Monday, June 18, 2012

Audio Archive: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

June is Audiobook Month.  Regular readers of Lakeside Musing know my love of audiobooks has been well-chronicled over the years. To celebrate Audiobook Month, I will post a review from my audio archives each Monday. This week I continue with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, originally reviewed 9/30/10. Keep up with all Audiobook Month activities on twitter by following #JIAM2012.



The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
author: Rebecca Skloot
read by: Cassandra Campbell, Bahni Turpin
genre: nonfiction audiobook
publisher: Random House Audio, 2010
length: 12 hours 30 minutes
source: purchased from audible.com

In a nutshell:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating history of cell culture, the real woman behind HeLa cells, and the impact of HeLa research and development on her family.

My thoughts:
When I graduated from college in the 1980's and began a career in clinical pharmacy at a teaching hospital involved with investigational drug trials, I became aware of HeLa cells and their importance in medical research. Now, nearly 30 years later, I have come to realize that HeLa was, in fact, a living human being. Her name was Henrietta Lacks.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of a young black woman who died from a particularly aggressive form of cervical cancer in 1951. Cells from her tumor lead to an exciting scientific breakthrough when they were cultured and grown in a laboratory. Eventually, these cells were commercially mass-produced and marketed throughout the world, and a new era in medical research began. The cell line, still used today, played a critical role in many medical advances. However, Henrietta's husband and children knew nothing about it.

Rebecca Skloot was in close contact with Henrietta's family, especially her daughter Deborah, during the years of research preceding publication. This book is as much their story as Henrietta's or Rebecca's. Skloot was present to assist and chronicle their experience as an understanding of Henrietta's cells, their scientific impact, and long-hidden family history was gained.

Skloot's research and the Lacks' remarkable journey raise many questions of medical ethics, and put into perspective just how recently current standards of informed consent, privacy, etc. have come into practice. Healthcare inequities are also brought to the forefront. While large sums of money were being made on the HeLa cell line, Henrietta's descendants struggled to afford basic health insurance. Book clubs are sure to find a variety of topics for discussion here ranging from medical ethics, faith, and science, to class, racism, and journalism.

Cassandra Campbell has long been one of my favorite readers. Her voice in this production imparts an even more pronounced 'human quality' to the narrative. This is by no means a dry, scientific text.

Bottom line:
Even if you have little interest in cell culture, medical research, or ethics, there is still enough human drama to keep nearly anyone enthralled.
Very highly recommended.

14 comments:

  1. I have heard so many good things about this book. I have the book on audio and really hope to get to it this summer.

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    1. Darlene - I think audio is the perfect way to experience this one!

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  2. This audio blew me away. Not only is the topic sort of mind-blowing but Campbell's narration is perfection!

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    1. Sandy - I totally agree! This has become an all-time favorite.

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  3. I suspect that I read and commented on your first post but it's interesting to read now that I've had more experience of audios under my belt. I didn't originally pay attention to narrations but now they mean so much! This is one of the first audiobooks I listened to when I started to really pay attention. Agree that it was fantastic!

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    1. Trish - I listened to audiobooks for a couple of years (early 90's) before I began paying attention to the narrators. Now, the decision whether to read or listen is ALWAYS based in part on the reader. I've never been disappointed by Cassandra Campbell. This is one of my favorites!

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  4. This was a wonderful audiobook. My ride was so interesting and short because of it. Sad story, but so good.

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    1. Diane - I started listening to this during a long car ride, too, and it sure did go quickly!

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  5. I think I would have enjoyed this on audio even more than I did reading it. For a non-fiction book this leads to good discussion for a book group. Especially if you also discuss the case of the Indian tribe at the bottom of the Grand Canyon that won a suit against a university that used some of their blood for tests.

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    1. pburt - I tried to get my book club to read this one, but it was never selected. Think I would have had a more difficult time with the print version. Just stopped by your blog and have decided to subscribe - enjoyed reading your posts!

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  6. I've been wanting to read this one but it sounds like it will be stellar as an audio book! I've spent a hundred bucks at audible.com this past weekend with buying 3 credits for less and then the 25% sale....so I will add this one to my wishlist and probably use a credit to get it!! Thanks for the stellar recommendations and reviews!!!

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    1. Staci - Yes, yes, yes... go for the audio with this book. I really don't think I would have enjoyed it as much in print.

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  7. I just started this yesterday! My boss got a free copy at BEA and gave it to me because our library book group is reading it for July. I've only listened to about an hour so far but I'm hooked already. Can't believe I waited so long to start this book.

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    1. Karen K. - I just know you're going to love it! This is one of my all-time favorite audiobooks.

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