The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks [Audiobook Review]

TitleThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: Rebecca Skloot
Narrators: Cassandra Campbell (with Bahni Turpin)
Genre: Narrative Nonfiction
Pages: 384
Audio: 12.4 hours
Year: 2010
Publisher: Random House Audio
Source: Library
Rating: 4/5


Henrietta Lacks’ contribution to medicine is immeasurable. Her cells (called HeLa) – which are uniquely immortal – have been in continuous use in medical research since the 1940s and have given us the polio vaccine, advancements in cancer and HIV treatments, and much more. But Henrietta never knew this, nor did she consent to the use of her cell line when she went into Johns Hopkins for cancer treatment all those years ago. Should her family receive a piece of the success that HeLa has become? Rebecca Skloot sets out to investigate this question by researching HeLa cells and the Lacks family.

My Thoughts:

This is my kind of nonfiction. Informative but not dry; telling the story of both the science and the people involved in the science. Rebecca Skloot did an excellent job researching a topic that had very little research (despite the excessive research on her cells, Henrietta has long remained a mystery).

The story jumps between Skloot’s attempts to contact Henrietta’s family and the story of Henrietta and the HeLa cells. Which suits the book well and keeps it from getting bogged down in either the medicine or the family drama.

A few issues though. It was a bit long (or it felt long). And because of this I got a bit bored. I started this before I left for my month-long trip to Europe (I know I’m ridiculously behind on reviews) and I didn’t finish it until I was on the train heading toward our last city. Also, I was really hoping to find out WHY Henrietta’s cells are “immortal.” Do we just not know? (Or did I miss it?).

Despite these issues, I think this is definitely a book worth reading. It raises interesting ethical questions and contains some fascinating science. Plus, Henrietta deserves to have her story heard.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Cassandra Campbell did a fantastic job as narrator of this one. Some science-y books can have flat narration but Campbell kept the science just as emotional as the personal story. If you’re going to read it, I highly recommend this one in audio.

Others’ Thoughts: Book Addiction; Helen’s Book Blog; Take Me Away Reading;

But It Now: Amazon; IndieBound

6 thoughts on “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks [Audiobook Review]

  1. Helen Murdoch November 1, 2011 / 8:43 am

    This is the kind of non-fictiont that I like as well, it reads more like a story (mostly). I was amazed at the level of poverty of the family, their view of the science, and was amazed at how much Henrietta’s cells have been used in scientific research! Fascinating stuff on so many levels


  2. zibilee November 1, 2011 / 8:47 am

    I just finished this one on audio as well, and thought it was pretty amazing! There was a reason why the cells were immortal, and if you want me to tell you, without spoiling the book in the comments section, email me. I thought this was an incredibly powerful book, and it made me so angry for Henrietta’s family and for the lack of information they were given about their mother’s cells. It was a crazy book, but one that really engrossed me.


  3. Sandy November 1, 2011 / 4:39 pm

    Cassandra Campbell has such a sweet, clear, and smooth voice, anything would sound good if she was saying it. but the story was incredible too. This is what non-fiction is all about. Our book club read it and everyone was jumping out of their skin, and all talking at once. Awesome discussion points in this book.


  4. Jenny November 1, 2011 / 7:15 pm

    I still can’t believe how interesting this book was because I wouldn’t have thought so based on the topic. I can’t remember if I felt it was too long too though. The cells are immortal because they are still using cells that were created based off those first base cells they took from her.


  5. Cori November 18, 2011 / 5:24 pm

    This one has been on my list for ages. Now that I know it’s a good audio book, I’ll pick it up in that format. I seem to be getting through more audio books than anything else these days.


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