New York Times bestseller
Intimate in feeling, astonishing in scope, and impossible to put down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells - taken without her knowledge - become one of the most important tools in modern medicine.
Taken in 1951, these cells became the first immortal human cell line ever grown in culture. They were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered the secrets of cancer, viruses and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilisation, cloning, and gene mapping, and have been bought and sold by the billions. Put together, her cells would now weigh more than 22 million tons and placed end-to-end would wrap around the earth five times. Yet Henrietta's family did not learn of her 'immortality' until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences ...
Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the 'coloured' wards of Johns Hopkins in the 1950s to poverty stricken tenements of East Baltimore today, where Henrietta's children are unable to afford health insurance, and struggle with feelings of pride, fear and betrayal. Their story is inextricably linked to the birth of bioethics, the rise of multi-billion dollar biotech industry, and the legal battles that determine if we own our bodies.
With an introduction by the author
About the Author
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 other publications. She specializes in narrative science writing and has explored a wide range of topics, including goldfish surgery, tissue ownership rights, race and medicine, food politics, and packs of wild dogs in Manhattan. She has worked as a correspondent for WNYC’s Radiolab and PBS’s Nova ScienceNOW. She and her father, Floyd Skloot, are co-editors of The Best American Science Writing 2011 . You can read a selection of Rebecca Skloot's magazine writing on the Articles page of this site.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks , Skloot's debut book, took more than a decade to research and write, and instantly became a New York Times best-seller. She has been featured on numerous television shows, including CBS Sunday Morning, The Colbert Report, Fox Business News, and others, and was named One of Five Surprising Leaders of 2010 by the Washington Post. The Immortal Life was chosen as a best book of 2010 by more than 60 media outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, O the Oprah Magazine, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, People Magazine, New York Times, and U.S. News and World Report; it was named The Best Book of 2010 by Amazon.com and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick. It has won numerous awards, including the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the Wellcome Trust Book Prize, and two Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year and Best Debut Author of the year. It has received widespread critical acclaim, with reviews appearing in The New Yorker, Washington Post, Science, and many others. Dwight Garner of the New York Times said, "I put down Rebecca Skloot's first book,
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," more than once. Ten times, probably. Once to poke the fire. Once to silence a pinging BlackBerry. And eight times to chase my wife and assorted visitors around the house, to tell them I was holding one of the most graceful and moving nonfiction books I've read in a very long time …It has brains and pacing and nerve and heart.”
'No dead woman has done more for the living ... A fascinating, harrowing, necessary book.' -- Hilary Mantel
'A fine book ... gripping ...' -- The Sunday Times
'An extraordinary mix of memoir and science reveals the story of how one woman's cells have saved countless lives.' -- The Daily Telegraph