The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: The Top Common Reading Book of 2011 and 2012

March 12, 2013 at 1:03 am 4 comments

Winner of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine’s Communication Award for Best Book
Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Nonfiction
Winner of the Wellcome Trust Book Prize

Named by more than 60 critics as one of the best books of 2010, including: Best Book of the Year at: O, The Oprah Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Bookmarks Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Entertainment Weekly, East Bay Express, and Kansas City Star, A Discover Magazine 2010 Must Read, National Public Radio, Best of the Bestsellers

In 1951, an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks, stricken with cervical cancer, became an involuntary donor of cells from her cancerous tumor, which were propagated by scientist George Otto Gey to create an immortal cell line for medical research. These cells are now known worldwide as HeLa. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, award-winning science writer Rebecca Skloot brilliantly weaves together the Lacks’s story–past and present–with the story of the birth of bioethics, the story of HeLa cells, and the dark history of experimentation on African Americans. Important, powerful, and compassionate, this is a remarkable work of science and social journalism. 

Since its publication in February 2010, this amazing book has been selected for Common Reading at nearly 150 colleges, universities and “One Book, One City” Reads, including: Adelphi University; Agnes State College; Albion College; Armstrong Atlantic State University; Auburn University; Austin College; Bard College; Barry University School of Law; Barton College; Baton Rouge’s ‘One Book One Community’ Read; Belmont University; Beloit College; Boise State Campus Reads; Bookpal for Brother’s College; Brooklyn College; Case Western Reserve University ; Cleveland State University Ohio; Coastal Carolina University; CC Allegheny County – North Campus; College of St. Scholastica; Community College of Baltimore County; Connecticut College; Cosumnes River College, One Book CRC; Cox College; Daniel Boone Regional Library; Dayton Big Read; Delaware County Community College; Delaware Valley College; Detroit Public Library; Earlham College; East Carolina University; Eastern Illinois University; Eastern Oregon University; Elizabethtown College; Emmanuel College; Fairmont State University ; Florida Atlantic University Honors College; Florida State University; Follett Pioneer Bookstore California State University East Bay; Framingham State University; Frederick Country Reads; Gallaudet University; George Washington University; Georgia Institute of Technology; Grand Valley State University; Green River Community College; Greenville High School; Grossmont College; Gwynedd-Mercy College; Hamilton College; Hampton University; Hanover College; Henderson State University; Hesston College; Honors College at University of Arizona ; Johns Hopkins University; Johnson County Community College; Kansas State University; Keene State College; Marian University ; Marietta College; Marshall University; Maryville University; Massachusetts College of Art; Merced College; Metropolitan State College of Denver; Mills College; Missouri State University; Montclair State University; Moraine Valley Community College; Morehouse School of Medicine; Morgan State University; Mountain View College; North Carolina Agriculture and Technical University; North Carolina State University; Northwestern (Bookpal for Northwestern); Northwestern University; Norwich University; Ohio State Mansfield & North Central State College; Ohio State University; Otterbein College; Pellissippi State Tech. Community College; Penn State Brandywine; Philadelphia University; Purdue University; Purdue University; Purdue University Calumet; Queensborough Community College; Randolph-Macon Academy; Regis University; Rhode Island: One Book, One State; Rochester Community and Technical College; Roger Williams University; Rollins College; Roosevelt University; Rowan University; Saint Francis University; Saint Xavier University; Sam Houston State University; San Diego State University; San Jose State University; Seton Hall University; Shepherd University; Smith College; Southern Methodist University; St. Ambrose University; St. Bonaventure University; St. Cloud University; St. Mary’s Episcopal School; SUNY Cortland; Sweet Briar College; Texas Christian University; Transylvania University; Tulane Freshmen Reads; UCLA; University of Alabama Birmingham; University of Arkansas ; University of California Santa Barbara; University of California, Merced; University of Charleston; University of Delaware; University of Florida Honors Program; University of Houston Downtown; University of Kansas School of Medicine; University of Maryland; University of Mississippi; University of North Carolina at Greensboro; University of Rhode Island; University of Richmond One Book, One Campus Program; University of South Carolina Upstate; University of Tennessee; University of Texas Arlington; University of West Florida; University of Wisconsin Platteville; University of Wisconsin, Madison Big Reads; Virginia Commonwealth University; West Shore Community College; Western Michigan University; Western Washington University; Worcester State University

“Thanks to Rebecca Skloot’s remarkable book, the Lacks case is likely to become a classic in the history of biomedical ethics… Skloot is a science journalist but this book also evidences her skill as a historian…provides a profound sense of history. Students in classes covering ethics, public health, and the history of medicine, childhood, the family, women, the 1950s, and race will be engrossed by Lacks’s story. The many questions raised by the existence and use of HeLa cells will generate hours of classroom discussion.”  — Journal of the History of Medicine

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is an ideal book for classroom discussions in bioethics, history of science, and science journalism. Author Rebecca Skloot does an exceptional job of raising critical issues that should encourage both scholars and students to reevaluate the research decision making process, the way research subjects are treated, and the balance of power in this country as determined by race, economics, and even education. An incredibly readable and smart text that should be a part of countless university discussions.” –Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, and Professor of Journalism, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Students Respond to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

“Unlike the stereotypical reading assignment that too often catalyzes students to bond over mutual dislike,” writes Connecticut College student Jesse Neikrie in the Association of American Colleges and Universities magazine, “[The Immortal Life] appealed to people with diverse interests, including literature, science, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, medicine, and social justice.” For full article, go to:

“If there ever was a piece of scholarship that encapsulated the interdisciplinary ideals and methods of American Studies,” writes Connecticut College student Claire Cafritz, “Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks would be it.” For full article, go to:

Also visit the blog post by Case Western professor, Jacqueline D. Lipton, Professor; Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Research; Co-Director of the Center for Law Technology and the Arts; Associate Director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center. Click here.

For a review in Health Affairs Journal, click here.

For Booklist’s Story Behind the Story: Rebecca Skloot’s Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, click here.

To read Rebecca Skloot’s conversation with Open Notebook’s David Dobbs on writing creative non-fiction, click here.

Author website:

For more information on the book or author, click here.

Click here to read an excerpt.

Click here for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Teacher’s Guide.

A Discussion Guide for Common Reads programs is available at:

Click here to order an examination copy.

To request a Free classroom poster, email

Entry filed under: African and African American, Business & Economics, cultural studies, Education, Ethics, Gender Studies, History, Law & Legal Studies, Literature, Political Science, Psychology, Science, Sociology, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Professors: Free Examination Copy Available. The Taste of Ashes by Marci Shore, professor of history at Yale Generation Roe: A Perspective On The Current Pro-Choice Landscape And What The Future Holds

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Leslie Streit  |  February 2, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Thank you! Its a wonderful idea to bring to my students currently studying this very ethical question!

  • […] of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot way back in November when I found it through a website called Make Me Required Reading which makes recommendations and highlights books that might be worthwhile in terms of educational […]

  • 3. Tina Marshall-Bradley  |  June 18, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Paine College in Augusta, GA joins other colleges and universities in selecting this book for their 2011 Freshman Reading Program. We have plans to join other colleges in joint projects and discussions around this amazing book.

    • 4. rhacademic  |  October 27, 2011 at 6:28 pm

      Thank you for the information! We hope the book was well-received!


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March 2013


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