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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells - taken without her knowledge - become one of the most important tools in modern medicine. Taken in 1951, these cells became the first immortal human cell line ever grown in culture. They were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered the secrets of cancer, viruses and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilisation, cloning, and gene mapping, and have been bought and sold by the billions. Put together, her cells would now weigh more than 22 million tons and placed end-to-end would wrap around the earth five times. Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the "coloured" wards of Johns Hopkins in the 1950s to poverty stricken tenements of East Baltimore today, where Henrietta's children are unable to afford health insurance, and struggle with feelings of pride, fear and betrayal. Their story is inextricably linked to the birth of bioethics, the rise of multi-billion dollar biotech industry, and the legal battles that determine if we own our bodies. Intimate in feeling, 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. Hide synopsis

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Reviews of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Overall customer rating: 4.715
Katharina W

interesting read

by Katharina W on Apr 6, 2014

This story manages to combine science and human interest story and socio-cultural and racial issues all into one fascinating read. The reader learns a lot about about cell biology without it being a lecture, and unraveling the story of the family of Henrietta Lacks without preaching or pointing fingers, but still listing all the salient facts. Well written.


She is still Saving Lives

by mizzy on Dec 26, 2013

Henrietta Lack was a poor southern black with a large extended family. When she became ill with cancer, her tumors were used in research, and the tissues have replicated themselves for decades. They are still used in breast cancer research and are the basis for the discovery of the BRCA 1, and 2 genes, for which woman can now be tested, and preventive surgery done. It is a line of genetic breast cancer genes that run in families. This story is personal, fascinating, and still in the news- since Henrietta's family had no idea scientists around the world were using her tissue for research...and exposing their personal DNA to the world, as well as making millions off the sale of research tissue. I highly recommend it, and have given it to friends whose daughters tested positive. very readable and interesting as well as a hot topic today.



by Michelle on Jul 10, 2013

enjoyed the book. writer did a good job of telling the story without filters... i would recommend this book to young people interested in health related work definitely, and for general reading as well.

Ruth S

Extraordinary book

by Ruth S on Mar 21, 2013

This is a fascinating book about people, family, science and the future of medical treatment. The author is gifted in keeping both the personal and scientific clear and engrossing.

Malcolm J

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Malcolm J on Jan 3, 2013

Tremendous read. Very well written. fascinated by this story since reading about it in the news papers about 1972. Didn't know the book had been written until I stumbled upon it on Alibris. Amazing thing is I didn't realise how like Nazi Germany the Southern states of the USA were except instead of carrying out murders and medical experiments on Jews, the US was doing the same to black people. Came as quite a shock to find out that Harry Truman was the first president of the US to make it a crime to lynch black citizens,

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