, social justice, and science
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