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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Unabridged Audiobook

Written By: Rebecca Skloot

Narrated By: Cassandra Campbell, Bahni Turpin

Date: February 2010

Duration: 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.


  • Anonymous

    The medical community showed very little compassion for Henrietta or her familiy. I'm not convinced this situation has changed when it comes to medical research. I can only hope the racist aspects have improved. Well researched and written.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful.

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful, eye opening book.

  • Emily B.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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

  • Mollie S.

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

  • 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.

  • nab6215

    I don't even know where to start about this book. It is like "Roots" for human HeLa cell culture, but it's also about Henrietta Lacks and her family. This book took TEN YEARS to write. Wow. The end of the audiobook included an interview with Rebecca Skloot, the author of the book. Although you could tell that Rebecca got close to Henrietta's daughter, Deborah in the book, it came through in the warmth of Rebecca's voice during the interview. The original idea may have been who is the woman behind the HeLa cells, but it became much more.

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by Rebecca Skloot

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