The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Review and Free Giveaway

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — Discussion Questions available!

Publication date/ Length: 2010 / 328 pages

First line: There’s a photo on my wall of a woman I’ve never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape.

Synopsis (from the jacket cover): Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells — taken without her knowledge — became one of the most important tools in medicine.

Review:  Just before the holidays, I was contacted by a former client who asked me to create discussion questions for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  I was thrilled by the request since this work seemed to be on every “Best of 2010” list!  Well, not only could I not put this down, but when I turned the last page my first thought was, “I think I just read the best book I’ll read in 2011!”

I had not sought this out previously due to the somewhat intimidating scientific premise.  The last science course I took was 24 years ago and involved charting the stars!  So, knowing only that Immortal Life involved cells was initially off-putting.  However, the work itself is incredibly accessible and engaging.  I never felt out of my league and Skloot deftly balances the narrative of the woman and her family behind the HeLa cells with the tremendous contribution to society the cells have had.

In fact, when I finished reading this, I quickly created a list of who to recommend this to (or buy as a gift) and the list included both genders, all ages, and a spectrum of interests.  Honestly, I would recommend this to ANY book club — not only was it a fast, engaging read, but the issues presented would spark hours and hours of discussion.  I loved creating discussion questions and hope either of my book clubs will agree to read it.

In the prologue, Skloot introduces a brief overview of Henrietta Lacks’ legacy:

“…her cells went up in the first space missions to see what would happen to human cells in zero gravity… [and] they helped with… the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization… Her cells were part of research into the genes that cause cancer and those that suppress it; they helped develop drugs for treating herpes, leukemia, influenza, hemophilia, and Parkinson’s disease; and they’ve been used to study lactose digestion, sexually transmitted diseases, appendicitis, human longevity, mosquito mating, and the negative cellular effects of working in sewers.”

Simply learning about why Henrietta’s specific cell was able to benefit science so tremendously would be fascinating to read.  But the story of the woman who “provided” the cell, and especially of her family, is even more scintillating, as is the continuing medical debate about human research and who should benefit (monetarily) from tissue samples.

“But I always have thought it was strange, if our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can’t afford to see no doctors? Don’t make no sense.  People got rich off my mother without us even knowin about them takin her cells, now we don’t get a dime.”

So, for a myriad of reasons, I recommend this book without reservation — especially to book clubs.  You will not regret letting Skloot and Henrietta — the person — into your life!  Interested in winning a copy?  Drop me a comment and I will choose a lucky winner by the weekend!

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49 Responses to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Review and Free Giveaway

  1. Deb says:

    I am dying to read this book–as a matter of fact, it is on my Book Group’s “to read” list. I bought it for a relative for the holidays and I would love a copy for myself!

  2. Margie says:

    This sounds like a great book. Count me in please.

  3. Angie Fultz says:

    Our bookclub is reading this now and your review is exactly how I feel about the book. It is great you have the questions for it too. I will be sure to let the our book club facilitator know in case she is interested in purchasing. Awesome!!

  4. Theresa Cain says:

    Well, I would just LOVE to receive this book. I have read about it and have been on a very long waiting list at the local library. So…………..please count me in!!

  5. Sue says:

    This is on my TBR list – I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book!

  6. Kelly Fordon says:

    Would love to read this book! It sounds like a fascinating story. Kelly

  7. Anna Berenbrok says:

    I am excited about this book and would love to win it. A friend just told me that it’s the best nonfiction book she’s ever read. Added to your review and my natural inclination as a retired life science teacher, I am eager to read it.

  8. Melanie says:

    It’s on my list to read for myself, but I hadn’t thought about using it for book club. But now that you mention it, I think my group would like it. Thanks for the great idea!

  9. Rachel Almo says:

    I’m interested in reading this book, and would
    love to win it. I like a book that is non fiction but reads like fiction.

  10. wendy says:

    This book is on my “to read” list as well and I’ll probably select it for my book club. Sounds great.

  11. Linda says:

    Great review! This book has been on my TBR list for my book groups since listening to Henrietta Lacks’s daughter speak on a news program about her mother’s experiences. I’d love to win it!

  12. Marilyn says:

    I’ve heard so many positive things about this book and two of my book clubs want to read it but it’s so popular now that there’s waiting lists at both of my local libraries. Please consider me for a copy, I’d love to read it and pass it on to my friends.

  13. Debbie says:

    I would LOVE to win this book. I belong to two book clubs and we are always looking to read a “good” book.

  14. Tamara says:

    I’ve heard so many good things about this book, and I would LOVE a copy.

  15. Diane Castiglione says:

    I have been wanting to read this. Have it on my list to read. I think my book club would also love reading. Will have to add to our list to read. Have heard it is a wonderful read. Thank you for listing this book.

  16. Laura Liz says:

    This is on our clubs list of possible next reads. So glad to hear it didn’t disappoint you and did in fact live up to making all of the best of 2010 lists.

  17. Leah says:

    I would LOVE to win this book! I’ve read so many reveiws, and each one makes me want to read it even more!

    Please consider me for the free copy!

  18. Cierina says:

    I heard about her story on a local radio station last year. I would really like to read this book not only for HeLa’s her story but also for the scientific aspect. I work at a research institute and often wonder where the researchers draw the line when it comes to humanity or do they forget or go into denial for the glory of being the first at discovery. Thanks for the opportunity to again read something out of the ordinary.

  19. Suzanne Robinson says:

    I have wanted this book for my group since I read the first review. Alas, it is so popular that the Library has a huge list. Please enter me in the drawing for this title.

  20. Lynne says:

    I would love to win this book as it is probably the one book I don’t have that I really want to read. My book club read it last fall and I was not able to attend as I was training to become a CASA. I have read and heard so much about this book and will definitely read it this year.

  21. Anita Yancey says:

    What an interesting book. I would love to read this one. Please enter me. Thanks!

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  23. Julie says:

    Great review. Glad to hear you loved it. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. This book is on my “must read” list. Please enter me in the drawing. Thanks!

  24. Amy says:

    I was put off by the science premise as well, but your review makes it seem as though it will be much more accessible than I originally thought. Sounds like a good read!

  25. Diana R. says:

    I’ve been very eager to read this book so I would love, love, love to win.

  26. Diana R. says:

    I’ve been very eager to read this book so I would love, love, love to win.

  27. Elaine Johnson says:

    My daughter in law was just extolling the virtues of this book and how enthusiastic she was about it. I must have it!

  28. Sheila says:

    This sounds like another great read. I’m so glad you offer this site. There are so many books out there that it help to have your recommendations.

    thank you

  29. Bhibha says:

    I really wanted to read this book & your review sealed the deal for me.


  30. Barbara says:

    Sounds like a great book. Would love to win it!

  31. Sandee61 says:

    Thanks for the entry for this book. I’d love a chance at winning it. Sounds really good! My friend and I were just talking about it yesterday, and thought it would be a great read for our little book ladies get-together.

    Happy Reading,


  32. Meghan says:

    Ooh, this is one of my must read books of the year!!! Thanks!

  33. I’ve already read this book and enjoyed it so much that I have scheduled my book club to read it in May. I would really like for my club to win copies of this book!

  34. Carol M says:

    I’ve heard this is good! I’d love to read it! Thank you for the giveaway!

  35. Lisa Munley says:

    Me! Meeeee!!! I pitched this one to my book club over the weekend but it didn’t get selected. After your rave review I am so anxious to read it!!

  36. Bill says:

    This is on my list of books to read. Would appreciate a free copy.

  37. Patty M. says:

    I desperately want to read this book. I’m so glad it lived up to the hype when you read it. Thanks so much for offering the giveaway!

  38. Nancye Davis says:

    Sounds like an interesting book! Count me in.

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  39. Ms. Dawn says:

    I’ve seen this book advertised several times and never put it on my TBR list. It just seems like some sort of medical non-fiction book that I couldn’t possibly enjoy. However, I’ve seen nothing but rave reviews about it (enticing me) and my sister-in-law, who’s book judgment I highly regard, claims it’s a great book. So….NOW, I want it!!

  40. lacey says:

    Sounds really good!! Count me in 🙂

  41. Ruthie B says:

    I would love a copy…thanks for the chance!

  42. Kim says:

    I just moved to a new town in the bitter cold mid-west. A kind neighbor invited me to join her book club. After one meeting, I drew the slot to host the next meeting and chose the book. I’m intimidated at the task knowing so few people here. What I pick will say a lot. I spent several hours researching books and decided on this one just this morning. I googled the title and book club and stumbled on your review. I’m glad to hear it is approachable despite the science. Crossing my fingers the other ladies will find it fascinating. I can’t wait to start it. Thanks so much for the chance to win!

  43. Diane Miller says:

    Both of my book clubs truly enjoyed The Help. I think they would both like this one too.

  44. Laurie says:

    I would love to win this book!

  45. Betsy says:

    I would love a copy! It’s gotten a lot of press here in Baltimore, for obvious reasons!

  46. Marsha says:

    I have heard great comments about this book from friends whom I admire so I am very interested in reading it and hopefully to recommend it to my two book groups and literature class.

  47. I loved this book too. I am a physician and when I read it I wasn’t sure if people who may have taken fewer science classes than me would be able to get past the scientific aspects of the book. I am glad to see everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. (PS I will be doing a post on this book soon, let me know if I can post your discussion questions (or at least some of them)- with a credit to you, of course!)

  48. amy says:

    I would love to win this book.. It has a special interest to me as I am a 50s polio survivor. My 4 brothers and sisters got to get the vaccine. Thank you Dr. Salk…

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