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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

4.5 (9577 )
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Performance
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  •  
    k BRISTOL, PA, United States 02-20-17
    k BRISTOL, PA, United States 02-20-17 Member Since 2017
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    17
    8
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    "Reads like a mystery, science fiction, and horror"
    Any additional comments?

    This book is a journey through decades of science, family history, mystery, and medical law. I don't typically go for non-fiction, but I could not stop listening!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tiffany 02-20-17
    Tiffany 02-20-17 Member Since 2016
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    "The exposure of greed, ego, + racism in science"

    I was horrified by this story that presents the history + current practice of scientific research like a fictional sci-fi movie. I couldn't believe the things that took place. Excellent audio book!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carmen 02-16-17
    Carmen 02-16-17 Member Since 2016
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    20
    4
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    "Beautifully Woven Story"

    Rebecca Skloot managed to weave together three stories and inform readers about a complex topic and history. The narrators bring it to life perfectly.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Redmond, WA United States 02-13-17
    Michael Redmond, WA United States 02-13-17 Member Since 2016
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    "Great performance and story."

    Just great. It does get slow in the middle. I took a break when listening. But this book gives a great insight on how Henrietta's cells have impacted science and her family.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lindsay S. Nixon 02-04-17 Member Since 2017
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Saying "fantastic" feels wrong given the subject"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to be better than the print version?

    Yes. Biographies tend to be too dry for me to read but it's wonderful having them read to you. You feel like you're the investigative reporter.


    What other book might you compare The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to and why?

    Forgotten: D-Day Black Heroes by Linda Herivieux; both are detailed accounts of Black History -- stories of real American heroes we need to share with everyone.


    What does Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Cassandra Campbell's voice was critical for making Deborah real to me.


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

    Take your time with this book


    Any additional comments?

    Saying "fantastic" feels wrong given the subject matter but this story is one we need to share with everyone. It'll change how you think about cancer, medical research, your biology, and American history

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darla 02-03-17
    Darla 02-03-17 Member Since 2015
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    7
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    "Heartwarming and informative"

    Loved the way they author integrated the human side of the Lacks family with the story of the cells.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Deanne 02-03-17
    Deanne 02-03-17 Member Since 2016
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    2
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    "AMAZING!!!!"

    very imformative. great narration. excellent writing as well. I loved this book a lot! good

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jaime 01-31-17
    Jaime 01-31-17 Member Since 2016
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    "Amazing story"

    How was this not a part of school growing up!! Thank you for writing this book

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Schmanet 01-30-17
    Schmanet 01-30-17
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    "Powerful, well-written and informative! "

    One of the best audio books in my library. I am a scientist in a clinical lab and I assisted in an IVF lab. Always in awe about cell culture. This book was so powerful for me in realizing how cell culture has come so far to help so many. Yet the questions raised and the issues associated with human cells were well presented in the book. The family's experience in not knowing about there mother was so heartfelt. I could not put this book down. The author did a wonderful job and the narrators were excellent! Review by Janet Sweeney.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 01-21-17 Member Since 2016
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    "Powerful Story!"

    This book is so important for current and future scientist, human service and health care workers to read. It is a powerful read.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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