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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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  •  
    Amazon Customer 12-28-16 Member Since 2015
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    "I wish I had read this sooner"

    Wow, what an incredible story about HeLa, Henrietta and the Laks family. This audio book has spurred new curiosity in me for the souls behind scientific discovery. I would suggest this to anyone interested in science, cancer research, bioethics, African-American history, public health and human services in the US, stories about love between mother and daughter, or just fine investigative journalism.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Phyllis Briggs 12-28-16
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    "Great story"

    I loved learning about Henrietta and her family. They will live forever in our lives

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Luann Hudson 12-04-16 Member Since 2011
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    "Not exactly what it seems"
    Would you try another book from Rebecca Skloot and/or Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin ?

    Probably not. The Performance was fine, the writing was pretty good, but it needed to be cut in half. Some of the authors basic concepts were a little misleading.


    What could Rebecca Skloot have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    She kept trying to make it a social issue. While there are certainly social implications, the bare facts are that Ms Lacks got cervical cancer, which was treated for free by Hopkins, and some of the Cancer cells (not really her, but her cancer) turned out to be an immortal cell line that was distributed (more or less free or at cost) by Hopkins to further research in medicine. While some people profited from use of the cell line, its quite a stretch to saying that Ms Lacks or her family should have made a profit off her misfortune.


    Could you see The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    Nope...


    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kenneth J. Katschke 11-29-16 Member Since 2015
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    "Unexpectedly better"

    Everyone has an interesting story, and in the hands of an expert storyteller it becomes a meaningful story. The book was much more personal (it's written in first person and is as much about the author's quest as the main topic) and about characters who I didn't anticipate that make this a remarkable, memorable book.

    Every cell biologist or medical researcher should read it. We rarely think from whom our lab cells or samples come from. Are the ethical guidelines currently in place for biological sample procurement sufficient? They are certainly more developed than the wild West days of the 1950s but as research and profits grow who should financially benefit? Questions not answered but certainly addressed throughout the book.

    Listen to the book, you will not be disappointed.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christina 11-15-16
    Christina 11-15-16 Member Since 2016
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    "Great book"

    didn't think I'd enjoy a scientific novel so much. tree story is captivating you forget that your learning something as well!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    S. Walker Waco, TX 11-14-16
    S. Walker Waco, TX 11-14-16 Member Since 2014

    S Walker

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    "Very interesting"

    Very interesting, easily understood and very well read!! I thought maybe the scientific information would be hard to grasp which causes you to lose some understanding of book but not in this case. Includes info everyone should be aware of but has never been informed about.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Annette Gendler Chicago, IL United States 11-02-16
    Annette Gendler Chicago, IL United States 11-02-16 Member Since 2014
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    "Definitely an engaging and worthwhile story"

    This is not a subject I was interested in but I had to read this book for a workshop and found it remarkably engaging. I definitely learned a lot about what goes on with tissue research and also the life of poorer African Americans in Baltimore.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    oneofthelucky 11-01-16 Member Since 2015
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    "Drama, mystery, and science"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to be better than the print version?

    Don't know.


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

    The story of Henrietta's death.


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

    Henrietta was the best character because she was somewhat of a mystery.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No, it is quite a long listen, but it kept me interested throughout.


    Any additional comments?

    Good read.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nathan 10-27-16
    Nathan 10-27-16
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    "overall pretty good"

    this book was a great mix of science and biography and i really enjoyed the second half of the book. i cant say the same for the first half because i found that it didnt catch my attentiond at all.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Neysa Rhea Smith 10-26-16 Member Since 2015
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    "The truth be told"
    What did you love best about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

    The honest telling of the story. The compelling and raw emotions that Henrietta endures throughout her illness and the strength she constantly displays as a mother.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The neverending determination of a daughter


    What about Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin ’s performance did you like?

    Absolutely, loved their performance. It made the story flow


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    She lives forever


    Any additional comments?

    I loved this book. This is not a story. It is chronological facts, with a sad ending

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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