About the Book

The history of HeLa is a rare and powerful combination of race, class, gender, medicine, bioethics, and intellectual property; far more rare is the writer than can so clearly fuse those disparate threads into a personal story so rich and compelling. Through ten years of painstaking research, done with the help of Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, Rebecca Skloot has crafted a unique piece of science journalism that is impossible to put down—or to forget.
— Seed Magazine

An alternate cover of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. (From Rebecca Skloot)

Reviews & Articles

  • Q & A: How Henrietta Lacks' cells fueled medical breakthroughs (USA Today) March 9, 2010. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of a forgotten woman whose endlessly dividing cells have led to some of the most important discoveries of modern medicine.

  • Eternal Life (NY Times) February 5, 2010. From the very beginning there was something uncanny about the cancer cells on Henrietta Lacks' cervix.

  • The Gift of Immortal Cells (Video) (CBS News) March 16, 2010. Some say the gift of life is the greatest gift of all. How could the story of a remarkable woman who gave that gift over and over have been overlooked for so long? Jim Axelrod has Henrietta Lacks' story.

  • 'Henrietta Lacks': A Donor's Immortal Legacy (Fresh Air with Terry Gross, NPR) February 2, 2010. In 1951, an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. She was treated at Johns Hopkins University, where a doctor named George Gey snipped cells from her cervix without telling her. Gey discovered that Lacks' cells could not only be kept alive, but would also grow indefinitely.

  • A Woman's Undying Gift to Science (NYTimes) February 2, 2010. A thorny and provocative book about cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" also floods over you like a narrative dam break, as if someone had managed to distill and purify the more addictive qualities of "Erin Brockovich," "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and "The Andromeda Strain."

  • Book review: 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' by Rebecca Skloot (Washington Post) January 31, 2010.
    By early 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a mother of five in Baltimore, had suffered for some time from what she described as a painful "knot on my womb."

  • 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' wins best book award from National Academies (National Academies) 2011.
    The recipients of the 2011 Communication Awards were announced today by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine.  Supported by the W.M. Keck Foundation since 2003 as part of the Keck Futures Initiative, these prestigious awards – each of which includes a $20,000 prize – recognize excellence in reporting and communicating science, engineering, and medicine to the general public.