Monday, June 24, 2019

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Read by: Hope Jahren
Published: April 2016 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment. Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together.
My Thoughts:
Finally – a book I feel like merits being on all of the best-of lists the year it was published! This is a book that is beautifully written, painfully open and honest, makes science come alive, and is one of the best read books I’ve to which I've listened.

Jahren is telling so many stories in the book – what it’s like to try to do scientific research in an age where there is shockingly little money for it, what it’s like to try to rise as a scientist when you’re female, her life outside of being a scientist including her battle with mental illness and a very dangerous pregnancy, and the story of the wonderful friendship she and Bill have had for decades.

When Jahren became convinced that she couldn’t become a doctor, she decided to major in English literature. It shows in her often poetic writing, never more so than when she includes passages from David Copperfield to illustrate points she is making in the chapter about her time working in the pharmacy of a hospital.

Oh, my lord, if you don't read this book for any other reason, you really do need to read it for the relationship that Jahren has with Bill. They have such a close bond that if her now husband would have had a problem with Bill, that would have been a deal breaker. They "get" each other in ways that are both poignant and so very, very funny.

Did I mention that the book is often hilarious? Jahren finds the humor in ridiculous situations but she also uses humor as a shield against pain. From her relationship with her mother to her bipolar disorder, from her pregnancy to her battle against men in her profession, Jahren is brutally honest about what she has been through and her ability, or inability, to handle these times.

Jahren’s passion for science shines throughout the book but she never gets dragged down by it. She finds a way to make plant life relatable to life’s events that is original and captivating. And Jahren as the reader of her own book is absolutely marvelous - she knows how to make a book come alive, how to make readers feel her pain and her passion.


  1. I also thought this book pretty terrific when I read it a few years ago--I loved the science and Hope's passion for science, and I really loved the connection to literature, especially that part on David Copperfield.

  2. OK, I was on the fence about this one, but you've convinced me!

  3. I enjoyed this book. I chose it for my book club but no one else was impressed. They are a hard sell, that group. If it wasn't for math, I'd probably be a scientist. LOL.