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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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  •  
    TH 04-04-17
    TH 04-04-17 Member Since 2017
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    6
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    Story
    "A book everyone should read"

    This book brings up many vital issues in ethics of science, and does it amazingly.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    HBC-Ca. 04-02-17
    HBC-Ca. 04-02-17
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    20
    5
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    Story
    "Moving Story..."

    I appreciate the author telling this story about a black woman's contribution to science! AWESOME!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rachael Plainfield, IL 03-31-17
    Rachael Plainfield, IL 03-31-17 Member Since 2013
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    "A very interesting subject & a well written story"
    What did you love best about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

    I loved the many little stories that made up the big story that is Henrietta Lacks. All of the different personalities of her children and relatives. Learning about how her cells helped so many people, and how her family coped with all of the struggles they went through. It was great


    What did you like best about this story?

    I loved that the author put everything in layman's terms so that the reader could understand the scientific aspects of the story. I don't know alot about science but the author really made me understand.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    When Miss Rebecca takes Deborah & Zachariah (? on spelling) to see their mother's cells in the microscope


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I giggled at a few parts with Deborah and was moved when Deborah found out all that happened to her sister in the institution


    Any additional comments?

    The narrator, Cassandra Campbell, did a great job at changing her voice to match various characters. She really made the story come alive. And Bahni Turpin did a fantastic job as Deborah at times, although I wouldn't have minded more of Bahni since I love her as a narrator.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeanne Frentz 03-27-17 Member Since 2015
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    9
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    "Book clubs everywhere. Read this book"

    Extremely interesting. Well written. Thought provoking. Our book club read it. Very pleased and proud to learn of Henrietta lacks.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michanne 03-25-17
    Michanne 03-25-17 Member Since 2016
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    "wow! moving story"

    A scientific topic that is woven into an amazing story of a family's tragic loss of their mother and how their lives progress in parallel to the scientific discovery that was taking place all due to their mother's cells.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Denise 03-24-17
    Denise 03-24-17 Member Since 2015
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    5
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    "Jaw-dropper"

    This was an amazing book. I enjoyed every word and I like the narrator. This has been one of the best books I've read so far in my life. I found myself digging up information on the Lacks family and all the ways the HeLa cells were instrumental in research. I wish it were a happy ending for the family, but I'm honored that the author saw fit to tell such an amazing story. This book was also funny as well. Well done Boo. Lol ( you'll catch that later in the book)

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chisom Ikeji 03-24-17 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "What an incredible story"

    This book really did the family justice by telling the story accurately with no bias. I love the history of science that accompanies the narrative.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    miless 03-22-17
    miless 03-22-17 Member Since 2017
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    "Enjoyable and educational. Loved It!"

    Though I was aware of some history,, I learned a little more please some science/biology. It was wonderful.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    mom2twins 03-21-17
    mom2twins 03-21-17 Member Since 2016
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    "perfect blend of science the human story behind it"

    the author did a fantastic job blending the human alley of the Hela cells and the science of the Hela cells. intriguing book so listen to and kept my attention the entire time which is hard to do as a mother of young children

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard Bates 03-21-17 Member Since 2012
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    12
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    "The immortal Life of Hennritta Lacks"

    So good I listened to it everywhere I went and finished in a day and a half. Very well written laughed in some place cried in others. Was not as complicated as far as the science side of it as I thought. Just an amazing story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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