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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Written by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
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Category: Science - Life Sciences - Biology; Biography & Autobiography - Science & Technology; Social Science - Women's Studies
Imprint: Crown
Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: February 2010
Price: $28.00
Can. Price: $37.00
ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2 (1-4000-5217-3)
Pages: 384
Also available as a trade paperback.

Winner of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine’s 2011 Communication Award for Best Book
Winner of the 2010 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Nonfiction
Winner of the 2010 Wellcome Trust Book Prize
Named by more than 60 critics as one of the best books of 2010,
A Best Book of the Year at: O, The Oprah Magazine, Publishers Weekly,
Library Journal, Bookmarks Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist,
Entertainment Weekly, East Bay Express, and Kansas City Star
A Discover Magazine 2010 Must Read
National Public Radio, Best of the Bestsellers

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 were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances in cloning, in vitro fertilization, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions, with devastating consequences for her family.

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 Henrietta’s children, unable to afford health insurance, wrestle with feelings of pride, fear, and betrayal.

Praise for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks...

“Thanks to Rebecca Skloot’s remarkable book, the Lacks case is likely to become a classic in the history of biomedical ethics. . . Skloot is a science journalist but this book also evidences her skill as a historian . . . provides a profound sense of history. Students in classes covering ethics, public health, and the history of medicine, childhood, the family, women, the 1950s, and race will be engrossed by Lacks’s story. The many questions raised by the existence and use of HeLa cells will generate hours of classroom discussion.” —Journal of the History of Medicine
"What is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks really about? Science, African American culture and religion, intellectual property of human tissues, Southern history, medical ethics, civil rights, the overselling of medical advances? . . . The book’s broad scope would make it ideal for an institution-wide freshman year reading program." —David J. Kroll, Professor and Chair, Pharmaceutical Sciences, North Carolina Central University

"An incredibly readable and smart text that should be a part of countless university discussions . . . Ethically fascinating and completely engaging–I couldn’t recommend it more." —Deborah Blum, Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"A stunning illustration of how race, gender and disease intersect to produce a unique form of social vulnerability, this is a poignant, necessary and brilliant book." —Alondra Nelson, Associate Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

"An essential component of biomedical research, Skloot finally gives the HeLa cell line its human face. HeLa grew from a tissue sample taken from a highly aggressive cancerous tumor on the cervix of 31-year-old Henrietta Lacks, a young, African-American mother, the child of tobacco farmers, and the granddaughter of slaves, who died a painful death in the colored ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951. She never gave permission for the sample to be taken; in turn, her cells have reproduced geometrically and scientists estimate that over 50 million metric tons of cells—as much as one hundred Empire State Buildings—have been grown since 1951. Skloot (a regular contributor to Popular Science ) offers a detailed and dramatic medical detective story, effectively balancing careful, scientific reporting with intense and respectful interactions with Lacks’s extended family. The brutal irony of Lacks’s life is that though her early death did not allow her to mother her own children, her cells and the medical miracles they engendered (polio vaccines, DNA research, and more) effectively mothered us all." —School Library Journal

Students Respond to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks:
"Unlike the stereotypical reading assignment that too often catalyzes students to bond over mutual dislike," writes Connecticut College student Jesse Neikrie in the Association of American Colleges and Universities magazine, "[The Immortal Life] appealed to people with diverse interests, including literature, science, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, medicine, and social justice." For full article go to: http://tinyurl.com/5uyzqvz.

“If there ever was a piece of scholarship that encapsulated the interdisciplinary ideals and methods of American Studies,” writes Connecticut College student Claire Cafritz, “Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks would be it.” For full article go to: http://tinyurl.com/6gzsjbv.

Selected for Common Reading at nearly 150 colleges, universities and “One Book, One City” Reads, including:
Adelphi University
Agnes State College
Albion College
Armstrong Atlantic State University
Auburn University
Austin College
Bard College
Barry University School of Law
Barton College
Baton Rouge’s ‘One Book One Community’ Read
Belmont University
Beloit College
Boise State Campus Reads
Bookpal for Brother's College
Brooklyn College
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland State University Ohio
Coastal Carolina University
CC Allegheny County - North Campus
College of St. Scholastica
Community College of Baltimore County
Connecticut College
Cosumnes River College, One Book CRC
Cox College
Daniel Boone Regional Library
Dayton Big Read
Delaware County Community College
Delaware Valley College
Detroit Public Library
Earlham College
East Carolina University
Eastern Illinois University
Eastern Oregon University
Elizabethtown College
Emmanuel College
Fairmont State University
Florida Atlantic University Honors College
Florida State University
Follett Pioneer Bookstore California State University East Bay
Framingham State University
Frederick Country Reads
Gallaudet University
George Washington University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Grand Valley State University
Green River Community College
Greenville High School
Grossmont College
Gwynedd-Mercy College
Hamilton College
Hampton University
Hanover College
Henderson State University
Hesston College
Honors College at University of Arizona
Johns Hopkins University
Johnson County Community College
Kansas State University
Keene State College
Marian University
Marietta College
Marshall University
Maryville University
Massachusetts College of Art
Merced College
Metropolitan State College of Denver
Mills College
Missouri State University
Montclair State University
Moraine Valley Community College
Morehouse School of Medicine
Morgan State University
Mountain View College
North Carolina Agriculture and Technical University
North Carolina State University
Northwestern (Bookpal for Northwestern)
Northwestern University
Norwich University
Ohio State Mansfield & North Central State College
Ohio State University
Otterbein College
Pellissippi State Tech. Community College
Penn State Brandywine
Philadelphia University
Purdue University
Purdue University
Purdue University Calumet
Queensborough Community College
Randolph-Macon Academy
Regis University
Rhode Island: One Book, One State
Rochester Community and Technical College
Roger Williams University
Rollins College
Roosevelt University
Rowan University
Saint Francis University
Saint Xavier University
Sam Houston State University
San Diego State University
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Seton Hall University
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Tulane Freshmen Reads
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University of Kansas School of Medicine
University of Maryland
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University of North Carolina at Greensboro
University of Rhode Island
University of Richmond One Book, One Campus Program
University of South Carolina Upstate
University of Tennessee
University of Texas Arlington
University of West Florida
University of Wisconsin Platteville
University of Wisconsin, Madison Big Reads
Virginia Commonwealth University
West Shore Community College
Western Michigan University
Western Washington University
Worcester State University

For a full list, email us at rhacademic@randomhouse.com

Also visit the blog post by Case Western professor, Jacqueline D. Lipton, Professor; Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Research; Co-Director of the Center for Law Technology and the Arts; Associate Director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center.

To read Rebecca Skloot's conversation with Open Notebook's David Dobbs on writing creative non-fiction, go to: http://tiny.cc/ihzgv

You may find all links listed in the Related Links tab to your right.


REBECCA SKLOOT is an award-winning science writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; and many others. She is co-editor of The Best American Science Writing 2011 and has worked as a correspondent for NPR’s Radiolab and PBS’s Nova ScienceNOW. She was named One of Five Surprising Leaders of 2010 by the Washington Post. Skloot's debut book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, took more than a decade to research and write, and instantly became a New York Times best-seller. It was chosen as a best book of 2010 by more than 60 media outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, People Magazine, and New York Times. It is being translated into more than 25 languages, adapted into a young reader edition, and being made into an HBO film produced by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball. Skloot is the founder and president of The Henrietta Lacks Foundation. She has a B.S. in biological sciences and an MFA in creative nonfiction. She has taught creative writing and science journalism at the University of Memphis, the University of Pittsburgh, and New York University. She lives in Chicago. For more information, visit her website at RebeccaSkloot.com, where you’ll find links to follow her on Twitter and Facebook.