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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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  •  
    Johnanna Weathers 08-17-16
    ratings
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    6
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    "Awesome!"

    You've never read about science like this, Enjoyed every chapter,, I learned so much,

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kristin Klitsch Manville, NJ United States 08-16-16
    Kristin Klitsch Manville, NJ United States 08-16-16 Member Since 2015
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    "a fascinating story"

    I do not read nonfiction often, and I didn't realize this book fell into that category until the author's forward. I nearly stopped listening but am so glad I didn't. I loved this story so much. The way the author heard about Henrietta in a class and was gripped by a need to know who she was and never have up until she had answers was inspiring.
    The narrator did a wonderful job as well, which is very important to me.
    I highly recommend this book, either to read or listen to.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Yolanda 08-11-16
    Yolanda 08-11-16 Member Since 2011
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    "Outstanding book"

    I am so grateful for this very well written book. Thank you very much Henrietta!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 08-03-16
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    9
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    Story
    "Wow, what a bitter sweet unveiling!"

    What an ear full! Wonderful delivery! White America egregiously succeeds in yet another plot to tear down a race without apology.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeremy K 08-01-16
    Jeremy K 08-01-16 Member Since 2016
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    27
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    "Tremendous!"

    Riveting book, Skloot is a true wizard, weaving together the story scientific innovation with the human story behind it -- a story of coming to realize that the black mother you never knew was responsible for so much of the history of scientific progress, while simultaneously realizing that your race and class has precluded you from that history. A masterpiece.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hester 07-31-16
    Hester 07-31-16 Member Since 2016
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    "Great Information "

    I really liked the way this book is presented. The interweaving of Henrietta's, science's, and the Lacks' children's stories is great. Everything is easy to understand without any science background. The stories are so interesting and really make you think critically about the issues. Both sides are presented so well.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    true britty Minnesota 07-30-16
    true britty Minnesota 07-30-16 Member Since 2016

    just one more book lover

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Is this the best book EVER?"

    Haven't read a nonfiction title this gripping in years. Science lesson, testament to racial injustice, family drama, medical mystery and author memoir all rolled into one.

    This is a book everyone should read because we are all beholden to Henrietta Lacks for what her stolen cells have given to science and medicine. And this one well-told story.

    The narrators are among my faves.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Maile George 07-11-16 Member Since 2014
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    "I did not expect to like this book, but..."

    I did not expect to like this book, but I did! I had never heard of HeLa cells prior to reading this book – I am not a scientist! I would recommend this book to anyone! It's a good story, it's factual, and the Lax revealed in such a beautiful way.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 07-05-16
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    "Only interesting science story I've ever heard"
    What did you love best about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

    Research on hela cells for bio led me to this amazing story.


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

    None specifically but I felt like there was more to hear. I was sad the book ended. I wanted to keep learning about her.


    Have you listened to any of Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin ’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No. This was my first and it superceeded all expectations.


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

    Yes. It broke my heart, but I didn't want it to end. I truely loved it.


    Any additional comments?

    This book made me see science differently. And once I started looking at cells in a microscope I was hooked. I don't think there is anything more beautiful.And EVERY single time I think about Henretta.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Donne E. California, USA 06-25-16
    Donne E. California, USA 06-25-16 Member Since 2016
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    "A very touching and powerful book"

    As a person with a background with molecular biology, I chose to listen to this to learn more about the history of HeLa and any interesting factoids associated with the cells. I did not expect to become so attached and empathic with the rest of the characters in this story, especially Deborah. Very well researched; Skloot was able to tie historic scientific events in a compelling way. Overall, a well organized non-fiction, and beautifully narrated.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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