Customer Reviews for

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Average Rating 4
( 2503 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(1311)

4 Star

(689)

3 Star

(269)

2 Star

(125)

1 Star

(109)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

Most Helpful Favorable Review

273 out of 281 people found this review helpful.

A balanced, fascinating, beautifully written story about the first and still most important human "cell line" used in research

When I started reading this story, I did not know what to expect. I am a biologist and, though I do not work extensively on human studies (I study mostly bacteria) I have heard and read 100s of scientific studies that were based on work on "HeLa" cells. These cells are...
When I started reading this story, I did not know what to expect. I am a biologist and, though I do not work extensively on human studies (I study mostly bacteria) I have heard and read 100s of scientific studies that were based on work on "HeLa" cells. These cells are literally everywhere in research facilities. But other than on rare occasions, there is rarely much discussion of the person behind these cells (or in fact, behind any cells used in research). I started the book with a bit of trepidation because it would have been easy for the author, Rebecca Skloot to sensationalize the history of the person behind these cells.

But I was wonderfully surprised once I started reading the book (and in fact, could not put it down). First, the book is incredibly well written and crafted - weaving together three (or more) threads: the life of Henrietta Lacks, the obsession of the author with the story of HeLa, and the science behind human cell line research.

Second, and perhaps more important to me, the book is incredibly well balanced in telling the story. For example, it would have been easy for Skloot to vilify the scientists at Johns Hopkins who isolated the cell line and then continued to work on it as well as related topics. (I note, I know some of these people as I used to have an Adjunct Appointment at Johns Hopkins). But in fact, Skloot is meticulously careful about researching the facts behind the story and in trying to explain what happened in the context of the times (e.g., she does a good job of describing how concepts of "informed consent" have changed over time). Instead of simply portraying scientists as evil or blaming them for "stealing" HeLa cells, Skloot portrays scientists as they really are - frequently well intentioned but a bit naive at times about the repercussions of what they are doing. (I note, Skloot does not try to sugarcoat scientists or any others in the book either - when scientists clearly erred this is described. But what I really like about the portrayal is that the portrayals of the Lacks family, of scientists, and of others, is done without any excessive judging. She lets the readers come to their own decisions about whether what people did was good or bad or in between. In this way, the book is nuanced and is really a history of science book.

Finally, I think it is worth pointing out that this book is incredibly timely. As technology has advanced it is now becoming possible to determine the entire genetic makeup of individual people - and soon this will be possible at such a low cost that many people will have this done. In addition, medical research is accelerating at a dizzying pace - with many large scale studies being done involving samples from 100s-1000s of people. These studies have the potential to revolutionize medicine. But it is going to be very important for the scientists involved and for society in general to continue to think about the issues associated with "sharing" information and samples. The HeLa book is an important addition to this discussion and is written in such a way that just about anyone can read and understand it.

posted by JonathanEisen on February 13, 2010

Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review

Most Helpful Critical Review

81 out of 84 people found this review helpful.

Download The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks For Free

Download The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks For Free From Here goo.gl/rGO5C

posted by 9114493 on August 5, 2011

Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 269 review with 3 star rating   See All Ratings
Page 1 of 14
  • Posted February 28, 2010

    Good, but hardly can't-put-down reading.

    After reading the book review in the NY Times, I *knew* this would be the first eBook I would ever download. I'm no scientist, but I am a scholar and enjoy well-researched historical/scientific books such as these. I was captivated during the first few chapters, but eventually and sadly lost interest.

    The book itself tells parallel stories - one of the woman behind the cells, one of the cells itself, and one of the family left behind. While you can sense the frustration in the Lacks family, you can't help but feel like *no one* has the right to claim 100% ownership of the cells. Key to this statement I'm making is the fact that HeLa cells weren't Henrietta's *intrinsic* healthy cells, but rather her CANCER cells. Who in their right mind would want to look at the cells that viciously killed your mother, hug them and hold them dear? I certainly wouldn't. The only reason I would hold such a malignant entity dear is if I saw dollar signs dancing behind them, as it seems disturbingly clear that the Lacks family did.

    Sure, HeLa (malignant or not) contributed so much to the world. That cannot be contested. But ONLY because the scientists contributed infinite capital to make them survive. The Lackses can claim ownership all they want, but without the scientists, all their mothers cells would have been long gone. No vaccines, no research projects, no nothing. It's incredulous that they still consider them "stolen".

    In the end, a well-research, well-thought out book and fitting bibliography to a woman oft forgotten, but nothing I'd ever read again.

    20 out of 47 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 26, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Engaging read with serious legal overtones made me fly through this book.

    Henrietta Lacks dies of cervical cancer at 31 years old, and her doctor discovers that the cells in her tumor behave like none he has ever seen before, growing easily and exponentially and can be readily supplied to researchers studying many deseases.. He shares his discovery with other freely and eventually, lots of others make lots of money manufacturing these cells, but her family never makes one dime. The author uncovers many references to help illuminate this grim peice of real medical history.

    You'll be touched by Henrietta's place in history and her invaluable contribution to the health of every person ever innoculated against polio or survived breast or cervical cancer. I could not put this book down. This story brings science fiction and humanity together in a unique and sensitive way. I plan on making a donation to the Henrietta Lacks memorial fund the author recently announced...as I am a survivor of the two cancers mentioned as well as a child protected from contracting polio. Her family deserves better than they got from medical professionals.

    The book never bogs down, and the sensitive manner Skloot weaves the strands of Henrietta's life with the lives of her surviving family and alternates their stories with actual medical and legal considerations is quite beautiful.

    Great Read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Major Author Bias; Read Carefully!

    The premise of this book was intetesting, and the author's footwork was admirable. The author's voice, however, is clearly present in all parts of the narrative, including the anecdotal recountings of dramatic scenes played out early in Henrietta's life. Skloot indulges the scenes with excessive and sometimes fictional description and dialogue in order to make a 'science book' more palatable. Was she really able to tell what the conversation was between a doctor and a nurse she never interviewed simply because she read the doctor's entry on Henrietta's chart? Was it really necessary for Skloot to have the Lacks family speak in a poor Southern dialect when all TV and radio interviews with the Lacks familiy show the dialect to be almost unnoticeable (and no other characters, including the Southern doctors, were written with the same accent)? My best advice is to read this book carefully. I fully believe that what Hentietta and her family went through was difficult and worthy of our attention. Henrietta's contribution to science was extraordinary, and the pharmaceutical and medical supply company's desire to profit off of that gift reprehensible; this book, unfortunately, presents soft science as hard fact, and readers without a background in science may be too willing to accept all that Skloot says without a second thought. My best advice: don't just skim through this book. Really think about what Skloot says critically. Examine the fictional recountings, question Skloot's authorial intent, and take the stories with a grain of salt.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2013

    Interesting

    Well written sometimes tedious

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2013

    Interesting, but dry.

    Doesn't quite live up to the hype. Would've made a better article than a book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2013

    The book was written well and interesting and I was drawn in to

    The book was written well and interesting and I was drawn in to the scientific aspects but the horrible things that happened to Henrietta's children were disturbing and I just feel people should know that. I wanted to finish the book but couldn't because of the sadness brought about after the death of such a courageous women. She helped so many people but no one was there to help her children.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 4, 2013

    Brief Summary: Reporter Rebecca Skloot tells the improbable stor

    Brief Summary: Reporter Rebecca Skloot tells the improbable story of a woman, her cells, and the plethora of scientific discovery her cells have led to—all shadowed by the racism and medical neglect that allowed the science to happen in the first place.
    The Tsundoku Scale: Middle of the Pile, 6 out of 10.
    The Good: Foremost, this is an important book; it tells a story that needs, and most certainly deserves, to be told. What science has discovered through the HeLa cancer cells, taken from the tumor of a black woman named Henrietta Lacks, is mind-boggling. From curing Polio to finding new drugs to combat cancer, these cells have found there way into everything—and Skloot successfully captures the magical allure of these cells. What’s more, she is able to effectively connect these cells to the people behind them, and bring to the forefront the pitfalls of cold, unrestrained eugenically based science. The irony is not lost on Skloot, nor the reader for that matter, that some of the most important cells in scientific history, have come from a black person. She does not overlook the fact that a black people, enslaved and persecuted by whites for never being “good enough,” somehow end up being more than “good enough” to significantly improve science, and to drastically improve all of humanity’s chance for a better, disease-free life. Skloot’s call for justice for the Lackses rings clearly and passionately throughout the novel.
    The Bad: Though this book has essential, revealing research, it is not a great book. It’s just a good one. Skloot’s urgent mission to tell the true story of Henrietta loses its pull as the novel progresses. The story alternates from a non-fiction narrative on Henrietta, her cells, and their history, to Skloot’s own personal investigative research on the Lcks family—but the two stories do not mesh well. One scene in particular is a prime example where Skloot curses out Henrietta’s daughter Deborah. For though the scene emphasizes Skloot’s frustrations and Deborah’s own insecurities, it ultimately ends up feeling clumsy and disconnected. The reader can clearly understand the toll the research has taken both on Skloot’s subjects, and on Skloot herself from the simple curse. Nonetheless, she continues to explain what the scene means, and in over-explaining, she diminishes the power of the scene. More often than not, Skloot leans towards being too obvious in her approach, continually telling rather than showing her story to the reader, which takes away some of the story’s luster.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2013

    ? ? ? .

    ?

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 16, 2013

    Wow! This book is FILLED with history and information. It's an

    Wow! This book is FILLED with history and information. It's an educational read with an emotionally charged backstory. I found it to be a difficult read, only because I'm not one who gets pulled in by history. In the areas where the story was being told, I was definitely focused. Yet, those were few...too few, in my opinion. The book itself is well written, the story is well laid out, and the mission of giving voice to a mistreated family was certainly accomplished.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2012

    Not my normal kind fo book

    It took me a while to read this book. It was difficult for me to get in to. I'm glad I read it though. I learned a lot about something I had no idea existed or took place. Its very unfortunate that the family was not kept in the loop about how their mother helped the world.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2012

    My review

    This book started out with a bang and kept me interested. The latter part of the book was a bore, listening to family whining about royalties that they did not deserve except perhaps, for her daughter and oldest son. Rest of the family ended up as Government subsidized slackers. Cut the last third of the book out and you would have a fine read.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 13, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Good book, not great. It seemed to be way too long, I think abou

    Good book, not great. It seemed to be way too long, I think about half the book was not necessary.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2012

    Done!

    Pretty good. I didnt read all the extra stuff at the end.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2012

    A Decent Read

    I am impressed how this book melded science, history, and today's perceptions into one continuous stream. I had my moments of outrage and sympathy, but this grew tiresome. Eventually, the book seemed to patter out it's argument into a broken record.

    After finishing this read, I found myself shocked by how slowly the rights of individuals in research/science has evolved. Beyond that, this book showcased how poverty, race, and limiting education effects one's vantage point and ability to navigate the world from the past to the present.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2011

    Ok

    Ok

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 1, 2011

    P

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Posted March 30, 2011

    Misguided research?

    This book presents important legal, medical/scientific, historical, & social justice issues. But, it also presents the potential negative consequences of an author's misguided research methods. Skloot outright brags about stalking the family to gain access. If the Lacks family had money they'd have a paid representative to fend off obsessed researchers and Skloot would have been kept at a healthy, more respectable distance! In the second half of the book, the author takes Deborah, Henrietta's daughter, on a sort of Thelma & Louise-style road trip in search of answers. But, Deborah is the one tragically suffering in the end. Skloot's obsession causes her to lose objectivity and the reader may be left wonder if her research caused the family to be inadvertently exploited further. A trained social researcher may believe the author missed out on an opportunity to reflect, to the degree she was responsible, on her impact in the research field.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 24, 2011

    can't lend it won't buy it. this something they don't tell you up front. back to the

    libary for me. i should of waited for i pad3

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 5, 2011

    Read it you will believe it

    I bought this in the middle of the and I have not been disappointed.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 13, 2010

    Fascinating

    This book was a fascinating tale of how science intersects with human lives. I started reading the book interested in the characters and what would happen to them, but absorbed a lot of the science along the way. The author draws you in so that you can really understand the lives of the Lacks family. One of the best parts of the book was that it was completely nonjudgemental and nonblaming. The author easily could have blamed a person or institution for doing the wrong thing, but she clearly showed how every person in the book acted in a way that he or she thought was right.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 269 review with 3 star rating   See All Ratings
Page 1 of 14