The essential question when deciding whether to buy more copies of a suddenly-successful book is, “How long will the interest last?”

In the case of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, all signs indicate that interest is not going to fade soon.

The book tells the sad and fascinating story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge, some of her cancer cells were removed and are still living in medical laboratories where they have played a part in major medical breakthroughs, including the discovery of the polio vaccine. The fact that her descendents are unable to afford medical care is just one of the many moral issues that the book raises.

The book’s story as well as the story of the author who became obsessed with it, have generated a great deal of media coverage, as we noted earlier, but beyond that, the reviews indicate the book is as strong as the story it tells.

Entertainment Weekly‘s review editor, Tina Jordan, who has read a LOT of books, calls it  “The best book I’ve read in quite a while,” on the magazine’s blog Shelf Life. She even included this personal information in the review that appears in the magazine’s current issue,

Honestly, I shouldn’t even have been reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I had the flu and was so feverish that sweat was dripping off my nose and spattering the pages. But I could not put the book down — or even stop for a glass of ice water. Lacks’ story was that compelling.

The many consumer reviews to date have been strong, with several attesting to the book’s readability.

San Francisco Chronicle, “[Lack’s descendent], Deborah at times seems as if she walked out of a novel’s pages. She is so vivid, so unforgettable, that it seems as if Skloot must have invented her. On the other hand, maybe no novelist, however skilled, could have imagined a character quite like Deborah.”

The New York Times, “…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.

Boston Globe, “…a fascinating read and a ringing success. It is a well-written, carefully-researched, complex saga of medical research, bioethics, and race in America. Above all it is a human story of redemption for a family, torn by loss, and for a writer with a vision that would not let go.”

It’s on the 2/28  NYT Nonfiction list for the second week, and is rising on the USA Today list; libraries are showing heavy holds.

We recommend buying more now; word of mouth could carry this into the summer.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot
Retail Price: $26.00
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Crown – (2010-02-02)
ISBN / EAN: 1400052173 / 9781400052172

Random House Audio; UNABR; 9780307712509; $35
Audio and e-book available from OverDrive.

One Response to “Buy Alert: IMMORTAL LIFE”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    I could not stop reading this – finished it in a day. And I kept having to pause and tell my husband “did you know this??” every couple of chapters. It’s a fascinating story, well-told.