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Lab Girl

by Hope Jahren

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,7721096,796 (4.07)197
Jahren has built three laboratories in which she's studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. She tells about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom's labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and the disappointments, triumphs and exhilarating discoveries of scientific work. Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime friendship; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world. Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she's studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life but it is also so much more. "Lab Girl" is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren's remarkable stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom's labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done with both the heart and the hands; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work. Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home. Jahren's probing look at plants, her astonishing tenacity of spirit, and her acute insights on nature enliven every page of this extraordinary book. "Lab Girl" opens your eyes to the beautiful, sophisticated mechanisms within every leaf, blade of grass, and flower petal. Here is an eloquent demonstration of what can happen when you find the stamina, passion, and sense of sacrifice needed to make a life out of what you truly love, as you discover along the way the person you were meant to be. -- Publisher description.… (more)
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» See also 197 mentions

English (107)  Spanish (2)  All languages (109)
Showing 1-5 of 107 (next | show all)
I struggled for a long while to process and understand my feelings about this book. On one hand, it was beautifully written, compelling, and self-aware. Hope Jahren takes all of the ugliness of the academic process and puts it on full display. The reason that I couldn't give 4 or even 5 stars is innately tied to her full awareness of the abusive systems that mistreat scientists. She recognizes it, lays it bare, candidly discusses the negative impacts of the process on both her and Bill's lives. And then she does some hand-waving and says it was all okay, because "science" makes it worth it. I argue that we should challenge these issues and instead argue for and foster a system that doesn't burn out its talent, a system that pays its skilled technical staff enough that they aren't homeless. I guess I'm just a radical... ( )
  kohrmanmj | Sep 21, 2020 |
This was great. It was not what I expected all round- I delighted in reading about experiments on the lives and methods of plants (especially details about tree biology, which read as little independent essays), how Jahren and her fellow scientist Bill came up with their ideas, the meticulous work involved, the scrounging for lab equipment and funding, the long hours and sleepless nights, the road trips and field work . . . What took me by surprise was to find myself also reading about mental illness, the mania and depression of bipolar described very frankly. And to read a birth story when she had her son. It kind of all is one long birth story- the story of how Jahren found her life's work in science, and struggled to grow into the best person she knew to be, doing the best science, hoping it would all get seen someday. Some parts are laugh-out-loud funny, some parts are very tense, and some incredibly insightful. Definitely keeping this one to enjoy and learn from again. Wish I could say more about it but not finding a lot of words right now. It is rather significant the things the author did not tell throughout this memoir, but they didn't really bother me until I read some other reviews and thought about them more. For example: she tells about a nearly-disastrous, ill-planned road trip to a conference where she's supposed to present a paper, but then there's nothing about the conference and only one comment about the presentation itself. Hm. Well, I liked it regardless. Might read it more closely next time. There will be a next time.

from the Dogear Diary ( )
  jeane | Sep 19, 2020 |
The author's enthusiasm and positive attitude were infectious, and carried me through the story, which was not quite as captivating and reminded me, at times, of a breed of scientific buddy adventure. The scientific chapters, in which she delved into detailed descriptions of botany, were written with such passion, they carried me through the book. I would love to be a student in Ms Jahren's classroom! ( )
  Katester123 | Sep 17, 2020 |
Really interesting and unusual. It alternates between being a story and non-fiction about botany in a rather charming way. If you know a girl who is interested in being a scientist get this in her hands. Recommend it. ( )
  rickycatto | Sep 9, 2020 |
I registered this book at BookCrossing.com!
http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/14429516

Although I am tiring of this type of memoir I still think this one is worth reading.

When I say "this type of memoir" I mean the story of a still-young person, usually a woman, who tells of a particular part of her life and intersperses the telling with greater background of the subject. In this case the subject is botany, especially trees. The memoir tends to leave out significant parts of a life, including of course the remaining years yet to be lived.

Hope Jahren grew up in a laboratory, essentially. It is from this history I believe the title comes. I personally do not like it when fully grown women refer to themselves as "girls" because this term suggests that they are precocious children and not adults. I know others don't see it that way but that is my take. I can't imagine a memoir by a man titled "Lab Boy", for example, unless the man's youth was a large part of the story.

I am happy to say that the story is written by a woman. It reads like the work of an adult woman, not a giggly school girl. It is, in fact, beautifully written. I was immediately taken by Jahren's description of her childhood in Minnesota with parents of Swedish descent. The nationality is significant because of the cultural inheritance of keeping a distance, not showing emotions, not expressing thoughts. Her childhood was quiet and she did not have many friends. The laboratory became her playground.

As she grew, Hope developed naturally as a scientist and particularly liked studying plants. She succeeded academically and was soon leading labs rather than just working in them. It was in one of her earlier field trips with a group of students that she met Bill. He was an undergraduate student who was examining the soil in a more intense and separate way than the others. The two struck up a friendship that continued well beyond the field trip.

To me, this friendship is at the heart of the book. The two were not lovers although they were similar in age. They simply took to each other, perhaps because of some similarities in their love of science and laboratories and because they each had a past that affected their way of relating to others.

Hope's story is told in chapters that alternate with chapters on trees. We learn quite a bit about trees here, and she explains the science simply without condescension. I expect that she is a popular teacher when she teaches because of her ability to do this. Certainly I'm richer for the knowledge. As much as I appreciated it, though, I value the personal story of Hope's and Bill's friendship more.

There are many more years of her life left. Her website says she is now in Oslo, working with a team that includes Bill. We might expect another memoir later, and I expect some other literary work to come from her.

( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 107 (next | show all)
With “Lab Girl,” Jahren has taken the form of the memoir and done something remarkable with it. She’s made the experience of reading the book mimic her own lived experience in a way that few writers are capable of.

She swerves from observations about plant life (“A cactus doesn’t live in the desert because it likes the desert; it lives there because the desert hasn’t killed it yet”) to a report from the interior of her tortured brain (“Full-blown mania lets you see the other side of death”) to adventures on the road with Bill (“ ‘Do you really think this is illegal?’ I asked Bill over the CB radio.”) — and somehow, it all works, because the structure and the language follow the story.
 

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hope Jahrenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gumpert, Ignacio VillaroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pérez, María José ViejoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taeger, MerleÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The more I handled things and learned their names and uses, the more joyous and confident grew my sense of kinship with the rest of the world. -Helen Keller
Dedication
Everything that I write is dedicated to my mother.
First words
People love the ocean.
There is nothing in the world more perfect than a slide rule.
Quotations
...silent togetherness is what Scandinavian families do naturally, and it may be what they do best.
In my own small experience, sexism has been something very simple: the cumulative weight of constantly being told that you can't possibly be what you are.
A cactus doesn’t live in the desert because it likes the desert; it lives there because the desert hasn’t killed it yet.
I have learned that raising a child is essentially one long, slow agony of letting go.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Jahren has built three laboratories in which she's studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. She tells about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom's labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and the disappointments, triumphs and exhilarating discoveries of scientific work. Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime friendship; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world. Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she's studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life but it is also so much more. "Lab Girl" is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren's remarkable stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom's labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done with both the heart and the hands; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work. Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home. Jahren's probing look at plants, her astonishing tenacity of spirit, and her acute insights on nature enliven every page of this extraordinary book. "Lab Girl" opens your eyes to the beautiful, sophisticated mechanisms within every leaf, blade of grass, and flower petal. Here is an eloquent demonstration of what can happen when you find the stamina, passion, and sense of sacrifice needed to make a life out of what you truly love, as you discover along the way the person you were meant to be. -- Publisher description.

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