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2011 Program

The Life of the Mind common book selection for the Class of 2015 is Rebecca Skloots’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.


One of the most graceful and moving nonfiction books I’ve read in a very long time . . . The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks . . . 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 . . . it feels like the book Ms. Skloot was born to write.
—Dwight Garner, New York Times

About the Book

immortal-lifeHer name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.


Praise for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


But “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is much more than a portrait of the Lacks family. It is also a critique of science that insists on ignoring the messy human provenance of its materials.


“Beautifully crafted . . . Thanks to the author’s narrative skills, it is a tale that one experiences rather than reads.”


About the Author

Rebecca-Skloot-2Rebecca Skloot is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. As a specialist in narrative science writing, she co-edited The Best American Science Writing 2011. Ms. Skloot is the former Vice President of the National Book Critics Circles and has taught creative writing and journalism at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Memphis, and New York University. She currently lives in Chicago, IL.

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