The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Written by:
Rebecca Skloot

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
February 2010
12 hours 30 minutes
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The story of modern medicine and bioethics—and, indeed, race relations—is refracted beautifully, and movingly.”—Entertainment Weekly


NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • Entertainment Weekly • O: The Oprah Magazine • NPR • Financial Times • New York • Independent (U.K.) • Times (U.K.) • Publishers Weekly • Library Journal • Kirkus Reviews • Booklist • Globe and Mail

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, which are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. 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.

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. Deborah was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Had they killed her to harvest her cells? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn’t her children afford health insurance? 

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.
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Stephanie K.

What an incredibly sad story… so well researched and perfectly told!

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Been meaning to get around to this one for many years. An incredible story. Lots of stuff going on here...biology, medicine, biography, family history, the author's quest to tell the story, and of course, racism and exploitation. One learns a lot about America while listening to this wonderful book,

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The amount of research on the topic was incredible. The story of the family was also done incredibly well!

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This story is fantastic. The author researched it for about a decade, so it is exceedingly well-informed, and she is a talented storyteller as well. The story itself is unbelievably remarkable and astounding. It truly is, and I mean no exaggeration. The scope and breadth of what was a small beginning has now become something beyond words. The main subject of this story is now part of so much in our lives, in so many ways and on so many levels is something the author lays out, and leaves you in awe. And this all centers in a human being, a woman, who is complex and has so much about her character and her being that is made clear as well as laid bare alongside the telling of this amazing story that while you learn of this incredible scientific endeavor, you never forget that the woman that made it all happen, throughout the entire story. \r\n\r\nI enjoyed this book immensely and can\'t recommend it highly enough.

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Kris R.

I think Mrs Lacks family deserves every penny that was ever made selling Hela. This is tell tale signs of the different treatment that went on to persons of color. They should have at least get credit. I hope they win the lawsuit.

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Wonderful, eye opening book.

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Emily B.

Fascinating!! As a scientist, this was very interesting to read.

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Pamela M.

Wonderfully written and narrated. Couldnt stop listening and reading. Makes me want to do my own research into African Americans as involuntary test subjects, etc.

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Saga R.

Well written book and a very well researched book. The story of the cells that have always been of interest to me ( being a biochemist) both broke my heart and lifted my spirit.

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Novelette D.

This book is soooo interesting! The subject matter was absolutely fascinating to me! I was sad when it ended. I wanted to keep listening. I just could not wait to get in my car so I could listen. This book made commuting fun!

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Fredrika H.

MIND BLOWING!!!!!!! Written so well and I would listen to any non fiction narrated by Cassandra Campbell, she is my all time favorite

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Mollie S.

Absolutely amazing! I loved this book so much that I was looking for any opportunity I could find to listen to it.

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Annabree F.

This is one of the most profoundly moving stories I have ever read. The story is disturbing at times and so very tragic for the most part. The narrator was fantastic and helped me get through the more difficult subject matter. It is a story worth listening to and will stay with me for a long time.

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Sakena P

This is a great audiobook! I enjoyed how the author went in-depth on the family story as well as the history human cells and the research work. The book really showed the struggles and dilemmas from various perspectives. Thoroughly enjoyed the voice narratives and how it drew me into the story.

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Lorena Cardenas

Fantastic audiobook. Rebecca went over and beyond to gather information about Henrietta and the family. So much that I was unaware about until I heard the history about HELA.

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Tarita Dooley

This was an amazing tribute to the Lacks family and it was so informative. I enjoyed every moment of the narration and format in which the story was told. I hope that this is a story that will be instituted in the high schools for students to learn more about the very interesting build and outcome of this story. Amazing absolutely amazing to caputure not only the scientific points but to include where this amazing scientific and medical research breakthrough originated from. Great work!

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vivian tas

Very educational story, well researched and documented. Interesting and different. This is a wow story for anyone who hasn't read this story. Very interesting that the story was real biography, and a non-fiction. I would recommend this book to others. Narrator was very good, talking the different accents of the different ethnic groups. Very well done, as if I was right there with them in Clover, Baltimore, VA, and in those decades around 1950's to 1970's.

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Shalean Williams

This book is written so brilliantly and easy to understand. Ms. Rebecca put her heart and soul in this book.

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Gayle Brossard Mahoney

Love this, this should be read in Junior High School . History, Science, medical history, black history, cancer, polio, HPV studies and cures. Thank you Henrietta, Debra and Rebecca!

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Alisha DeLong

Very interesting I couldn't set it down. I loved this book!!

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Brynn Bell

Amazing story told so eloquently. Who would have thought.

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Omar Hernandez

Great book, interesting and thought provoking. I was intrigued by the history and the atrocities done to people in the name of science.

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Bobby Nelson

A1 since day 1....……, ..............,,,,..................,,,,...

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Florene Scott

Very interesting and very informational. A good listen. Couldn't put down.

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Shannon Perry

Human interest story with science, as well as race relations evolving through history. Very interesting to listen to from start to finish.

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