The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Paperback – 1 Jan 2011
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'It's a harrowing story and Rebecca Skloot tells it well.' --Sunday Telegraph Paperback Pick
'An extraordinary mix of memoir and science reveals the story of how one woman's cells have saved countless lives.'
'extraordinary . . . This haunting account of [Henrietta Lacks'] and her family's treatment unearths appalling racism and injustice beneath the beauty and drama of scientific discovery.' --Guardian
`Compelling story of the unsung woman whose cells have been used in dozens of medical breakthroughs.'
'No dead woman has done more for the living ... A fascinating, harrowing, necessary book.' (Hilary Mantel)
'A fine book ... gripping ...' (The Sunday Times)
'An extraordinary mix of memoir and science reveals the story of how one woman's cells have saved countless lives.' (The Daily Telegraph) --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Henrietta Lacks, a poor young black woman, was admitted to hospital in Baltimore in 1951 with an exceptionally invasive and aggressive cancer.
A standard biopsy was taken of her cancerous cells. She did not know that the biopsy would not be used purely for diagnostic purposes, but also tissues would be used for research. No consent was sought for this. In 1951 and indeed still today samples of tissue taken for diagnostic purposes can be used for other purposes - we do not own our tissues once they are no longer part of us.
Cancer cells are not subject to apoptosis. The particular aggressiveness of Henrietta Lack's cancer yielded astonishing results for tissue culture, and within a short space of time the `HeLa' cell line was being used for a wide number of medical research studies world wide, whether testing the actions of many pharmaceutical drugs or as part of the human genome project, and more.
`HeLa' has had profound, beneficial effects on probably most of us who benefit from modern medicine. HeLa has earned millions of dollars and much prestige for many predominantly white male scientists, as patents have been taken out on advances only possible through tissue culture using the HeLa line
However, Henrietta's family were unaware of the rich legacy she left the world - or the rich financial legacy reaped by institutions and individuals. In fact, they remained poor and unable to afford healthcare.Read more ›
Skloot repeatedly appears as a character in her own book, narrating her journey from first hearing about HeLa cells in a classroom to her attempts to contact and support the Lacks family. Her narration reveals the trials that the Lacks family have undergone since Henrietta's cells went global, and the sheer amount of trust it took to uncover the details of this story.
But this is really a book about three heroines - the two whose names grace the cover and Henrietta's daughter, Deborah Lacks. Skloot's personal mission to tell this story and Deborah's quest to know about her mother's life and legacy are central parts of Henrietta's story and they form some of the book's most compelling segments.
I write this review as someone who isn't typically a fan of historical non-fiction. Particularly in popular science, I often find descriptions of researchers to be distracting attempts at shoehorning in a human element that is out of keeping with the rest of the book. Not so here - this work has the most human of stories at its core, and never deviates from that important, and often heartbreaking, humanity. When science appears, it does so effortlessly, with explanations of cell anatomy or techniques like "fluorescence in situ hybridization" seamlessly worked into descriptions of the coloured wards of Johns Hopkins hospital to Lacks's hometown of Clover, Virginia.
Skloot's prose is witty, lyrical, economical and authoritative.Read more ›
Rebecca did not `uncover' the story; there was an award-winning BBC documentary a dozen years ago, which triggered many newspaper features and there were also plans for the Medical establishment to honour Henrietta in 2001 (thrown awry by 9/11). I am left unclear as to where the author figures relative to these other efforts to publicise the story and it is almost as if she elbows her way to the front. It is apparent that Rebecca was involved with Henrietta and her family over quite a period of time and has taken them forward as something of a personal crusade. This shows and it is slightly disappointing that, having successfully shown the multi faceted nature of the subject, she then forces the perspective with the content weighted towards the family.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A very interesting and informative read - I might be bias in that I am a Biology graduate, but at the time of reading I felt that Skloot has a habit of labouring the point and... Read morePublished 4 days ago by Jack Silberrad
I found the scientific facts interesting but overall it was a dull read for me. It was a relief to get to the end.Published 7 days ago by kitkat66
Brilliant book... Keeps you motivated to read, full of twists and turns! Very factual and honestPublished 19 days ago by xTara
An intriguing, tragic human story layered over a big chunk of biomedical history, essential for modern medicine but taken for granted in modern times. Read morePublished 25 days ago by jennyhen
Really enjoyed it but it left me with a lot of questions as to whether we can believe anything about the cells and cell culture!!! Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
An interesting subject written in layman terms with sensitivity too .I had never heard of this lady or what transpired afterwards but fascinating and recommended highlyPublished 1 month ago by Sharon K
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