In the story of a collision between ethics, race, and medicine, Henrietta Lacks—HeLa, to scientists— remained virtually unknown, but her cells became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more.
… one of the most graceful and moving nonfiction books I’ve read in a very long time … Ms. Skloot, a young science journalist and an indefatigable researcher, writes about Henrietta Lacks and her impact on modern medicine from almost every conceivable angle and manages to make all of them fascinating … Ms. Skloot writes with particular sensitivity and grace about the history of race and medicine in America…[and] makes it abundantly clear why, when Henrietta Lacks’s family learned that her cells were still living, the images that ran through their minds were straight out of science-fiction horror movies … The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is also, from first page to last, a meditation on medical ethics — on the notion of informed consent, and on the issue of who owns human cells. When they’re in your body, it’s obvious — they’re yours. But once they’ve been removed? All bets are clearly off.
Immortal Life reads like a novel. The prose is unadorned, crisp and transparent. Skloot frequently glides into section and chapter breaks with thought-provoking quotations from interview subjects. This technique sometimes lets well-meaning scientists demonstrate through naivete how easy it is to objectify human research subjects … This book, labeled ‘science - cultural studies,’ should be treated as a work of American history. It's a deftly crafted investigation of a social wrong committed by the medical establishment, as well as the scientific and medical miracles to which it led. Skloot's compassionate account can be the first step toward recognition, justice and healing.
Besides being about Henrietta, this book also serves as a biography of her cells and the discoveries they made possible...Skloot then skillfully weaves in the story of the Lacks family and their abominable treatment by medical researchers … Skloot’s persistence pays off as it is her presentation of the family and their perspective that lifts this book above science and turns it into an inspiring story, full of poignancy and humanity … It is a well-written, carefully-researched, complex saga of medical research, bioethics, and race in America. Above all it is a human story of redemption for a family, torn by loss, and for a writer with a vision that would not let go.