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)
I didn't read the book I have only listened to the audio book and it was fantastic. Well worth the money. You get the book all afterwords and post scripts and an interview with the author.
I enjoy science based non-fiction but this wasn't like most science books I have read in the past. There is a personal story being told which made it more interesting. It also gave you a very balanced view of tissue harvesting and both the pros and cons of it's use in science.
I haven't listened to these readers before but they did an excellent job of bringing this book to life for me.
I couldn't listen to it it on one sitting because it was just too long. The story was very interesting but each chapter tells it's own small story so it was easy to listen in the car where I was getting in and out alot.
Say something about yourself!
This story is fascinating. If you've ever done any studying in the medical field, you've probably heard of HeLa cells. However, I'm sure you've never heard the true story behind the donator of those cells. Not only is it a story of Henrietta Lacks, but of her family, and ethics in science.
I do not know that the printed version to compare it. I so immensely enjoyed the audio book during gym workout and drives to / from work. The story was riveting, the pace was perfect.
When Rebecca told Deb to "f*ck off". Finally showing her anger made me trust Rebecca more.
Movement. Synchronized movement. Hearing their voices caused me to recall where I was in the story easily.
Moments when Rebecca confessed that she had not eaten meat in over a decade (I think) but upon being offered it with the Lacks family, she did. Moments when Rebecca confessed that she had never held nor read from the Bible. Moments when Rebecca is frozen in time as she witness Ministry of the Holy Spirit minister to Deb and falls upon her to bear the bearden. Each of these times when Rebecca opened hershelf up ot the unususl.
This is a story of humanity as much as it is a story about science. You get to know both the author and the family of Henrietta Lacks - their fears, joys, and watching their relationship build over time. You get a glimpse into the lives of the physicians and the institutions they are part of, and seeing how all these players interact and the story of the family behind these great advances. You'll feel their pain, and wonder how such things could have happened. And I know I came away with a better appreciation for the science that helps to keep me healthy today. This is thoroughly enjoyable, and a book I had a hard time putting down.
I stumbled onto this story while researching something else, and I can't describe the amazement that her story is not widely known in the mainstream society. I shake my head and wonder why not even during Black History Month there is never any real effort to spotlight her story and contributions. The narrating was great and the writing was awesome. The only draw back is it seems to me Rebecca skloot profited monetarily while handing crumbs to Henrietta's family I would like more follow up of them today
A little angry...thought provoking
One of the best books i listened to.
their voices were so authentic, it made listening more interesting and more informative.
Can't tell because it would spoil the listen.
It is unbelievable that in a world where property owners get royalty rights for oil recovered on their land, a family has no rights to compensation for the millions made off their mother's cells.
This was a deeply engrossing audio. The personal history of Henrietta Lacks, the era, and the scientific background were woven together so well I could see the interaction. The narration was real; not over-played. I could feel and see the characters. Like any really good book, I was a bit sad when I knew I was getting close to the end.
I drive about 90 minutes a day and found myself volunteering to go out so I could get just a bit more. The science, politics and history of medical research has opened my eyes to an issue that effects everyone who has ever gone through a medical procedure or test.
Enjoying one good listen after the next!
Listen to this! You must! It is a true story that will amaze, inspire, aggravate and infuriate you all at once. Just an amazing true story of one woman, her family and her contributions to medical science, although without informed consent. Loved the story, the writing and the narration. Just well done through and through.
Yes-- I'm afraid I missed something.
bioethics-- it really opened my eyes to questions without answers
The physician who told his patient with atibodies against hepatitis that his blood is valuable.
It was fascinating. I work at a research hospital so most of what the story was about was close to home.
always like to learn something new....mostly like study of philosophy, religion and history, not only the western side of the story, but also like to investigate the other shades.
This book is about development of science (history of cell-culture) and society (history of the Lacks family, and changes the Scientific Society in general); both of these strands are interwoven in a wonderful way. It is a fitting tribute to the person behind the immortal 'HeLa'
The story touches your heart and you can not put the book down, so yes, have to read (hear) it in one sitting
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