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Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - mini review

by Rebecca Skloot
audiobook: 12.5 hours

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThis book made all sorts of waves when it came out (last year, I think) and I really wanted to read it but of course it got put off and put off. Finally I decided to get the audio from the library and just listen to it rather than reading it. Boy, am I glad I did - I can't believe I waited so long to dig into this book!

Here's part of the summary from Amazon.com (since I'm feeling really lazy right now - still recovering from BEA!):
Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive--even thrive--in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta's family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution--and her cells' strange survival--left them full of pride, anger, and suspicion. For a decade, Skloot doggedly but compassionately gathered the threads of these stories, slowly gaining the trust of the family while helping them learn the truth about Henrietta, and with their aid she tells a rich and haunting story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who carries our memories?
This is one of those knock-your-socks-off kind of books.  As you read (or listen) you are constantly thinking, "How did I not know this story before?" and "How did this actually happen to these people?!"

By the time you gather in all the science, the history, and the people, there is a LOT going on in this book.  The author did a great job gathering all the threads of the story and weaving them together into one.  I never felt confused about what was going on or who someone was.  I also cared a great deal about the people in the story, though there were times when I was amazed at the author's patience with Deborah (Henrietta's daughter, and the main contact for the story) - I am certainly NOT that patient!

I realize this isn't really much of a review.  Unfortunately it's been about a month since I finished listening to this book and though I really enjoyed it I didn't make any notes about what I wanted to write. Instead I can just give you my lingering impression of the book, which is this: this is a story EVERYONE should be familiar with and I cannot recommend it enough.

18 comments:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I loved, loved, LOVED this book - who knew science could be so interesting! I listened to the audio as well and have to put pen to paper for my review as well. Argh! Life gets in the way.

Ryan G said...

Thank you for the recommendation. I actually missed the buzz on this one so will definetly check it out. Thanks!

Alyce said...

It is a really great book and completely shocking when it comes to what happened (and still goes on to some extent) in the medical community. I read it recently and need to put a review together still.

Helen's Book Blog said...

I found this book fascinating, both for the medical stuff and the life of her offspring!

softdrink said...

This is one of my favorite non-fiction reads...both for the info, and the writing!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Yes, a story everyone should know!

It stands up to a re-read, too (I read it for one book group when it came out in hardcover, another group picked it this year in paperback ... I learned/retained more the 2nd time through)

Glad you enjoyed the audio.

Cindy said...

I read this on a recommendation from a friend of mine and LOVED, LOVED,LOVED it!

christa @ mental foodie said...

This was my favorite book from last year! I couldn't believe how long it too the author to finish the book due to the research. I don't know if I'd have the patience either! Here's my review: http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2010/05/book-review-immortal-life-of-henrietta.html

Melissa said...

I read this book on my Kindle in March and really liked it! I thought that Ms. Skloot did a really good job doing the research, getting the family to trust her and bringing it all together.

Beth F said...

I was not as taken with this book as others. Skloot's methods were a little off-putting to me.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I listened to this on audio last year (while mowing the lawn!) and really enjoyed it too!

bermudaonion said...

I thought this book was great and very readable, but also felt like the author harrassed the family in order to get her story.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I'm glad you liked this book! It's been one of my consistent "nonfiction for people who avoid nonfiction" recommendations since it came out last year.

Susan said...

I loved this book, I love this kind of book as a sounding board to a broader discussion.

Trish said...

Totally agree with your "in short." I listened to this several months ago and it was a fabulous listening experience. I especially loved the parts focused on Deborah. What an amazing story!

Swapna said...

Glad you enjoyed this one. I thought the story was great, but I didn't love Skloot's methods.

Serena said...

Like you I've put off reading this book . . . and I've apparently put off reading this book for far too long.

Susanbright said...

A fascinating book! My book club read it and the fact that we are based in Baltimore and Henrietta Lacks was treated at Hopkins, a hospital we are all familiar with made it that much more interesting.

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