What is the summary of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a non-fiction book that describes Skloot's efforts to find out more about the history behind the HeLa cell line, and especially the woman, Henrietta Lacks, a patient who suffered and died from cervical cancer, whose cells were used to develop the cell line.

The book mixes autobiography with investigative reporting, with Skloot's investigation of the biology and narrative behind the cell line functions as part of her own coming of age as a journalist. In the book, she tells of how she befriends Deborah Lacks, the daughter of Henrietta, and other members of the Lacks family, and recounts their stories as well.  Much of the book contrasts the white, male medical establishment with the poor black community in which the Lacks family is embedded, showing how the disparities in knowledge, wealth, and power can led to exploitation. She especially focuses on how "informed consent" as a problem given the disparities in education between doctor and patient in this case. 

For summaries of individual chapters, see the full eNotes summary.