Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

But I always have thought it was strange, if our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can’t afford to see no doctors? Don’t make no sense. People got rich off my mother without us even knowin about them takin her cells, now we don’t get a dime. I used to get so mad about that to where it made me sick and I had to take pills. But I don’t got it in me no more to fight. I just want to know who my mother was.”

-Deborah Lacks, quoted in Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Synopsis: Henrietta Lacks was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells were unknowingly taken from her at Johns Hopkins hospital in 1951. Her cells, known as HeLa, have been involved in creating vaccines, cloning, gene mapping, and other important medical developments. This biography discusses race and poverty, medical ethics and scientific discoveries, and the power of family history.

The Good: Biographies get a bad rap for being boring because they’re informative, but Skloot weaves the science of cell research into the intriguing personal details of Henrietta’s life. The book discusses Henrietta’s life, death, and her impact on both science and her family in a well-organized and engaging narrative. Her backstory is amazing to read, and Skloot makes the academic side accessible too.

The Bad: Nothing, to be honest. I really loved reading this.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

Challenge(s) satisfied: #2, read a nonfiction book about science, and #6, read a biography.

Additional notes: If you’re hesitant to read biographies or nonfiction, this is a great choice to make the leap into a new genre.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is book 8 of my Read Harder Challenge. You can also check out my reviews of George and The Giver.

An affiliate link is used in this post. All opinions in this review are my own and are not influenced by the affiliate.

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9 thoughts on “Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

  1. There is so much going on in this book. It’s a biography, it’s about science, it’s a glimpse into history. It’s about access to medical care and the ethics of research. It’s part personal anecdote as Skloot becomes a part of the story. This really is an amazing book that makes you think.

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