The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


By (author) Rebecca Skloot

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  • Publisher: Random House Inc
  • Format: Hardback | 369 pages
  • Dimensions: 150mm x 231mm x 36mm | 544g
  • Publication date: 2 February 2010
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 1400052173
  • ISBN 13: 9781400052172
  • Edition: 1
  • Illustrations note: 8-PAGE 4-COLOR PHOTO INSERT
  • Sales rank: 28,204

Product description

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 sixty 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 bomb's 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 Henrietta's 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 twenty 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. Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became en

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Author information

Rebecca Skloot is an award-winning science writer whose work has appeared in "The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover;" and many others. She is coeditor of "The Best American Science Writing 2011 "and has worked as a correspondent for NPR's "Radiolab "and PBS's Nova "ScienceNOW." She was named one of five surprising leaders of 2010 by the" Washington Post." Skloot's debut book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, " took more than a decade to research and write, and instantly became a "New York Times "bestseller. It was chosen as a best book of 2010 by more than sixty media outlets, including "Entertainment Weekly," " People, and the New York Times." "It "is being translated into more than twenty-five languages, adapted into a young reader edition, and being made into an HBO film produced by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball. Skloot is the founder and president of The Henrietta Lacks Foundation. She has a B.S. in biological sciences and an MFA in creative nonfiction. She has taught creative writing and science journalism at the University of Memphis, the University of Pittsburgh, and New York University. She lives in Chicago. For more information, visit her website at, where you'll find links to follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Review quote

"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.' 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" "Skloot's vivid account begins with the life of Henrietta Lacks, who comes fully alive on the page...'Immortal Life' reads like a novel."--Eric Roston, "The Washington Post "" turns heartbreaking, funny and unsettling...raises troubling questions about the way Mrs. Lacks and her family were treated by researchers and about whether patients should control or have financial claims on tissue removed from their bodies."--Denise Grady, "New York Times" "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'' is a fascinating read and a ringing success. It is a well-written, carefully-researched, complex saga of medical research, bioethics, and race in America. Above all it is a human story of redemption for a family, torn by loss, and for a writer with a vision that would not let go."--Douglas Whynott, "The Boston Globe " "Riveting...raises important questions about medical ethics...It's an amazing story...Deeply chilling... Whether those uncountable HeLa cells are a miracle or a violation, Skloot tells their fascinating story at last with skill, insight and compassion" --Colette Bancroft, "St. Petersburg Times " "The history of HeLa is a rare and powerful combination of race, class, gender, medicine, bioethics, and intellectual property; far more rare is the writer than can so clearly fuse those disparate threads into a personal story so rich and compelling. Rebecca Skloot has crafted a unique piece of science journalism that is impossible to put down--or to for