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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars never look at HeLa cells the same way again
I'm a scientist and have used HeLa cells for many years, with only a vague idea of where they had come from. This terrific book brings a human side to the early days of cell culture and also a fascinating insight into some more modern problems (cell-line contamination) as well as to historical ones (racism and institutionalization), both of which we hope are going away...
Published on Nov. 16 2010 by BottinesOrange

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less a science book, more focused on cultural studies
I picked up this book expecting an interesting story about the origin of the HeLa cell line. This the book delivered. However, be aware that the scientific side of the HeLa cells are only very generally explained. This book is not for someone looking to read about cell biology, but rather someone who is interested in:

a) The evolution of ethics in medical...
Published on May 22 2010 by Columbus


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars never look at HeLa cells the same way again, Nov. 16 2010
By 
BottinesOrange (Montreal, Canada) - See all my reviews
I'm a scientist and have used HeLa cells for many years, with only a vague idea of where they had come from. This terrific book brings a human side to the early days of cell culture and also a fascinating insight into some more modern problems (cell-line contamination) as well as to historical ones (racism and institutionalization), both of which we hope are going away... The book is well-written and obviously a labor of love for both its author and Ms. Lacks's relatives. Thank you for writing this! I'll recommend it to everyone I know.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Audio is best medium for this book..., Jan. 10 2011
Any review by wife or myself of this book in the print version would be high - it is an exceptional book in its content. The manner in which it has been researched and then dialogued is just short of brilliant. However, to listen to "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" in our car while driving is a special occasion indeed.

Unlike a novel, there is no need to remember the characters, the plot line and the passage. We, the listeners are being treated to a verbal exposé of illuminating, amazing, albeit shameful scientific facts behind a medical methodology that has aided and provided benefit for millions of people in the need of medical solutions and aid.

The author insinuates herself into the book in a playful but purposeful manner which lends immediate personality to the facts as if a story is being told; it is in fact a story - just a true one. Whenever we stop and turn the engine off to get ready to disembark from our SUV, we almost always pause and listen to a conclusion of the particular topic or thought of the author Rebecca Skloot. When we walk away, the interactions within the book leave us with plenty to talk about if others daily routines do not have the power to intercept and give priority to... In print it would be a book 'one would not want to put down', in the car it is one to take on a l-o-o-n-g journey.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue biography, Dec 31 2011
By 
M. P. L. WOULFE (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Paperback)
This is a long overdue biography of a woman who unwittingly made a tremendous contribution to medical research. In the days when ethics approval was not required for obtaining patient samples for research purposes, cervical cancer cells from Henrietta Lacks (so-called HeLa cells) were carefully excised and placed into culture media in an attempt to grow these ex vivo. The researchers of the day could not anticipate that her cells would grow vigorously, and continue to grow to this day in numerous labs around the world. At that time, the successful culturing of cells was considered a fantasy because so many cells failed to thrive in culture media, whether obtained from normal or cancerous tissues. The rapidly growing immortalized cells from Henrietta Lacks pre-empted ethical considerations for the patient and her family, since it was not expected that they would actually succeed in cell culture. Moreover, it was not possible to anticipate the enormous wealth of knowledge regarding protein and DNA structure and function that these cells provided. The events that unfolded following the exceptional ability to culture HeLa cells led to unforeseen consequences for the Lacks family as well as numerous researchers and clinicians whose careers were staked on these cells. Rebecca Skloot provides a compassionate and meticulous insight into the Lacks family and their reaction to the generation of HeLa cells. This is a must-read for anyone wishing to understand processes underlying medical ethics and how research has relied on human samples in the past century. It is also essential reading for researchers who have handled HeLa cells (including this reviewer).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written, a wonderful blend of science, mystery & human interest!, Jan. 22 2012
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This review is from: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Paperback)
I had a difficult time putting this book down; it is fascinating, thrilling, intellectually stimulating yet deeply moving as well. Thank goodness Ms. Skloot investigated and recorded the story of Henrietta Lacks; had more time passed, the information and people that assisted in this wonderful investigation into Ms. Lacks' life would have been gone, the story behind this amazing medical phenomenon, lost. It makes one wonder what other stories about interesting, important yet unsung heroes can no longer be written because of the passage of time and the death of people who knew them. I am thankful that Ms. Skloot had the interest and drive to see this investigation through, along with the Lacks family.

The book was a combination of science thriller, mystery novel, and wonderful human-interest story. There are not many times after reading a book that I've felt I've learned about something truly significant, yet I felt this way after reading The Immortal Life of Henrieta Lacks.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less a science book, more focused on cultural studies, May 22 2010
I picked up this book expecting an interesting story about the origin of the HeLa cell line. This the book delivered. However, be aware that the scientific side of the HeLa cells are only very generally explained. This book is not for someone looking to read about cell biology, but rather someone who is interested in:

a) The evolution of ethics in medical research
b) The human faces behind the HeLa cells, Henrietta Lacks and her progeny

If you find yourself interested in any of the above, then this book is for you.

This is definitely a pop-science book, rather than a scientific treatise and so you should approach it as such.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful book, April 17 2011
By 
r e fredrickson (Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Paperback)
as a physician who liked immunology the least of anything(except perhaps the anatomy of the knee) I studied in med school, this book really made me rethink my concepts. Amazing perseverance and dedication by the author to get the information needed to make this book so important--much moreso than just the biography of this truly unsung hero. In addition, it makes one question the ethics of consent, etc. Beyond just its factual historical import, the power of the author's writing was an unexpected benefit. There was scene toward the end of the book with a religious overtone that was so powerfully written, it almost had this non-theist Unitarian singing hallelujan!! Awesome read--one of the best books I have read in some time
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Makes you think, Oct. 8 2011
By 
Kadi Kaljuste (Toronto, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Paperback)
As an artsy, non-science person, I'd never heard of HeLa cells or Henrietta Lacks. And, early into this book, it became clear to me that even the scientists who have been using HeLa cells for research for decades knew little about the woman from whom the cells came. Rebecca Skloot tells the Lacks family story with sensitivity and honesty while at the same time explaining cell science in understandable, lay terms. No small feat. But the most powerful and important questions this story raises are ethical. And they're questions for which we still don't have answers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Sept. 3 2011
This review is from: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Paperback)
This is a great read, especially if you are keen on biological sciences. I have a science degree and learned all about cells, DNA, cancer and never learned about how we got the cells to study to find out this information. I have never even considered the people behind the cells I studied in university. This book was an eye opener and it is well written and well paced that it keeps your attention. Definitely a learning experience and a book that makes you think about science and also about the field of medicine.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The incredible progress of objective science gets lost when its impact on the individual is forgotten., Nov. 9 2013
By 
Len (Slave Lake, Alberta, Canada) - See all my reviews
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Henrietta died of cervical cancer probably a result of contracting the HPV virus that causes genital warts. Prior to her death, George Gey, the head of tissue culture research at John Hopkins Hospital removed a sample of cancerous cells from her body. With the help of his assistant, Mary Kubicek, he was able to grow the tissue in a culture and keep it growing and growing so that they'd weigh more than 50 million metric tons and circumnavigate the globe at least three times. Her cells used for all kinds of cancer and disease related research done around the world and while scientists and biotech companies and much of the public benefited directly from Henrietta’s cells, the Lacks family has not. Poor and without healthcare, they lived in squalor, many dying at a prematurely young age. Henrietta’s husband was also her first cousin so many of her children suffered from genetically related problems. Her daughter Elsie suffered from epilepsy and mental retardation and at least two of her other children were partially deaf. While the scientists at John Hopkins were willing to recognize the tremendous contribution Henrietta’s cells had made to science, no was willing to provide them with any financial remuneration. As one of the scientists described their predicament, it’s like taking oil from the ground and returning none of the profits back to the owner. This book chronicles two dominant movements of the present era, the tremendous progress being made by science to improve and lengthen our lives and the voracious appetite of greed that pervades our individual lives and the actions of our companies while others suffer a poor and desperate existence. While I was tempted to give up on the narrative at times, I found the result very rewarding.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and interesting., March 25 2011
This review is from: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Paperback)
I bought this book completely on the strength of its reviews on Amazon, without knowing what it was about at all. I figured the book was a biography of Henrietta Lacks' life, but did not expect that its scope would extend to cell biology, bioethics, the recent history of the medical profession and class and race relations in the United States. The book manages to touch all of these areas and describe even the complex topics with clarity. But what this book is about most is people - specifically Henrietta and her kin.

Henrietta Lacks was born in Roanoke, Virginia on August 1, 1920. Skloot narrates Henrietta's life from her childhood, to her marriage to her cousin at the age of 14, the birth of her five children, then eventually her struggle with, and demise from, cervical cancer in October 1951. Dr. George Gey, a doctor from Johns Hopkins University, took samples of her cervical cells, both normal and cancerous, for his research and, miraculously, the cancerous cells multiplied and survived when every other sample he had ever taken had died within days. These cells became known as the HeLa cell line. HeLa continued to multiply at an aggressive rate and continue to do so today - they are immortal. HeLa cells have been used in a vast spectrum of scientific research, including developing vaccines; uncovering the secrets of viruses, bacterium, cancer and the effects of radiation; they have been sent to space and were part of the first cloning experiments.

Henrietta's family did not learn of any of this until decades later when scientists began using each of them for research, all without their informed consent. For everything Henrietta's cells contributed to society, nobody had taken the time to tell her family any of it, or look beyond HeLa cells to the woman behind them. Ergo, Skloot's story feels long overdue and one that was meant to be told.

Skloot narrates the family's story with grace and intimacy, engrossing the reader, and perhaps taking away precious sleep time hours because the book is just so hard to put down :). We trust Skloot's narrative immediately because we can sense from early on in the book that her interest in Henrietta and her family is genuine.

Skloot first heard of Henrietta Lacks in her high school science class, and from then on, she was fascinated and determined to learn more about her. What struck me immediately from Skloot's prologue was that one such preoccupation can be the spark that will pave the course of one's life. For Skloot, that moment in her science class, led to 10 years of research on the story behind Henrietta Lacks and HeLa, resulting in her first book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and a journey she could never have imagined.

My only complaint about the book is the gap between 2001 and 2009, when the book was published. While I trust that the most pertinent events in Skloot's story with her family occurred between 1999 and 2001 (the first three years of her research), surely there was something to convey during that eight year period!
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Paperback - March 8 2011)
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