Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first ‘immortal’ human tissue grown in culture, HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta herself remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave
Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey in search of Henrietta's story, from the ‘coloured’ ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live, and struggle with the legacy of her cells. Full of warmth and questing intelligence, astonishing in scope and impossible to put down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.
©2009 Rebecca Skloot (P)2010 Random House, inc
I loved the layering of experience: the story of Henrietta herself, the utterly compelling narrative of the destiny of the HeLa cells, the story of Skloot's own search, and then the moving narrative of the descendants of Lacks.
I also listened to The Help this year, and think there is something to be gleaned from these two extended works about the healing power of storytelling. While I often shrink back from white people telling black people's stories, both these books actually tackle this problem head on, exploring the problem of who is telling whose story and why. Restoration through narrative.
She was one of the narrators in The Help apparently (must have been that weird third person section?) Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed her reading.
A story of science that comes from the heart.
I found this a very interesting history about the people involved in changing the face of biology as we know it. From the family and their experiences of being involved in the process to the scientists. Ethical practices have changed over time and it is interesting to consider whether the same thing could happen today.
"Extremely over hyped, and in no way a science book"
I went into this having read many positive reviews, and I expected a in depth story into the scientific breakthroughs which resulted from the discovery of HeLa cells.
Instead what I got was an in depth story of how the writer of this book struggled to research the history of the person from whom these cells were drawn - Henrietta Lacks. It's incredibly self indulgent, and spends literally hours on how diligent the author was. The rest is all about the life (and death) of Henrietta and her family. Aside from her remarkable cells, the life of Henrietta was unremarkable in the extreme (for the time), and this book could have simply been a general history of the lot of poor, ultra religious African Americans in the deep south in the 1940s and 50s.
There is virtually no science in this book at all, so if science is what interests you, this book will not. I also found the narrator extremely irritating, as she spends much of her time either attempting (and failing horribly) to do deep south African American accents, or adding quivers and shakes to her voice during emotional moments in the text. It's one of the worst readings of a book I've yet encountered on Audible, and I've listened to a lot of audiobooks.
The story is fascinating in and of itself, but it seems that the author cannot really decide whether to go for good story-telling or scientific accuracy. The result is an enjoyable, but somewhat wobbly book. The real problem herr lies in the narrator. Far too grating and un-nuanced a voice for my taste.
"An interesting read"
I enjoyed the book on the whole. I found the science and the story of Henrietta really interesting. I have to say I did find the story of the author and her involvement with the family a bit self indulgent and tedious at times. I think the interesting story makes up for the negatives and I would recommend reading it.
I was really moved by this book. I had heard of HeLa cells before, having studied and worked in medical science for most of my career, but I had never heard the real story behind them. Apart from being a great read the book raises a lot of questions about bioethics, fairness and the injustices of the past. Definitely a story that needed to be told!
Nice narration, got off to a good start, but sadly I lost interest. I bought this as it is a read for my book club and thought at first I was on to a winner. Medical bits at first are interesting but then get to scientific - mish mash book - for me, not enough Henrietta and a bit too much science.
"The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks"
I have loved listening to this audio book.Cassandra Campbell reads it clearly and has a lilting soft voice.I had never heard of Henrietta and found the story fascinating. I was not expecting a scientific book.It tells the story of Henrietta and how her cells have been used to improve our lives. It also tells how her family have not understood how this has all happened, and why they have never been paid for her cells. If there is one minor criticism it would be the emphasis the author put on her relationship with Deborah Lacks and not giving enough information about the rest of the family. However I was fascinated and so glad I chose to listen to it.
"A truly interesting book"
Fascinating, addictive, engaging, I couldn't stop listening to it. I've studied biology in the past but never found it as interesting as in this book, to me it was the perfect balance of scientific information, ethical discussion and human interest.
Its a well written book, but I found the medical side of it a little boring. I thought I'd give it a try as I thought there would be more on Henrietta's actual life but there wasn't. This highlighted many of the inequalities of the time but I was not really that excited about and was glad when it was over.
Fascinating book, perfectly marrying scientific fact with the amazing story of one woman and her immortal cells which are still growing today in thousands of labs all over the world. The author, Rebecca Skloot becomes a vital part of the story as she takes the angrily uninformed Lacks family by the hand and drags them from the superstition and misinformation that plagues the family, through to a more appreciative understanding of the contribution their mother's cells have made to the world.
The idea of reading a scientific history of cell culture wouldn't exactly thrill me - but this is an amazing (true) story, wonderfully told with a bunch of interesting characters. And the audiobook is beautifully narrated too, which really brought it to life.
"fascinating and horrifying"
It is absolutely fascinating and powerful but also horrifying. As you read how Henrietta was treated for her cervical cancer and how she died you cannot imagine this happened in the 1940's. Amazing, and something I had not thought about, was the fact that people travelled about with samples of radium in their bags or pockets! Then later in the book you read how she daughter was committed to the 'institute for the mentally insane Negro' and how she was included in some terribly barbaric tests there and you wonder how this could happen.
Then you realise that the question of what happens to your cells/ body parts after you leave the doctors surgery or hospital is not yet sorted out. You leave the bits and in fact they are not yours anymore and hospitals can use them if them want. When Henrietta had her biopsy and operation she did not even have to give her consent. While this is a book about the HeLa cells it is also a book about a very real family and a book raising questions about medical research and ethics.
12 hours of audio book and I read it in 2 days - I can really recommend it
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