Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

One Book One Northwestern 2011-2012: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: About the Book

Links to events, exhibits, and library resources about and supporting this year's OBON selection, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.


Northwestern University Library is proud to support the campus conversation centering on this year's One Book, One Northwestern selection, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.  This guide brings together links to various events, exhibits, and library resources about and supporting this selected book.

HeLa cells

Courtesy of Dr. Teng-Leong Chew, Cell & Molecular Biology, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University Cell Imaging Facility

The Book

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor tobacco farmer whose cells became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Her cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. 



Reading and talking about her incredible story is a great way to ponder the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing.

In 1998, Modern Times: The Way of All Flesh, a BBC documentary on Lacks & HeLa directed by Adam Curtis, won the Best Science & Nature Documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The Woman

Henrietta Lacks (August 1, 1920–October 4, 1951) was an African American woman who was the unwitting source of cells from her cancerous tumor, which were cultured by George Otto Gey to create an immortal cell line for medical research. [Wikipedia]


David Lacks, holding photo of his parents, will speak on the Chicago Campus on November 17, 2011. [Plan-It-Purple]


Lacks headstone in Clover, VA.