The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot Book Review

As someone who doesn’t know jackshit about science or biology – I found The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot riveting (FYI, I notice I say riveting A LOT in my reviews, what of it?). In the 1950s, Henrietta Lacks, a young Black woman died of cervical cancer, yet her cells live on. You see, the doctors took her cancer cells which didn’t die like normal cells, but kept on multiplying.

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, Book Cover

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Skloot asks ethical questions as she weaves a spellbinding narrative of the Lacks family history right up to present day. She does not portray the members of the Lacks family as perfect people, nor does she ridicule them. Their story is unfortunate. There are corporations who are getting rich off of the HeLa cells and the Lackses can’t even afford to go to the doctor. The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks calls to question current medical consent practices – particularly when it comes to tissues samples. Skloot debates whether patient consent helps or inhibits scientific progress and weighs arguments from both sides of the fence.

Who knew SCIENCE could be interesting? Granted, there is a human face on The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, but the bits about how they used the cells to develop vaccines and search for cures is fascinating. It’s nuts how widespread the HeLa cells are. For example, the HeLa cells multiple so rapidly that they have been known to contaminate other cell cultures and cause millions of dollars of damage. BUT the cells have done good things – like they were used to test the Polio vaccine which eventually led to the cure of Polio.

Yet, if we delve deeper into The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot there is a scary undercurrent theme of the treatment of nonwhite people by the medical system historically. The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks spends some time talking about the Tuskagee syphilis study wherein doctors would inject young black men with syphilis and just kind of leave them with the syphilis even after they found the cure just to see what would happen. Those men did not have a clear understanding of what they had signed up for. ALSO there are parts about this place called the Institution For The Negro Insane and goes into how poorly the patients were treated there – overcrowded conditions, beating, etc. It is no wonder that the Lackses in the book have a distrust of medical professionals.

Ultimately, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot allowed me to form an opinion on a topic that I knew nothing about previously and educated me as to how scary things are done in the name of progress. The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks is definitely an intriguing story and one that took me out of my comfort zone.

Disclosure: Borrowed from the local library.

Other reviews of The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot:

Age 30+ A Lifetime Of Books
Helen’s Book Blog

About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I really enjoyed this book, too. I suggested it for my book club but two gals have husbands battling cancer right now and they felt it would be too emotional for them. I didn’t think so but I am not in their shoes.

    • I think maybe just hearing about the cancer could be triggering, so I can understand why, maybe not right now, but hopefully your book club will read it in the future. There’s so much to discuss!

  2. Oh wow, that would be completely out of my comfort zone for sure, but it feels like one of those things you should step out of your comfort zone for.

  3. I’ve heard so many good things about this book and your review really makes me want to give it a try even though I think it would be out of my comfort zone too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. I’m so glad you liked it! It really is a wonderful book that exposes a lot.

  5. This is one of those books I wanted to read last year but somehow never did. I heard so many good things about it that I simply must do so.

  6. I’m glad you liked it!! I think it’s such a great example of nonfiction narrative done well. Another one that would make a great audio book too, I think.

  7. I have this one at hold at the library. I can’t wait til I get it – it looks so interesting.

  8. I remember reading a review of this a while ago and thinking it sounded fascinating.

  9. I hadn’t heard of the book before this review but I HAVE heard of Skloot and her cancer cells. That whole story’s amazing and her mistreatment in the hands of medical professionals is so sad! Might have to check this out.

  10. Have this one sitting in my library. I’ve actually handed it out to a few students who really enjoyed it! Obvi. I’ve been meaning to do this one forever, lol, always too many books too little time!

    • I’m glad to hear your students like The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks, it’s pretty cool actually to see students who like nonfiction. You should definitely read this one.

      Oh and that’s so totally my life mantra – too many books too little time!

  11. Okay, so you did this one printed and not audio? I had it in my audio queue and then my library decided to upgrade but we lost our list, and I lost my place in line, which was NEXT for this bad boy. But now the list is long again so I was like No thanks, homies!

    So…I was super lucky enough to find it at my Goodwill for $1.50 for a great-looking hardback copy a couple of weeks ago. BUT…for me that is like a good AND bad thing. It seems like I always make less time for books that I actually own. So I’ll need to carve out some time to read this one. Maybe a month where I do my own books or something like that. Because I’ve heard this one is compelling and interesting, even though it isn’t my favorite genre. And for only $1.50, yay for putting it on my shelf!! Holla!

    Yay for reading out of the comfort zone sometimes! It makes crawling back into the comfort zone SO SNUGGLICIOUS.

  12. This definitely does sound interesting…considering it is about medicine and science and I’m a lit nerd. But – if you enjoyed it I know I probably will too! It is on my non fiction list, and I definitely want to read it.

  13. I read this just before Christmas and adored it. I didn’t know a damn thing about cells or biology beforehand, but I love medical ethics and so I couldn’t resist.

    I think the thing that really did it for me was how genuine the author comes across. She just seemed like she actually cared about the Lackes, and not just the money she’d get from her book.

    I can’t decide where I stand on the whole concept though – I understand that cells are necessary for medical research and that’s more than okay, but I would resent doctors MAKING MONEY off my cells. It shocks me that you have no rights over your own cells after they’ve left your body!

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