Culture Dish

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Big week here at Culture Dish! The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and its author (yours truly) were on the cover of Publishers Weekly (please note: THRILLED!). Inside that issue was a profile of me with some of book’s backstory, a short excerpt from the book (longer excerpt coming soon in O, the Oprah Magazine), also a story I wrote about the crazy book tour I’m organizing (posted about previously here).  But that was just the beginning of this week’s HeLa developments.  More about that after the jump, but first, a warning: given the fact that my book is about to be released and I’ll be on book tour for months, much of my life, and therefore the content on this blog, will be book related until I’m back to regularly scheduled programming.



Other development include …. <insert drum roll> … Macmillan signing on to publish The Immortal Life in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and the Commonwealth, which means those not in the US will be able to get their copies not long after it’s published here. Also, early praise for the book is rolling in. See what Ted Conover, Susan Orlean, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Eric Schlosser, and many others are saying about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks below.  Also see what professors are saying about the book and its value to fields as diverse as Virology, Sociology, African American Studies, Law, Ethics, and Journalism.

Early Praise for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks:

Skloot’s book is wonderful-deeply felt, gracefully written, sharply reported. It is a story about science but, much more, about life.”

-SUSAN ORLEAN, author of The Orchid Thief

“No one can
say exactly where Henrietta Lacks is buried: during the many years
Rebecca Skloot spent working on this book, even Lacks’s hometown of
Clover, Virginia, disappeared. But that did not stop Skloot in her
quest to exhume, and resurrect, the story of her heroine and her
family. What this important, invigorating book lays bare is how easily
science can do wrong, especially to the poor. The issues evoked here
are giant: who owns our bodies, the use and misuse of medical
authority, the unhealed wounds of slavery … and Skloot, with clarity
and compassion, helps us take the long view. This is exactly the sort of story that books were made to tell–thorough, detailed, quietly passionate, and full of revelation.”

TED CONOVER, author of Newjack and The Routes of Man


“Writing with a novelist’s artistry, a biologist’s expertise, and the zeal of an investigative reporter, Skloot tells a truly astonishing story of racism and poverty, science and conscience, spirituality and family driven by a galvanizing inquiry into the sanctity of the body and the very nature of the life force.”

BOOKLIST (starred review)


“It’s
extremely rare when a reporter’s passion finds its match in a story.
Rarer still when the people in that story courageously join that
reporter in the search for what we most need to know about ourselves.
When this occurs with a moral journalist who is also a true writer, a
human being with a heart capable of holding all of life’s damage and
joy, the stars have aligned. This is an extraordinary gift of a
book, beautiful and devastating–a work of outstanding literary
reportage. Read it! It’s the best you will find in many many years.”

ADRIAN NICOLE LEBLANC, author of Random Family


“The
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks brings to mind the work of Philip K.
Dick and Edgar Allan Poe. But this tale is true. Rebecca Skloot
explores the racism and greed, the idealism and faith in science that
helped to save thousands of lives but nearly destroyed a family. This is an extraordinary book, haunting and beautifully told.”

ERIC SCHLOSSER, author of Fast Food Nation


Rebecca Skloot has written a marvelous book so original that it defies easy description. She
traces the surreal journey that a tiny patch of cells belonging to
Henrietta Lacks’s body took to the forefront of science. At the same
time, she tells the story of Lacks and her family–wrestling the storms
of the late twentieth century in America–with rich detail, wit, and
humanity. The more we read, the more we realize that these are not two
separate stories, but one tapestry. It’s part The Wire, part The Lives of the Cell, and all fascinating.”

CARL ZIMMER, author of Microcosm


The
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks takes the reader on a remarkable
journey–compassionate, troubling, funny, smart–and irresistible.
Along
the way, Rebecca Skloot will change the way you see medical science and
lead you to wonder who we should value more–the researcher or the
research subject? Ethically fascinating and completely engaging–I couldn’t recommend it more.”

DEBORAH BLUM, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook and The Monkey Wars


This is a science biography like the world has never seen. What
if one of the great American women of modern science and
medicine–whose contribution underlay historic discoveries in genetics,
the treatment and prevention of disease, reproduction, and the
unraveling of the human genome–was a self-effacing African-American
tobacco farmer from the Deep South? A devoted mother of five who was
escorted briskly to the Jim Crow section of Johns Hopkins for her
cancer treatments? What if the untold millions of scientists, doctors,
and patients enriched and healed by her gift never, to this day, knew
her name? What if her contribution was made without her knowledge or
permission? Ladies and gentlemen, meet Henrietta Lacks. Chances are, at
the level of your DNA, your inoculations, your physical health and
microscopic well-being, you’ve already been introduced.”

MELISSA FAY GREENE, author of Praying for Sheetrock and There Is No Me Without You


“If
virtues could be cultured like cells, Rebecca Skloot’s would be a fine
place to start⎯a rare combination of compassion, courage, wisdom, and
intelligence. This book is extraordinary. As a writer and a human being, Skloot stands way, way out there ahead of the pack.”

MARY ROACH, author of Stiff and Bonk


“Rebecca
Skloot’s steadfast commitment to illuminating the life and contribution
of Henrietta Lacks, one of the many vulnerable subjects used for
scientific advancement, and the subsequent impact on her family is a
testament to the power of solid investigative journalism. Her deeply
compelling account of one family’s long and troubled relationship with
America’s vast medical-industrial complex is sure to become a cherished
classic.”

ALLEN M. HORNBLUM, author of Acres of Skin and Sentenced to Science

For more early praise, see what professors are saying about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and its relevance to academia.

Comments

  1. #1 Mary
    November 14, 2009

    Wow, that’s tremendous–congratulations!

    I can remember thinking about Henrietta in grad school when I was using them. There was a time when someone wanted to create a new species designation for HeLa cells, they argued that the culture system, genetics, etc were so different from their origin. That didn’t go anywhere, but I remember the drama.

    I’ll be buying a copy!

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    November 14, 2009

    Way to go, Rebecca!!!!! You should put that front cover image in your left sidebar.

  3. #3 Rebecca Skloot
    November 14, 2009

    Thanks for the congrats. Brilliant idea about the image, Greg … I nearly combusted my blog trying to figure out how to do it, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it exactly the right size … but I did it!

    And yes, Mary, the HeLa species debate was totally fascinating, and didn’t go anywhere in the end. For those who haven’t heard about this, in the early 90s, a few evolutionary biologists suggested that HeLa was “no longer human,” because HeLa DNA had mutated and changed so much from the original sample that it had become its own organism. Discover magazine actually did a story about that theory in 1992 — it’s online here if you’d like to read it.

  4. #4 Catherine
    November 14, 2009

    Hi. I remember that debate. When in grad school, I had started working with HeLa cells but moved to other cell lines because the HeLa cells were now ‘so different’ than ‘real’ cells. But my supervisor was interested in the story of the cells – I’ll get her a copy of your book for Christmas!

  5. #5 Comrade PhysioProf
    November 14, 2009

    w00t to the Skl00t!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. #6 Mel
    November 15, 2009

    Congratulations! I look forward to picking up a copy once it is published in Australia =)

  7. #7 Darlene
    November 15, 2009

    What? You’re more than just my all-time favorite Twitterer?

    Looking forward to reading the book. (Ten years in the making? You make everything look so effortless.)

    Congratulations, Rebecca.

  8. #8 Renee
    November 16, 2009

    Fabulous. Well deserved praise, I’m so glad your book is hitting a chord – these reviews are just a small taste of what’s to come!

  9. #9 Nishi
    November 16, 2009

    There is no doubt this is good to be a huge hit among cell culture scientists. Anyone with a passion for cells will have to read about Henreitta Lacks.

  10. #10 Jim Thomerson
    December 3, 2009

    The way I recall the story is this. Cell culture was fairly difficult, then over a very short period of time, cell culture became much easier. Turned out that cell cultures world wide were contaminated and taken over by HeLa cells.

  11. #11 Texas Reader
    December 17, 2009

    I just got a newsletter Amazon puts out for its Vine reviewer program and this book was offered so I ordered it! I can’t wait to get it. And thanks Rebecca for participating in the Vine program!

    Now if you’ll come to Dallas on your book tour I will be there in line to get it signed.

  12. #12 Rebecca Skloot
    December 19, 2009

    @TexasReader: I’m thrilled that the book is part of the Amazon Vine program — glad you’re getting a copy. Thanks for the interest!

  13. #13 Texas Reader
    December 28, 2009

    Rebecca: I received this book on Saturday and finished it in 24 hours. Towards the end I nearly cried (the chapter about taking Deborah and her brother to the lab to see the actual HeLa cells.)

    I’ve finished my Amazon Vine review. I rarely give any book 5 stars, but this one I did.

    I’d like to know more about the issue of contamination of other cell lines with HeLa cells – if you have time to do a post in it that would be great.

  14. #14 P. Jennings
    January 15, 2010

    Rebecca, congratulations on finally having your book come out. I’ve been waiting for it, because I somehow heard about it some years ago.

    I’ve pre-ordered it for our Kindle; that makes it easy.

    I’m wondering if you’ll be on Charlie Rose? If you’re not scheduled yet, perhaps an e-mail and or (gasp) letter-writing campaign by your many friends and supporters would make it happen?

    Really looking forward to actually reading the book!

  15. #15 Nathaniel Comfort
    January 19, 2010

    Congrats, Rebecca–It looks terrific. And you have quite the marketing juggernaut going. Hope it’s a huge success. I look forward to reading it.

  16. #16 Counts, A
    March 18, 2010

    Rebecca, I just finished your book this morning; purchased it Tuesday (3-16-10); couldn’t put it down until I finished it. I loved it; this is truly an amazing book and story. You did a wonderful job. How is the foundation coming along?

    I sent all my friends an email this afternoon to make them aware of this wonderful book, and to encourage them to purchase it.

  17. #17 J. Marie
    March 28, 2010

    Hello Ms. Skloot, I waited well over six weeks to get this book from my local library, and it was well worth the wait! It was truly a well told and researched story of the continued medical mistreatment of African Americans. When I read about the part of the Tuskegee Institute’s involvement with the HeLe cultures, at the same time as they were conducting the syphilis study, I almost threw the book down on the floor! What! Not here again! Made me wonder about what other “secret” studies involving African Americans this Historically Black College was or is involved in? I know the Lacks family appreciated all your efforts to help them understand what happened to their mother and sister, and the establishment of a Foundation to help educate her decendants, I truly hope if nothing else, this book opened “eyes wide” and people learn to speak loudly and carry a big stick when confronted with situations they do not understand, espically when it come to our health. Thanks for bringing this story to the public attention, another lesson learned.

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