The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks /
Rebecca Skloot.
edition
1st pbk. ed.
imprint
New York : Broadway Paperbacks, c2011.
description
xiv, 381 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 25 cm.
ISBN
9781400052189
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Broadway Paperbacks, c2011.
isbn
9781400052189
catalogue key
7459141
A Look Inside
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Ambassador Book Awards, USA, 2011 : Won
Audie Award, USA, 2011 : Won
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, USA, 2012 - 2013 : Nominated
Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, USA, 2010 : Nominated
First Chapter
PROLOGUE
The Woman in the Photograph

There's a photo on my wall of a woman I've never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape. She looks straight into the camera and smiles, hands on hips, dress suit neatly pressed, lips painted deep red. It's the late 1940s and she hasn't yet reached the age of thirty. Her light brown skin is smooth, her eyes still young and playful, oblivious to the tumor growing inside her--a tumor that would leave her five children motherless and change the future of medicine. Beneath the photo, a caption says her name is "Henrietta Lacks, Helen Lane or Helen Larson."
           
No one knows who took that picture, but it's appeared hundreds of times in magazines and science textbooks, on blogs and laboratory walls. She's usually identified as Helen Lane, but often she has no name at all. She's simply called HeLa, the code name given to the world's first immortal human cells--her cells, cut from her cervix just months before she died.
           
Her real name is Henrietta Lacks.

I've spent years staring at that photo, wondering what kind of life she led, what happened to her children, and what she'd think about cells from her cervix living on forever--bought, sold, packaged, and shipped by the trillions to laboratories around the world. I've tried to imagine how she'd feel knowing that her cells went up in the first space missions to see what would happen to human cells in zero gravity, or that they helped with some of the most important advances in medicine: the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization. I'm pretty sure that she--like most of us--would be shocked to hear that there are trillions more of her cells growing in laboratories now than there ever were in her body.
            
There's no way of knowing exactly how many of Henrietta's cells are alive today. One scientist estimates that if you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they'd weigh more than 50 million metric tons--an inconceivable number, given that an individual cell weighs almost nothing. Another scientist calculated that if you could lay all HeLa cells ever grown end-to-end, they'd wrap around the Earth at least three times, spanning more than 350 million feet. In her prime, Henrietta herself stood only a bit over five feet tall.
          
I first learned about HeLa cells and the woman behind them in 1988, thirty-seven years after her death, when I was sixteen and sitting in a community college biology class. My instructor, Donald Defler, a gnomish balding man, paced at the front of the lecture hall and flipped on an overhead projector. He pointed to two diagrams that appeared on the wall behind him. They were schematics of the cell reproduction cycle, but to me they just looked like a neon-colored mess of arrows, squares, and circles with words I didn't understand, like "MPF Triggering a Chain Reaction of Protein Activations."
            
I was a kid who'd failed freshman year at the regular public high school because she never showed up. I'd transferred to an alternative school that offered dream studies instead of biology, so I was taking Defler's class for high-school credit, which meant that I was sitting in a college lecture hall at sixteen with words like mitosis and kinase inhibitors flying around. I was completely lost.
           
"Do we have to memorize everything on those diagrams?" one student yelled.
           
Yes, Defler said, we had to memorize the diagrams, and yes, they'd be on the test, but that didn't matter right then. What he wanted us to understand was that cells are amazing things: There are about one hundred trillion of them in our bodies, each so small that several thousand could fit on the period at the end of this sentence. They make up all our tissues--muscle, bone, blood--which in turn make up our organs.
           
Under the microscope, a cell looks a lot like a fried egg: It has a white (the cytoplasm) that's full of water and proteins to keep it fed, and a yolk (the nucleus) that holds all the genetic information that makes you you. The cytoplasm buzzes like a New York City street. It's crammed full of molecules and vessels endlessly shuttling enzymes and sugars from one part of the cell to another, pumping water, nutrients, and oxygen in and out of the cell. All the while, little cytoplasmic factories work 24/7, cranking out sugars, fats, proteins, and energy to keep the whole thing running and feed the nucleus. The nucleus is the brains of the operation; inside every nucleus within each cell in your body, there's an identical copy of your entire genome. That genome tells cells when to grow and divide and makes sure they do their jobs, whether that's controlling your heartbeat or helping your brain understand the words on this page.
            
Defler paced the front of the classroom telling us how mitosis--the process of cell division--makes it possible for embryos to grow into babies, and for our bodies to create new cells for healing wounds or replenishing blood we've lost. It was beautiful, he said, like a perfectly choreographed dance.
           
All it takes is one small mistake anywhere in the division process for cells to start growing out of control, he told us. Just one enzyme misfiring, just one wrong protein activation, and you could have cancer. Mitosis goes haywire, which is how it spreads.
           
"We learned that by studying cancer cells in culture," Defler said. He grinned and spun to face the board, where he wrote two words in enormous print: HENRIETTA LACKS.
          
Henrietta died in 1951 from a vicious case of cervical cancer, he told us. But before she died, a surgeon took samples of her tumor and put them in a petri dish. Scientists had been trying to keep human cells alive in culture for decades, but they all eventually died. Henrietta's were different: they reproduced an entire generation every twenty-four hours, and they never stopped. They became the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory.
            
"Henrietta's cells have now been living outside her body far longer than they ever lived inside it," Defler said. If we went to almost any cell culture lab in the world and opened its freezers, he told us, we'd probably find millions--if not billions--of Henrietta's cells in small vials on ice.
            
Her cells were part of research into the genes that cause cancer and those that suppress it; they helped develop drugs for treating herpes, leukemia, influenza, hemophilia, and Parkinson's disease; and they've been used to study lactose digestion, sexually transmitted diseases, appendicitis, human longevity, mosquito mating, and the negative cellular effects of working in sewers. Their chromosomes and proteins have been studied with such detail and precision that scientists know their every quirk. Like guinea pigs and mice, Henrietta's cells have become the standard laboratory workhorse.
            
"HeLa cells were one of the most important things that happened to medicine in the last hundred years," Defler said.
            
Then, matter-of-factly, almost as an afterthought, he said, "She was a black woman." He erased her name in one fast swipe and blew the chalk from his hands. Class was over.
           
As the other students filed out of the room, I sat thinking, That's it? That's all we get? There has to be more to the story.
           
I followed Defler to his office.
            
"Where was she from?" I asked. "Did she know how important her cells were? Did she have any children?"
            
"I wish I could tell you," he said, "but no one knows anything about her."
           
After class, I ran home and threw myself onto my bed with my biology textbook. I looked up "cell culture" in the index, and there she was, a small parenthetical:
In culture, cancer cells can go on dividing indefinitely, if they have a continual supply of nutrients, and thus are said to be "immortal." A striking example is a cell line that has been reproducing in culture since 1951. (Cells of this line are called HeLa cells because their original source was a tumor removed from a woman named Henrietta Lacks.)

That was it. I looked up HeLa in my parents' encyclopedia, then my dictionary: No Henrietta.
           
As I graduated from high school and worked my way through college toward a biology degree, HeLa cells were omnipresent. I heard about them in histology, neurology, pathology; I used them in experiments on how neighboring cells communicate. But after Mr. Defler, no one mentioned Henrietta.
           
When I got my first computer in the mid-nineties and started using the Internet, I searched for information about her, but found only confused snippets: most sites said her name was Helen Lane; some said she died in the thirties; others said the forties, fifties, or even sixties. Some said ovarian cancer killed her, others said breast or cervical cancer.
           
Eventually I tracked down a few magazine articles about her from the seventies. Ebony quoted Henrietta's husband saying, "All I remember is that she had this disease, and right after she died they called me in the office wanting to get my permission to take a sample of some kind. I decided not to let them." Jet said the family was angry--angry that Henrietta's cells were being sold for twenty-five dollars a vial, and angry that articles had been published about the cells without their knowledge. It said, "Pounding in the back of their heads was a gnawing feeling that science and the press had taken advantage of them."
           
The articles all ran photos of Henrietta's family: her oldest son sitting at his dining room table in Baltimore, looking at a genetics textbook. Her middle son in military uniform, smiling and holding a baby. But one picture stood out more than any other: in it, Henrietta's daughter, Deborah Lacks, is surrounded by family, everyone smiling, arms around each other, eyes bright and excited. Except Deborah. She stands in the foreground looking alone, almost as if someone pasted her into the photo after the fact. She's twenty-six years old and beautiful, with short brown hair and catlike eyes. But those eyes glare at the camera, hard and serious. The caption said the family had found out just a few months earlier that Henrietta's cells were still alive, yet at that point she'd been dead for twenty-five years.
           
All of the stories mentioned that scientists had begun doing research on Henrietta's children, but the Lackses didn't seem to know what that research was for. They said they were being tested to see if they had the cancer that killed Henrietta, but according to the reporters, scientists were studying the Lacks family to learn more about Henrietta's cells. The stories quoted her son Lawrence, who wanted to know if the immortality of his mother's cells meant that he might live forever too. But one member of the family remained voiceless: Henrietta's daughter, Deborah.
           
As I worked my way through graduate school studying writing, I became fixated on the idea of someday telling Henrietta's story. At one point I even called directory assistance in Baltimore looking for Henrietta's husband, David Lacks, but he wasn't listed. I had the idea that I'd write a book that was a biography of both the cells and the woman they came from--someone's daughter, wife, and mother.
           
I couldn't have imagined it then, but that phone call would mark the beginning of a decadelong adventure through scientific laboratories, hospitals, and mental institutions, with a cast of characters that would include Nobel laureates, grocery store clerks, convicted felons, and a professional con artist. While trying to make sense of the history of cell culture and the complicated ethical debate surrounding the use of human tissues in research, I'd be accused of conspiracy and slammed into a wall both physically and metaphorically, and I'd eventually find myself on the receiving end of something that looked a lot like an exorcism. I did eventually meet Deborah, who would turn out to be one of the strongest and most resilient women I'd ever known. We'd form a deep personal bond, and slowly, without realizing it, I'd become a character in her story, and she in mine.
           
Deborah and I came from very different cultures: I grew up white and agnostic in the Pacific Northwest, my roots half New York Jew and half Midwestern Protestant; Deborah was a deeply religious black Christian from the South. I tended to leave the room when religion came up in conversation because it made me uncomfortable; Deborah's family tended toward preaching, faith healings, and sometimes voodoo. She grew up in a black neighborhood that was one of the poorest and most dangerous in the country; I grew up in a safe, quiet middle-class neighborhood in a predominantly white city and went to high school with a total of two black students. I was a science journalist who referred to all things supernatural as "woo-woo stuff"; Deborah believed Henrietta's spirit lived on in her cells, controlling the life of anyone who crossed its paths. Including me.
           
"How else do you explain why your science teacher knew her real name when everyone else called her Helen Lane?" Deborah would say. "She was trying to get your attention." This thinking would apply to everything in my life: when I married while writing this book, it was because Henrietta wanted someone to take care of me while I worked. When I divorced, it was because she'd decided he was getting in the way of the book. When an editor who insisted I take the Lacks family out of the book was injured in a mysterious accident, Deborah said that's what happens when you piss Henrietta off.
           
The Lackses challenged everything I thought I knew about faith, science, journalism, and race. Ultimately, this book is the result. It's not only the story of HeLa cells and Henrietta Lacks, but of Henrietta's family--particularly Deborah--and their lifelong struggle to make peace with the existence of those cells, and the science that made them possible.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2009-12-01:
This distinctive work skillfully puts a human face on the bioethical questions surrounding the HeLa cell line. Henrietta Lacks, an African American mother of five, was undergoing treatment for cancer at Johns Hopkins University in 1951 when tissue samples were removed without her knowledge or permission and used to create HeLa, the first "immortal" cell line. HeLa has been sold around the world and used in countless medical research applications, including the development of the polio vaccine. Science writer Skloot, who worked on this book for ten years, entwines Lacks's biography, the development of the HeLa cell line, and her own story of building a relationship with Lacks's children. Full of dialog and vivid detail, this reads like a novel, but the science behind the story is also deftly handled. Verdict While there are other titles on this controversy (e.g., Michael Gold's A Conspiracy of Cells: One Woman's Immortal Legacy-and the Medical Scandal It Caused), this is the most compelling account for general readers, especially those interested in questions of medical research ethics. Highly recommended. [See Skloot's essay, p. 126; Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/09.]-Carla Lee, Univ. of Virginia Lib., Charlottesville (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2009-10-05:
Science journalist Skloot makes a remarkable debut with this multilayered story about "faith, science, journalism, and grace." It is also a tale of medical wonders and medical arrogance, racism, poverty and the bond that grows, sometimes painfully, between two very different women-Skloot and Deborah Lacks-sharing an obsession to learn about Deborah's mother, Henrietta, and her magical, immortal cells. Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old black mother of five in Baltimore when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge, doctors treating her at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her cervix for research. They spawned the first viable, indeed miraculously productive, cell line-known as HeLa. These cells have aided in medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. What Skloot so poignantly portrays is the devastating impact Henrietta's death and the eventual importance of her cells had on her husband and children. Skloot's portraits of Deborah, her father and brothers are so vibrant and immediate they recall Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family. Writing in plain, clear prose, Skloot avoids melodrama and makes no judgments. Letting people and events speak for themselves, Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society's most vulnerable people. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
Review Quotes
Selected for More than Sixty Best of the Year Lists Including: New York Times Notable Book Entertainment Weekly #1 Nonfiction Book of the Year New Yorker Reviewers'' Favorite American Library Association Notable Book People Top Ten Book of the Year Washington Post Book World Top Ten Book of the Year Salon.com Best Book of the Year USA Today Ten Books We Loved Reading O, The Oprah Magazine Top Ten Book of the Year National Public Radio Best of the Bestsellers Boston Globe Best Nonfiction Book of the Year Financial Times Nonfiction Favorite Los Angeles Times Critics'' Pick Bloomberg Top Nonfiction New York magazine Top Ten Book of the Year Slate.com Favorite Book of the Year TheRoot.com Top Ten Book of the Year Discover magazine 2010 Must-Read Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year Library Journal Top Ten Book of the Year Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year U.S. News & World Report Top Debate-Worthy Book Booklist Top of the List--Best Nonfiction Book "I could not put the book down . . . The story of modern medicine and bioethics--and, indeed, race relations--is refracted beautifully, and movingly." -- Entertainment Weekly "Science writing is often just about ''the facts.'' Skloot''s book, her first, is far deeper, braver, and more wonderful." --New York Times Book Review " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a triumph of science writing...one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read." --Wired.com " A deftly crafted investigation of a social wrong committed by the medical establishment, as well as the scientific and medical miracles to which it led." --Washington Post " Riveting...a tour-de-force debut." --Chicago Sun-Times "A real-life detective story, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks probes deeply into racial and ethical issues in medicine . . . The emotional impact of Skloot''s tale is intensified by its skillfully orchestrated counterpoint between two worlds." -- Nature "A jaw-dropping true story . . . raises urgent questions about race and research for ''progress'' . . . an inspiring tale for all ages." -- Essence "This extraordinary account shows us that miracle workers, believers, and con artists populate hospitals as well as churches, and that even a science writer may find herself playing a central role in someone else''s mythology." -- The New Yorker "Has the epic scope of Greek drama, and a corresponding inability to be easily explained away." -- SF Weekly "One of the great medical biographies of our time." -- The Financial Times "Like any good scientific research, this beautifully crafted and painstakingly researched book raises nearly as many questions as it answers . . . In a time when it''s fashionable to demonize scientists, Skloot generously does not pin any sins to the lapels of the researchers. She just lets them be human . . . [and] challenges much of what we believe of ethics, tissue ownership, and humanity." -- Science "Indelible . . . The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a heroic work of cultural and medical journalism." --Laura Miller, Salon.com "No dead woman has done more for the living . . . a fascinating, harrowing, necessary book." --Hilary Mantel, The Guardian (U.K.) " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks does more than one book ought to be able to do." -- Dallas Morning News "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." -- Boston Globe "This remarkable story of how the cervical cells of the late Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman, enabled subsequent discoveries from the polio vaccine to in vitro fertilization is extraordinary in itself; the added portrayal of Lacks''s full life makes the story come alive with her humanity and the palpable relationship between race, science, and exploitation." --Paula J. Giddings, author of Ida, A Sword Among Lions ; Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor, Afro-American Studies, Smith College "Skloot''s engaging, suspenseful book is an incredibly welcome addition for non-science wonks." -- Newsweek "Extraordinary . . . If science has exploited Henrietta Lacks [Skloot] is determined not to. This biography ensures that she will never again be reduced to cells in a petri dish: she will always be Henrietta as well as HeLa." -- The Telegraph (U.K.) "Brings the Lacks family alive . . . gives Henrietta Lacks another kind of immortality--this one through the discipline of good writing." -- Baltimore Sun "A work of both heart and mind, driven by the author''s passion for the story, which is as endlessly renewable as HeLa cells." -- Los Angeles Times "In this gripping, vibrant book, Rebecca Skloot looks beyond the scientific marvels to explore the ethical issues behind a discovery that may have saved your life." -- Mother Jones "More than ten years in the making, it feels like the book Ms. Skloot was born to write . . . Skloot, a young science journalist and an indefatigable researcher, writes about Henrietta Lacks and her impact on modern medicine from almost every conceivable angle and manages to make all of them fascinating . . . a searching moral inquiry into greed and blinkered lives . . . packed with memorable characters." --Dwight Garner, New York Times , Top Ten Book of 2010 "Astonishing . . .No matter how much you may know about basic biology, you will be amazed by this book." -- The Journal of Clinical Investigation "Rebecca Skloot did her job, and she did it expertly . . . A riveting narrative that is wholly original." --THEROOT.COM "Moving . . ." -- The Economist "Journalist Rebecca Skloot''s history of the miraculous cells reveals deep injustices in U.S. medical research." -- TIME " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating look at the woman whose cultured cells--the first to grow and survive indefinitely, harvested without compensation or consent--have become essential to modern medicine." -- Vogue " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a remarkable feat of investigative journalism and a moving work of narrative nonfiction that reads with the vividness and urgency of fiction. It also raises sometimes uncomfortable questions with no clear-cut answers about whether people should be remunerated for their physical, genetic contributions to research and about the role of profit in science." -- National Public Radio "An indelible, marvelous story as powerful as those cells." -- Philadelphia Inquirer "As much an act of justice as one of journalism." -- Seattle Times "A stunning book . . . surely the definitive work on the subject." -- The Independent (U.K.) "Graceful . . . I can''t think of a better way to capture the corrosive
Selected for More than Sixty Best of the Year Lists Including: New York Times Notable Book Entertainment Weekly #1 Nonfiction Book of the Year New Yorker Reviewers' Favorite American Library Association Notable Book People Top Ten Book of the Year Washington Post Book World Top Ten Book of the Year Salon.com Best Book of the Year USA Today Ten Books We Loved Reading O, The Oprah Magazine Top Ten Book of the Year National Public Radio Best of the Bestsellers Boston Globe Best Nonfiction Book of the Year Financial Times Nonfiction Favorite Los Angeles Times Critics' Pick Bloomberg Top Nonfiction New York Magazine Top Ten Book of the Year Slate.com Favorite Book of the Year TheRoot.com Top Ten Book of the Year Discover Magazine 2010 Must-Read Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year Library Journal Top Ten Book of the Year Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year U.S. News & World Report Top Debate-Worthy Book Booklist Top of the List-Best Nonfiction Book "I could not put the book down . . . The story of modern medicine and bioethics-and, indeed, race relations-is refracted beautifully, and movingly."- Entertainment Weekly "Science writing is often just about 'the facts.' Skloot's book, her first, is far deeper, braver, and more wonderful." -New York Times Book Review " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a triumph of science writing...one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read." -Wired.com " A deftly crafted investigation of a social wrong committed by the medical establishment, as well as the scientific and medical miracles to which it led." -Washington Post " Riveting...a tour-de-force debut." -Chicago Sun-Times "A real-life detective story, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks probes deeply into racial and ethical issues in medicine . . . The emotional impact of Skloot's tale is intensified by its skillfully orchestrated counterpoint between two worlds." - Nature "A jaw-dropping true story . . . raises urgent questions about race and research for 'progress' . . . an inspiring tale for all ages." - Essence "This extraordinary account shows us that miracle workers, believers, and con artists populate hospitals as well as churches, and that even a science writer may find herself playing a central role in someone else's mythology." - The New Yorker "Has the epic scope of Greek drama, and a corresponding inability to be easily explained away." - SF Weekly "One of the great medical biographies of our time." - The Financial Times "Like any good scientific research, this beautifully crafted and painstakingly researched book raises nearly as many questions as it answers . . . In a time when it's fashionable to demonize scientists, Skloot generously does not pin any sins to the lapels of the researchers. She just lets them be human . . . [and] challenges much of what we believe of ethics, tissue ownership, and humanity." - Science "Indelible . . . The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a heroic work of cultural and medical journalism." -Laura Miller, Salon.com "No dead woman has done more for the living . . . a fascinating, harrowing, necessary book." -Hilary Mantel, The Guardian (U.K.) " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks does more than one book ought to be able to do." - Dallas Morning News "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." - Boston Globe "This remarkable story of how the cervical cells of the late Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman, enabled subsequent discoveries from the polio vaccine to in vitro fertilization is extraordinary in itself; the added portrayal of Lacks''s full life makes the story come alive with her humanity and the palpable relationship between race, science, and exploitation.-Paula J. Giddings, author of Ida, A Sword Among Lions ; Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor, Afro-American Studies, Smith College "Skloot's engaging, suspenseful book is an incredibly welcome addition for non-science wonks." - Newsweek "Extraordinary . . . If science has exploited Henrietta Lacks [Skloot] is determined not to. This biography ensures that she will never again be reduced to cells in a petri dish: she will always be Henrietta as well as HeLa." - The Telegraph (U.K.) "Brings the Lacks family alive . . . gives Henrietta Lacks another kind of immortality-this one through the discipline of good writing." - Baltimore Sun "A work of both heart and mind, driven by the author's passion for the story, which is as endlessly renewable as HeLa cells." - Los Angeles Times "In this gripping, vibrant book, Rebecca Skloot looks beyond the scientific marvels to explore the ethical issues behind a discovery that may have saved your life." - Mother Jones "More than ten years in the making, it feels like the book Ms. Skloot was born to write . . . Skloot, a young science journalist and an indefatigable researcher, writes about Henrietta Lacks and her impact on modern medicine from almost every conceivable angle and manages to make all of them fascinating . . . a searching moral inquiry into greed and blinkered lives . . . packed with memorable characters." -Dwight Garner, New York Times , Top Ten Book of 2010 "Astonishing . . .No matter how much you may know about basic biology, you will be amazed by this book. - The Journal of Clinical Investigation "Rebecca Skloot did her job, and she did it expertly . . . A riveting narrative that is wholly original/" -THEROOT.COM "Moving . . ." - The Economist "Journalist Rebecca Skloot's history of the miraculous cells reveals deep injustices in U.S. medical research." - TIME " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating look at the woman whose cultured cells-the first to grow and survive indefinitely, harvested without compensation or consent-have become essential to modern medicine." - Vogue " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a remarkable feat of investigative journalism and a moving work of narrative nonfiction that reads with the vividness and urgency of fiction. It also raises sometimes uncomfortable questions with no clear-cut answers about whether people should be remunerated for their physical, genetic contributions to research and about the role of profit in science." - National Public Radio "An indelible, marvelous story as powerful as those cells" - Philadelphia Inquirer "As much an act of justice as one of journalism" - Seattle Times "A stunning book . . . surely the definitive work on the subject" - The Independent (U.K.) "Graceful . . . I can't think of a better way to
Selected for More than Sixty Best of the Year Lists Including: New York Times Notable Book Entertainment Weekly #1 Nonfiction Book of the Year New Yorker Reviewers' Favorite American Library Association Notable Book People Top Ten Book of the Year Washington Post Book World Top Ten Book of the Year Salon.com Best Book of the Year USA Today Ten Books We Loved Reading O, The Oprah Magazine Top Ten Book of the Year National Public Radio Best of the Bestsellers Boston Globe Best Nonfiction Book of the Year Financial Times Nonfiction Favorite Los Angeles Times Critics' Pick Bloomberg Top Nonfiction New York magazine Top Ten Book of the Year Slate.com Favorite Book of the Year TheRoot.com Top Ten Book of the Year Discover magazine 2010 Must-Read Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year Library Journal Top Ten Book of the Year Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year U.S. News & World Report Top Debate-Worthy Book Booklist Top of the List-Best Nonfiction Book "I could not put the book down . . . The story of modern medicine and bioethics-and, indeed, race relations-is refracted beautifully, and movingly."- Entertainment Weekly "Science writing is often just about 'the facts.' Skloot's book, her first, is far deeper, braver, and more wonderful." -New York Times Book Review " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a triumph of science writing...one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read." -Wired.com " A deftly crafted investigation of a social wrong committed by the medical establishment, as well as the scientific and medical miracles to which it led." -Washington Post " Riveting...a tour-de-force debut." -Chicago Sun-Times "A real-life detective story, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks probes deeply into racial and ethical issues in medicine . . . The emotional impact of Skloot's tale is intensified by its skillfully orchestrated counterpoint between two worlds." - Nature "A jaw-dropping true story . . . raises urgent questions about race and research for 'progress' . . . an inspiring tale for all ages." - Essence "This extraordinary account shows us that miracle workers, believers, and con artists populate hospitals as well as churches, and that even a science writer may find herself playing a central role in someone else's mythology." - The New Yorker "Has the epic scope of Greek drama, and a corresponding inability to be easily explained away." - SF Weekly "One of the great medical biographies of our time." - The Financial Times "Like any good scientific research, this beautifully crafted and painstakingly researched book raises nearly as many questions as it answers . . . In a time when it's fashionable to demonize scientists, Skloot generously does not pin any sins to the lapels of the researchers. She just lets them be human . . . [and] challenges much of what we believe of ethics, tissue ownership, and humanity." - Science "Indelible . . . The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a heroic work of cultural and medical journalism." -Laura Miller, Salon.com "No dead woman has done more for the living . . . a fascinating, harrowing, necessary book." -Hilary Mantel, The Guardian (U.K.) " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks does more than one book ought to be able to do." - Dallas Morning News "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." - Boston Globe "This remarkable story of how the cervical cells of the late Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman, enabled subsequent discoveries from the polio vaccine to in vitro fertilization is extraordinary in itself; the added portrayal of Lacks''s full life makes the story come alive with her humanity and the palpable relationship between race, science, and exploitation.-Paula J. Giddings, author of Ida, A Sword Among Lions ; Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor, Afro-American Studies, Smith College "Skloot's engaging, suspenseful book is an incredibly welcome addition for non-science wonks." - Newsweek "Extraordinary . . . If science has exploited Henrietta Lacks [Skloot] is determined not to. This biography ensures that she will never again be reduced to cells in a petri dish: she will always be Henrietta as well as HeLa." - The Telegraph (U.K.) "Brings the Lacks family alive . . . gives Henrietta Lacks another kind of immortality-this one through the discipline of good writing." - Baltimore Sun "A work of both heart and mind, driven by the author's passion for the story, which is as endlessly renewable as HeLa cells." - Los Angeles Times "In this gripping, vibrant book, Rebecca Skloot looks beyond the scientific marvels to explore the ethical issues behind a discovery that may have saved your life." - Mother Jones "More than ten years in the making, it feels like the book Ms. Skloot was born to write . . . Skloot, a young science journalist and an indefatigable researcher, writes about Henrietta Lacks and her impact on modern medicine from almost every conceivable angle and manages to make all of them fascinating . . . a searching moral inquiry into greed and blinkered lives . . . packed with memorable characters." -Dwight Garner, New York Times , Top Ten Book of 2010 "Astonishing . . .No matter how much you may know about basic biology, you will be amazed by this book. - The Journal of Clinical Investigation "Rebecca Skloot did her job, and she did it expertly . . . A riveting narrative that is wholly original." -THEROOT.COM "Moving . . ." - The Economist "Journalist Rebecca Skloot's history of the miraculous cells reveals deep injustices in U.S. medical research." - TIME " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating look at the woman whose cultured cells-the first to grow and survive indefinitely, harvested without compensation or consent-have become essential to modern medicine." - Vogue " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a remarkable feat of investigative journalism and a moving work of narrative nonfiction that reads with the vividness and urgency of fiction. It also raises sometimes uncomfortable questions with no clear-cut answers about whether people should be remunerated for their physical, genetic contributions to research and about the role of profit in science." - National Public Radio "An indelible, marvelous story as powerful as those cells." - Philadelphia Inquirer "As much an act of justice as one of journalism." - Seattle Times "A stunning book . . . surely th
"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 "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 "Gripping, by 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 forget."- Seed magazine "No one can say exactly where Henrietta Lacks is buried: during the many years Rebecca Skloot spent working on this book, even Lacks' hometown of Clover, Virginia, disappeared. But that did not stop Skloot in her quest to exhume, and resurrect, the story of her heroine and her family. What this important, invigorating book lays bare is how easily science can do wrong, especially to the poor. The issues evoked here are giant: who owns our bodies, the use and misuse of medical authority, the unhealed wounds of slavery ... and Skloot, with clarity and compassion, helps us take the long view. This is exactly the sort of story that books were made to tell-thorough, detailed, quietly passionate, and full of revelation."-TED CONOVER, author of Newjack and The Routes of Man "It's extremely rare when a reporter's passion finds its match in a story. Rarer still when the people in that story courageously join that reporter in the search for what we most need to know about ourselves. When this occurs with a moral journalist who is also a true writer, a human being with a heart capable of holding all of life's damage and joy, the stars have aligned. This is an extraordinary gift of a book, beautiful and devastating-a work of outstanding literary reportage. Read it! It's the best you will find in many many years."-ADRIAN NICOLE LEBLANC, author of Random Family " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks brings to mind the work of Philip K. Dick and Edgar Allan Poe. But this tale is true. Rebecca Skloot explores the racism and greed, the idealism and faith in science that helped to save thousands of lives but nearly destroyed a family. This is an extraordinary book, haunting and beautifully told."-ERIC SCHLOSSER, author of Fast Food Nation "Skloot's book is wonderful -- deeply felt, gracefully written, sharply reported. It is a story about science but, much more, about life."-SUSAN ORLEAN, author of The Orchid Thief "This is a science biography like the world has never seen. What if one of the great American women of modern science and medicine--whose contribution underlay historic discoveries in genetics, the treatment and prevention of disease, reproduction, and the unraveling of the human genome--was a self-effacing African-American tobacco farmer from the Deep South? A devoted mother of five wh
"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 "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 "Gripping, by 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 forget."- Seed magazine "No one can say exactly where Henrietta Lacks is buried: during the many years Rebecca Skloot spent working on this book, even Lacks' hometown of Clover, Virginia, disappeared. But that did not stop Skloot in her quest to exhume, and resurrect, the story of her heroine and her family. What this important, invigorating book lays bare is how easily science can do wrong, especially to the poor. The issues evoked here are giant: who owns our bodies, the use and misuse of medical authority, the unhealed wounds of slavery ... and Skloot, with clarity and compassion, helps us take the long view. This is exactly the sort of story that books were made to tell-thorough, detailed, quietly passionate, and full of revelation."-TED CONOVER, author of Newjack and The Routes of Man "It's extremely rare when a reporter's passion finds its match in a story. Rarer still when the people in that story courageously join that reporter in the search for what we most need to know about ourselves. When this occurs with a moral journalist who is also a true writer, a human being with a heart capable of holding all of life's damage and joy, the stars have aligned. This is an extraordinary gift of a book, beautiful and devastating-a work of outstanding literary reportage. Read it! It's the best you will find in many many years."-ADRIAN NICOLE LEBLANC, author of Random Family " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks brings to mind the work of Philip K. Dick and Edgar Allan Poe. But this tale is true. Rebecca Skloot explores the racism and greed, the idealism and faith in science that helped to save thousands of lives but nearly destroyed a family. This is an extraordinary book, haunt
"I could not put the book down . . . The story of modern medicine and bioethics-and, indeed, race relations-is refracted beautifully, and movingly."- Entertainment Weekly "Science writing is often just about 'the facts.' Skloot's book, her first, is far deeper, braver, and more wonderful." -New York Times Book Review " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a triumph of science writing...one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read." -Wired.com "A deftly crafted investigation of a social wrong committed by the medical establishment, as well as the scientific and medical miracles to which it led." -Washington Post "Riveting...a tour-de-force debut." - Chicago Sun-Times "A real-life detective story, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks probes deeply into racial and ethical issues in medicine . . . The emotional impact of Skloot's tale is intensified by its skillfully orchestrated counterpoint between two worlds." - Nature "A jaw-dropping true story . . . raises urgent questions about race and research for 'progress' . . . an inspiring tale for all ages." - Essence "This extraordinary account shows us that miracle workers, believers, and con artists populate hospitals as well as churches, and that even a science writer may find herself playing a central role in someone else's mythology." - The New Yorker "Has the epic scope of Greek drama, and a corresponding inability to be easily explained away." - SF Weekly "One of the great medical biographies of our time." - The Financial Times "Like any good scientific research, this beautifully crafted and painstakingly researched book raises nearly as many questions as it answers . . . In a time when it's fashionable to demonize scientists, Skloot generously does not pin any sins to the lapels of the researchers. She just lets them be human . . . [and] challenges much of what we believe of ethics, tissue ownership, and humanity." - Science "Indelible . . . The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a heroic work of cultural and medical journalism." -Laura Miller, Salon.com "No dead woman has done more for the living . . . a fascinating, harrowing, necessary book." -Hilary Mantel, The Guardian (U.K.) " The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks does more than one book ought to be able to do." - Dallas Morning News "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." - Boston Globe "This remarkable story of how the cervical cells of the late Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman, enabled subsequent discoveries from the polio vaccine to in vitro fertilization is extraordinary in itself; the added portrayal of Lacks's full life makes the story come alive with her humanity and the palpable relationship between race, science, and exploitation.-Paula J. Giddings, author of Ida, A Sword Among Lions ; Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor, Afro-American Studies, Smith College "Skloot's engaging, suspenseful book is an incredibly welcome addition for non-science wonks." - Newsweek "Extraordinary . . . If science has exploited Henrietta Lacks [Skloot] is determined not to. This biography ensures that she will never again be reduced to cells in a petri dish: she will always be Henri
This item was reviewed in:
Los Angeles Times, December 2010
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Summaries
Main 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 would 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 enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family-especially Henrietta's daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother's cells. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn't her children afford health insurance? 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.
Main 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 vacci≠ 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 enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family-especially Henrietta's daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother's cells. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn't her children afford health insurance? 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.
Main Description
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells-taken without her knowledge in 1951-became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can't afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. Book jacket.
Main Description
Acclaimed author Skloot brilliantly weaves together the story of Henrietta Lacks--a woman whose cells have been unwittingly used for scientific research since the 1950s--with the birth of bioethics, and the dark history of experimentation on African Americans.
Table of Contents
A Few Words About This Bookp. xiii
Prologue: The Woman in the Photographp. 1
Deborah's Voicep. 9
Life
The Exam … 1951p. 13
Clover … 1920-1942p. 18
Diagnosis and Treatment … 1951p. 27
The Birth of HeLa … 1951p. 34
ôBlackness Be Spreadin All Insideö … 1951p. 42
ôLady's on the Phoneö … 1999p. 49
The Death and Life of Cell Culture … 1951p. 56
ôA Miserable Specimenö … 1951p. 63
Turner Station … 1999p. 67
The Other Side of the Tracks … 1999p. 77
ôThe Devil of Pain Itselfö … 1951p. 83
Death
The Storm … 1951p. 89
The HeLa Factory … 1951-1953p. 93
Helen Lane … 1953-1954p. 105
ôToo Young to Rememberö … 1951-1965p. 110
ôSpending Eternity in the Same Placeö … 1999p. 118
Illegal, Immoral, and Deplorable … 1954-1966p. 127
ôStrangest Hybridö … 1960-1966p. 137
ôThe Most Critical Time on This Earth Is Nowö … 1966-1973p. 144
The HeLa Bomb … 1966p. 152
Night Doctors … 2000p. 158
ôThe Fame She So Richly Deservesö … 1970-1973p. 170
Immortality
ôIt's Aliveö … 1973-1974p. 179
ôLeast They Can Doö … 1975p. 191
ôWho Told You You Could Sell My Spleen?ö … 1976-1988p. 199
Breach of Privacy … 1980-1985p. 207
The Secret of Immortality … 1984-1995p. 212
After London … 1996-1999p. 218
A Village of Henriettas … 2000p. 232
Zakariyya … 2000p. 241
Hela, Goddess of Death … 2000-2001p. 250
ôAll That's My Motherö … 2001p. 259
The Hospital for the Negro Insane … 2001p. 268
The Medical Records … 2001p. 279
Soul Cleansing … 2001p. 286
Heavenly Bodies … 2001p. 294
ôNothing to Be Scared Aboutö … 2001p. 297
The Long Road to Clover … 2009p. 305
Where They Are Nowp. 311
About the Henrietta Lacks Foundationp. 314
Afterwordp. 315
Cast of Charactersp. 329
Timelinep. 333
Acknowledgmentsp. 337
Notesp. 346
Indexp. 367
Reading Group Guidep. 379
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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