The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


I’d like to introduce a new tenet into bargain book hunting — the borrowed book. No, not from a library. Borrowed books from friends, relatives, or even colleagues are great finds not only for the added recommendation of a book, but also for the excitement of being able to talk with someone about a book after you finish it (well, if you finish it.) Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was lent to me by my aunt and shared with others in my family.

The best books to borrow — or on the other hand, to lend — are those that invite discussion on complicated issues. Skloot’s nonfiction book is at once a biography, mystery, and exploration of many ethical questions surrounding scientific research and ownership. Is science truly an endeavor to better mankind or has it become too profit driven? I’m not sure. Maybe both.

In One Sentence: Writer seeks to discover the true story behind the first immortal HeLa cells.

Favorite Line: “I don’t know what they did,” Deborah said, “but it all sound like Jurassic Park to me.” – p. 238

Review: It’s books like these that make you realize how important writers are. Rebecca Skloot tells the story not only of Henrietta Lacks as a poor black woman in the 1950s getting her cells reproduced and sold without her knowledge, but also follows the story of the cells themselves as they become involved in the development of vaccines, cancer research, and more. I’ll be honest, science is not my favorite topic but somehow Skloot is able to take advantage of narrative structure and pacing to deliver the tension that has really come about with the Lacks family as well as the contamination of cells in the science community. Truly well balanced prose. I also loved the point of view of this story. Unlike Capote’s infamous In Cold Blood, Skloot places herself in the story. She shared what inspired her to pursue these questions and included her struggles to gain the trust of the Lacks family. The writing really got me thinking about my own beliefs related to scientific research and how those ideas change constantly. I recommend this book mostly because I need more people to talk about it with!

The Book Would Have Ended a Lot Sooner If: The Lacks family never responded to the author’s calls.

“Borrowing” from Rebecca Skloot: On her website, there’s a page devoted to “What Rebecca’s Reading.” I explored and found very interesting science articles in the similar vein of exploring things otherwise less often explored. Topics include why doctors don’t die like the rest of us, experiments gone wrong, the ethos of Twitter/ Facebook, and takes on meta-nonfiction. Check it out:



Filed under Non-Fiction

2 responses to “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

  1. I picked this book up from the library, and could hardly put it down. It is both fascinating and riveting. The ending didn’t entirely satisfy, but I mark that to being non-fiction and the realities of life.
    I too was impressed with the mix of science and sociology in the book. It is definitely one to pass around and discuss.

  2. Pingback: Henrietta Lackz Program at Brooklyn Public Library | Moorbey'z Blog

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