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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

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.

Published: Crown Publishing Group an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780307589385
List price: $9.99
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Good story, poor writing, and a lot of unecessary authorial patting-oneself-on-the-back for "uncovering" the story, when it has actually been told before in BBC documentary among other things.more
Great book on the HeLa cell line which was created without the consent of Henrietta Lacks who's cervical tumor was the source of the cells. The HeLa cell line was groundbreaking for biomedical research and has likely contributed to saving thousands of lives. In addition to a clear exposition of the science behind "immortal" cell lines the book also explores the crucial issues of racism and medical ethics. I came away with wanting to know much more about Henrietta who died so young from an aggressive cancer. I think it is only right that she receive recognition since cells derived from the tumor which cut her life short likely helped save thousands. In addition, it was fascinating to learn about her family's response to the existence of the cell line and what it really meant.more
Finished this book last night.
I did not know beforehand what this book would be about so when I started reading about cells and tissue matter and cancer I thought to myself. O no, This is not a book for me! The next morning I woke up and felt a pain and immediately thought "do I have cancer?" Yes I am a bit of a hypochondriac, I admit it. lol.
Anyways, I did find it very interesting cause I had the worst biology teacher ever (or maybe it was me come to think of it, worst pupil?) and do not know much about that subject.
After reading half I did have a bit of a How shall I call it, not really wanting to read more cause I did not really like the way the family of Henriette acted in the book but I am glad I read on. I've learned a lot and even though it appears these people seemingly always shout, I see the good in them and understand now better how hard it was for them to find out.
The questions at the end of the book are intriguing and I am planning to google more about tissue donation, the law about that , Hela cells and the likes. So after all I am not regretting having bought this book.more
A story that needs to be told and heard by anyone connected to Biology and related sciences. I like that the family's story (the human interest side) is mixed with the scientific research and ethical discussions. It also works to hide any gaps in the chronology! :)more
An incredible book! Skloot somehow tells the story of Henrietta Lacks and her descendants along with the story of her interest in Henrietta Lacks and her involvement with her family and the story of the struggle for patients and research subjects to gain some control over their own body tissues. Since Lacks and her family are African-American, Skloot manages to explore racism in medicine as well. Her compassionate but objective portraits of Henrietta Lacks' children and their struggles are as interesting as the intertwined stories she tells.more
After thinking about it for a couple of days, here's my verdict: too much tabloid, not enough science/history of science. I understand it was mainly intended to be a human interest story, but, to be honest, that is the least interesting part of it (at least in the way it was presented). The actual science is rather diluted and vague -- apart from the part on polio, Skloot never really describes very well how the cells were used in research. The family -- yes, they are very poor and extremely uneducated and obviously deserve sympathy. They are bitter and resentful towards the medical community and think they should be compensated for HL's cells. That's where the problem with the book really lies. The author, as if feeling that the book will be extremely boring without any kind of tension, writes again and again how the family thinks they should get money, how 'someone should do something to honor their mother' (nobody quite explains what, though), etc. The problem is that the doctors they are raving against are not the bad guys. The doctors who treated HL obviously gave her whatever treatment was available at the time and yes, they took her cells and used them in research, but that wasn't something criminal or even particularly unethical at the time. So to be honest, the feeling you get from the book is that you are supposed to side with the family, but it's really rather hard to do. I'm sure there are good books about the way the black community was mistreated by hospitals, doctors, and medical researchers. This book isn't it.Finally, as somebody already pointed out in another review, this book does a poor job of explaining how scientific research works and in fact might lead a lot of people to think of scientists as some crazy people doing something mystical in basement labs, stealing your cells and growing weird clones with them.more
I like when science is presented within a story and Skloot does an excellent job with this combo.more
SO GREAT!

When this type of narrative non-fiction is done well it's something to celebrate and this book is done REALLY well. Every time I thought it couldn't get more interesting I would turn the page and be flabbergasted anew.

A quick bit of background: Every medical research lab in the country has a culture of what are known as the HeLa cells... They were the first and best cells to be reproduced in a laboratory setting and have been a part of almost every important medical discovery since the late 1950s.

Rebecca Skloot gives us not only a fascinating history of these cells and the good they've done, but -more importantly- introduces us to the family of the woman who they originally came from: HEnrietta LAcks, an impoverished African American woman from Maryland who was treated at John Hopkins for advanced cervical cancer.

This book does everything right. Whether it's clear and lucid science writing, nuanced and empathetic biographical portraiture, dogged journalism, or on-the-road memoir the reader is consistently rewarded with knowledge, entertainment, suspense, and emotion (I nearly cried when two of Henrietta's grown children get to see their mother's cells through a microscope for the first time).

It brilliantly handles tricky issues like medical ethics, race, class, and privacy with an impressive respect for her subjects.

This is the real deal.

more
I liked the afterword best, with its discussion and analysis of the murky ethics of tissue donation and tissue ownership. For me, that was the strongest component of the book.

The story of Lacks is a sad one, and the story of the HeLa cells is fascinating. The intersection of those stories is very odd. The book is very involving and frankly a little draining to read. I felt sorry for the family for all sorts of different reasons, not the least of which was their portrayal in this book. The reportage on the Lacks family members was a little disconcerting although I believe Skloot was being very accurate in her descriptions.

Well worth reading, but overwhelming and strange.more
I learned a lot from reading this book -- about science, medicine, and perhaps most importanly, Henrietta Lacks. I'm glad this book is bringing her memory widespread attention.

I hate that Henrietta and and her family suffered so much because of how her cells were used. And Skloot emphasizes the irony that while Henrietta's cells made so much medical progress possible, her children and grandchildren can't even keep health insurance.

This book was also significant because it's the 1st book I've read on an e-reader. Although I think I will enjoy having my Nook when I travel, I prefer paper books -- especially when you want to be able to flip back and forth among pages or take notes.more
The author does a great job of blending the science and personal sides of the story. Found the story fascinating and enjoyed it more than I thought I would before picking it up.more
In interesting story about tissue research and the larger ethical and commercial issue of biology patents and discovery. The author weaves together the story of Henrietta Lacks, her cancer cells that spawned an immortal cell line, HeLa and the fallout that her family has dealt with since. It gets weird toward the end which is why I didn't rate it higher, too much information about the Lacks family that I didn't feel was necessary to the story. Also the narrator said "culture" as in cell cultures funny. Understandable given the word and the amount of times I'm sure she had to say it that overenunciating made sure it didn't come out sounding as culchurch or something equally silly but still it got on my nerves. Still good.more
Superbly written nonfiction. A fascinating topic that raises many provocative questions about medical ethics and research.more
I feel like everyone should read this book. If you've ever had so much as blood taken you could have tissue samples closed away somewhere in a scary doctor's lab. The more you know.more
I can't remember the last time that a book brought me to tears. What makes it even sadder is that the story is nonfiction.more
Skloot did a great job weaving the medicalese and science-speak with the voices of the different Lacks family members. The frustration and anger felt by the Lacks' was palpable. There is a lot of information to think on and a segue into a book about the philosophy of medical morality would be cool right about now. If you know of one, please send a recommendation my way!more
Utterly fascinating. The author does a fabulous job of breaking down the science in a way that is easily understandable, but without dumbing it down. The afterward, which gets into bioethics, both creeped me out and ticked me off.

My only complaint about the book (which I read on my Kindle): I wish I had known from the start that there were notes at the end, and that the notes were broken down by chapter. Had I known that from the start, I certainly would have referred to the notes as I read each chapter. As it was, I got to the end and, frankly, didn't read them. A link to the notes at the end of each chapter would have been a nice addition.more
Well, seems like I'm just continuing on in my cancer-themed book vein right now. This was utterly fascinating. Non-fiction, but so fast paced, once I sat down and actually carved out some time to read, I flew through the pages. Heart-wrenching at times, it angered and frustrated me at others. Terrifying to think of my own mothers tissue samples from her breast cancer and then liver cancer alive and out in the world somewhere, so I could relate, on a very minute level, as to how her children felt. Beautifully written, thought-provoking. Loved.more
Non-fiction that reads like a novel. Very well executed, and hugely interesting.more
This was a very accessible book. I was afraid that it was going to be too "sciencey" but I found it to be a fascinating read. I truly appreciated that Skloot put a lot of focus on the family and making sure they were comfortable. The one part of the book that stuck with me was when Deborah and her brother finally got to see their mother's cells and that the scientist who showed them really took the time to explain things to them. It was nice to see that after all that time someone in the science world wanted to acknowledge and inform them of everything their mother had contributed to.more
Absolutely fascinating mix of biography, investigative journalism, biology, medical history and ethics, and race relations. I'm glad I finally got around to reading this.

I didn't mind the author's insertion of herself into the story; the mistreatment of the family over the years has been so extensive that the only way to tell the story fairly was to gain their trust, and how Skloot went about this ends up being a key part of the narrative.more
I'm not really a non fiction reader but I found this one pretty fascinating. Definitely a story that needed to be told, and there's some shocking and unsettling stuff in there. Well worth the read!more
Holy cow, I looooved this book. I kept finishing each chapter wanting to exclaim "Why isn't this book required reading of every child in school yet??" Yes, I do realize it was published in 2009 and these things take time, but this story is something everyone should read. It brings up the tragic life of the Lacks family, the horrible conditions of blacks, and horrible things science would do to them. But this book does what the family always wanted, brought fame to the woman Henrietta Lacks and the miracle of her immortal cells.more
It was interesting to read this book and discuss it with my mother, a nurse. She really didn't seem to see why there would be any problem with the tissues, since everything was ethical for its time. I still am struck by the fact that they were taken without consent, and I had no idea that any samples I give to the doctor can be used for anything.
more
This is a fascinating book. The personal side was told with much compassion, and the scientific side told in a way that was interesting and very readable.more
Part biography of the Lack family, part science history of how human cells have been used to further scientific research in the health field. The two are finely and ably mixed, creating an easy and engaging reading experience that is both informative and moving.more
This is an impressive book about how the cancer cells taken from Henrietta Lack in 1951 became the HeLa stock that has been used in genetic research all over the world ever since.There are many things that I admire about this book. As a writer, I marvel at how Ms. Skloot was able to shift through research garnered over a decade to compose such a compelling story. Her telling of Henrietta's life, as a black woman born in 1920 in Virginia who grew up on a tobacco farm and married a first cousin, and her encounters with John Hopkins Hospital and the blacks' only ward where her cancer was initially misdiagnosed and finally treated, not only provides insight into the experiences of this woman, but of the medical world and cancer research of the time. Ms. Skloot traces what happened to the HeLa genes over the next six decades, giving us insight into genetic and cancer research and about the medical people who were part of this research. She also tells us about Henrietta's family, particularly her daughter, Deborah; of their discovery that some of their mother's cells were "immortal," which the hospital did not disclose at the time, and of their struggle to understand and honour Henrietta's huge contribution to medical science.Somehow, Ms. Skloot manages to convey a lot of medical and legal information in a way that the layman can grasp, which is no easy task. Her afterword, in which she points out that anyone who has had blood or tissue taken from them in the most routine of procedures has an interest in the ethics of tissue ownership today, involves the reader in a very personal way.Finally, I will say that I read this book over a three-day period when I was pretty miserable with the flu, but I still found it hard to put down. Well done, Rebecca Skloot.more
Not done, but I'm really enjoying this book. Interesting, smooth read, and narrator speaks in the dialect which brings me even more into their world.Content is disappointing - maybe something good happens at the end but why were these people never compensated? The Lacks family was (is) black, and so far in the book, no one has ever tried to compensate this family for using HeLas cells. Total racism, neglect, unfair etc, etc, etc...more
Read all 286 reviews

Reviews

Good story, poor writing, and a lot of unecessary authorial patting-oneself-on-the-back for "uncovering" the story, when it has actually been told before in BBC documentary among other things.more
Great book on the HeLa cell line which was created without the consent of Henrietta Lacks who's cervical tumor was the source of the cells. The HeLa cell line was groundbreaking for biomedical research and has likely contributed to saving thousands of lives. In addition to a clear exposition of the science behind "immortal" cell lines the book also explores the crucial issues of racism and medical ethics. I came away with wanting to know much more about Henrietta who died so young from an aggressive cancer. I think it is only right that she receive recognition since cells derived from the tumor which cut her life short likely helped save thousands. In addition, it was fascinating to learn about her family's response to the existence of the cell line and what it really meant.more
Finished this book last night.
I did not know beforehand what this book would be about so when I started reading about cells and tissue matter and cancer I thought to myself. O no, This is not a book for me! The next morning I woke up and felt a pain and immediately thought "do I have cancer?" Yes I am a bit of a hypochondriac, I admit it. lol.
Anyways, I did find it very interesting cause I had the worst biology teacher ever (or maybe it was me come to think of it, worst pupil?) and do not know much about that subject.
After reading half I did have a bit of a How shall I call it, not really wanting to read more cause I did not really like the way the family of Henriette acted in the book but I am glad I read on. I've learned a lot and even though it appears these people seemingly always shout, I see the good in them and understand now better how hard it was for them to find out.
The questions at the end of the book are intriguing and I am planning to google more about tissue donation, the law about that , Hela cells and the likes. So after all I am not regretting having bought this book.more
A story that needs to be told and heard by anyone connected to Biology and related sciences. I like that the family's story (the human interest side) is mixed with the scientific research and ethical discussions. It also works to hide any gaps in the chronology! :)more
An incredible book! Skloot somehow tells the story of Henrietta Lacks and her descendants along with the story of her interest in Henrietta Lacks and her involvement with her family and the story of the struggle for patients and research subjects to gain some control over their own body tissues. Since Lacks and her family are African-American, Skloot manages to explore racism in medicine as well. Her compassionate but objective portraits of Henrietta Lacks' children and their struggles are as interesting as the intertwined stories she tells.more
After thinking about it for a couple of days, here's my verdict: too much tabloid, not enough science/history of science. I understand it was mainly intended to be a human interest story, but, to be honest, that is the least interesting part of it (at least in the way it was presented). The actual science is rather diluted and vague -- apart from the part on polio, Skloot never really describes very well how the cells were used in research. The family -- yes, they are very poor and extremely uneducated and obviously deserve sympathy. They are bitter and resentful towards the medical community and think they should be compensated for HL's cells. That's where the problem with the book really lies. The author, as if feeling that the book will be extremely boring without any kind of tension, writes again and again how the family thinks they should get money, how 'someone should do something to honor their mother' (nobody quite explains what, though), etc. The problem is that the doctors they are raving against are not the bad guys. The doctors who treated HL obviously gave her whatever treatment was available at the time and yes, they took her cells and used them in research, but that wasn't something criminal or even particularly unethical at the time. So to be honest, the feeling you get from the book is that you are supposed to side with the family, but it's really rather hard to do. I'm sure there are good books about the way the black community was mistreated by hospitals, doctors, and medical researchers. This book isn't it.Finally, as somebody already pointed out in another review, this book does a poor job of explaining how scientific research works and in fact might lead a lot of people to think of scientists as some crazy people doing something mystical in basement labs, stealing your cells and growing weird clones with them.more
I like when science is presented within a story and Skloot does an excellent job with this combo.more
SO GREAT!

When this type of narrative non-fiction is done well it's something to celebrate and this book is done REALLY well. Every time I thought it couldn't get more interesting I would turn the page and be flabbergasted anew.

A quick bit of background: Every medical research lab in the country has a culture of what are known as the HeLa cells... They were the first and best cells to be reproduced in a laboratory setting and have been a part of almost every important medical discovery since the late 1950s.

Rebecca Skloot gives us not only a fascinating history of these cells and the good they've done, but -more importantly- introduces us to the family of the woman who they originally came from: HEnrietta LAcks, an impoverished African American woman from Maryland who was treated at John Hopkins for advanced cervical cancer.

This book does everything right. Whether it's clear and lucid science writing, nuanced and empathetic biographical portraiture, dogged journalism, or on-the-road memoir the reader is consistently rewarded with knowledge, entertainment, suspense, and emotion (I nearly cried when two of Henrietta's grown children get to see their mother's cells through a microscope for the first time).

It brilliantly handles tricky issues like medical ethics, race, class, and privacy with an impressive respect for her subjects.

This is the real deal.

more
I liked the afterword best, with its discussion and analysis of the murky ethics of tissue donation and tissue ownership. For me, that was the strongest component of the book.

The story of Lacks is a sad one, and the story of the HeLa cells is fascinating. The intersection of those stories is very odd. The book is very involving and frankly a little draining to read. I felt sorry for the family for all sorts of different reasons, not the least of which was their portrayal in this book. The reportage on the Lacks family members was a little disconcerting although I believe Skloot was being very accurate in her descriptions.

Well worth reading, but overwhelming and strange.more
I learned a lot from reading this book -- about science, medicine, and perhaps most importanly, Henrietta Lacks. I'm glad this book is bringing her memory widespread attention.

I hate that Henrietta and and her family suffered so much because of how her cells were used. And Skloot emphasizes the irony that while Henrietta's cells made so much medical progress possible, her children and grandchildren can't even keep health insurance.

This book was also significant because it's the 1st book I've read on an e-reader. Although I think I will enjoy having my Nook when I travel, I prefer paper books -- especially when you want to be able to flip back and forth among pages or take notes.more
The author does a great job of blending the science and personal sides of the story. Found the story fascinating and enjoyed it more than I thought I would before picking it up.more
In interesting story about tissue research and the larger ethical and commercial issue of biology patents and discovery. The author weaves together the story of Henrietta Lacks, her cancer cells that spawned an immortal cell line, HeLa and the fallout that her family has dealt with since. It gets weird toward the end which is why I didn't rate it higher, too much information about the Lacks family that I didn't feel was necessary to the story. Also the narrator said "culture" as in cell cultures funny. Understandable given the word and the amount of times I'm sure she had to say it that overenunciating made sure it didn't come out sounding as culchurch or something equally silly but still it got on my nerves. Still good.more
Superbly written nonfiction. A fascinating topic that raises many provocative questions about medical ethics and research.more
I feel like everyone should read this book. If you've ever had so much as blood taken you could have tissue samples closed away somewhere in a scary doctor's lab. The more you know.more
I can't remember the last time that a book brought me to tears. What makes it even sadder is that the story is nonfiction.more
Skloot did a great job weaving the medicalese and science-speak with the voices of the different Lacks family members. The frustration and anger felt by the Lacks' was palpable. There is a lot of information to think on and a segue into a book about the philosophy of medical morality would be cool right about now. If you know of one, please send a recommendation my way!more
Utterly fascinating. The author does a fabulous job of breaking down the science in a way that is easily understandable, but without dumbing it down. The afterward, which gets into bioethics, both creeped me out and ticked me off.

My only complaint about the book (which I read on my Kindle): I wish I had known from the start that there were notes at the end, and that the notes were broken down by chapter. Had I known that from the start, I certainly would have referred to the notes as I read each chapter. As it was, I got to the end and, frankly, didn't read them. A link to the notes at the end of each chapter would have been a nice addition.more
Well, seems like I'm just continuing on in my cancer-themed book vein right now. This was utterly fascinating. Non-fiction, but so fast paced, once I sat down and actually carved out some time to read, I flew through the pages. Heart-wrenching at times, it angered and frustrated me at others. Terrifying to think of my own mothers tissue samples from her breast cancer and then liver cancer alive and out in the world somewhere, so I could relate, on a very minute level, as to how her children felt. Beautifully written, thought-provoking. Loved.more
Non-fiction that reads like a novel. Very well executed, and hugely interesting.more
This was a very accessible book. I was afraid that it was going to be too "sciencey" but I found it to be a fascinating read. I truly appreciated that Skloot put a lot of focus on the family and making sure they were comfortable. The one part of the book that stuck with me was when Deborah and her brother finally got to see their mother's cells and that the scientist who showed them really took the time to explain things to them. It was nice to see that after all that time someone in the science world wanted to acknowledge and inform them of everything their mother had contributed to.more
Absolutely fascinating mix of biography, investigative journalism, biology, medical history and ethics, and race relations. I'm glad I finally got around to reading this.

I didn't mind the author's insertion of herself into the story; the mistreatment of the family over the years has been so extensive that the only way to tell the story fairly was to gain their trust, and how Skloot went about this ends up being a key part of the narrative.more
I'm not really a non fiction reader but I found this one pretty fascinating. Definitely a story that needed to be told, and there's some shocking and unsettling stuff in there. Well worth the read!more
Holy cow, I looooved this book. I kept finishing each chapter wanting to exclaim "Why isn't this book required reading of every child in school yet??" Yes, I do realize it was published in 2009 and these things take time, but this story is something everyone should read. It brings up the tragic life of the Lacks family, the horrible conditions of blacks, and horrible things science would do to them. But this book does what the family always wanted, brought fame to the woman Henrietta Lacks and the miracle of her immortal cells.more
It was interesting to read this book and discuss it with my mother, a nurse. She really didn't seem to see why there would be any problem with the tissues, since everything was ethical for its time. I still am struck by the fact that they were taken without consent, and I had no idea that any samples I give to the doctor can be used for anything.
more
This is a fascinating book. The personal side was told with much compassion, and the scientific side told in a way that was interesting and very readable.more
Part biography of the Lack family, part science history of how human cells have been used to further scientific research in the health field. The two are finely and ably mixed, creating an easy and engaging reading experience that is both informative and moving.more
This is an impressive book about how the cancer cells taken from Henrietta Lack in 1951 became the HeLa stock that has been used in genetic research all over the world ever since.There are many things that I admire about this book. As a writer, I marvel at how Ms. Skloot was able to shift through research garnered over a decade to compose such a compelling story. Her telling of Henrietta's life, as a black woman born in 1920 in Virginia who grew up on a tobacco farm and married a first cousin, and her encounters with John Hopkins Hospital and the blacks' only ward where her cancer was initially misdiagnosed and finally treated, not only provides insight into the experiences of this woman, but of the medical world and cancer research of the time. Ms. Skloot traces what happened to the HeLa genes over the next six decades, giving us insight into genetic and cancer research and about the medical people who were part of this research. She also tells us about Henrietta's family, particularly her daughter, Deborah; of their discovery that some of their mother's cells were "immortal," which the hospital did not disclose at the time, and of their struggle to understand and honour Henrietta's huge contribution to medical science.Somehow, Ms. Skloot manages to convey a lot of medical and legal information in a way that the layman can grasp, which is no easy task. Her afterword, in which she points out that anyone who has had blood or tissue taken from them in the most routine of procedures has an interest in the ethics of tissue ownership today, involves the reader in a very personal way.Finally, I will say that I read this book over a three-day period when I was pretty miserable with the flu, but I still found it hard to put down. Well done, Rebecca Skloot.more
Not done, but I'm really enjoying this book. Interesting, smooth read, and narrator speaks in the dialect which brings me even more into their world.Content is disappointing - maybe something good happens at the end but why were these people never compensated? The Lacks family was (is) black, and so far in the book, no one has ever tried to compensate this family for using HeLas cells. Total racism, neglect, unfair etc, etc, etc...more
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