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    November 14, 2009

    Skloot on the Cover of Publishers Weekly & Advance Praise for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


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    Rebecca Skloot Publishers Weekly Cover.jpg

    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. 

    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 wonderfuldeeply 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)

    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

    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

    Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks takes the reader on a remarkable
    journey–compassionate, troubling, funny, smart–and irresistible.
    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

    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

    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

    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.

    17 Responses to “Skloot on the Cover of Publishers Weekly & Advance Praise for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

    1. J. Marie says:

      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.

    2. Counts, A says:

      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.

    3. 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.

    4. P. Jennings says:

      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!

    5. Texas Reader says:

      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.

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

    7. Texas Reader says:

      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.

    8. Jim Thomerson says:

      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.

    9. Nishi says:

      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. Renee says:

      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!

    11. Darlene says:

      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.

    12. Mel says:

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

    13. w00t to the Skl00t!!!!!!!!!!!

    14. Catherine says:

      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!

    15. 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.

    16. Greg Laden says:

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

    17. Mary says:

      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!

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