The Santa Barbara Public Library System has chosen The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, for the Santa Barbara Reads community reading program, which runs now through April 11. This is the fifth year that the public library system and the UCSB campus are collaborating in a program aimed at getting as many people as possible to read and talk about a common book.

Her 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.

The public libraries have the book available to borrow in many formats, including hardcover, book on CD, downloadable eBook and audiobook, and large print. The UCSB Davidson Library gave away over 2,000 copies to students and other campus members in January. It will be available for purchase in paperback in March.

The Central Library, Goleta Branch Library, and Montecito Branch Library will host panel discussions of the book in early April. In these “community conversations,” professors from various disciplines at UCSB and other area institutions will discuss the many ethical, medical, legal, social and other issues related to this extraordinary story. The public is encouraged to attend these discussions, and to bring questions and comments for the panelists. The author will speak at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on April 11.

The Antioch University Library, the Luria Library at Santa Barbara City College, the Westmont College Library, local high schools, Cottage Health System and Sansum Clinic are also participating in the program.

Santa Barbara Reads:

UCSB Reads:


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.