The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Sorry for posting this so late, I lose track of everything in December.

Thanks for the suggestions of books. I thought the suggestion to go with a book with a Black History theme was a great idea. This was one of the books suggested. I thought it sounded fasinating. So come join the book club for the discussion of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

As descibed by Goodreads:

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. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family—especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother’s cells. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn’t her children afford health insurance?

I know I say this every month but I think it's a good reminder. Everyone is welcome to join the discussion of  the month. We want to hear your opinion of the book regardless if you loved or hated it, or couldn't finish it for some reason.

Join or login to comment.

  • A former member
    A former member

    Sorry to miss it. We're in the middle of a home project and are on a deadline.

    February 11, 2013

  • Tami H.

    Two many things going next Wednesday, see you all next month

    February 6, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Sorry I missed the last one. I was looking forward to hearing what others thought of the book. See you in February, I hope.

    January 16, 2013

  • Brandon W.

    wow, been a busy season for me, ready to get back into the swing of things. Will be back in February, got my schedule at work changed, so I should be able to make it,

    January 15, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Sorry, just realized I won't be able to attend this time

    January 12, 2013

  • Sarah H.

    My sister read this book and really loved it. We've got similar book taste so I'm looking forward to reading it.

    January 12, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I am enjoying it so far

    January 5, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    This has been on my "to read" list!

    January 2, 2013

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