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Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
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Lab Girl

by Hope Jahren

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (76)  Spanish (2)  All languages (78)
Showing 1-5 of 76 (next | show all)
I am really torn how to rate this book. First, I listened to it as an audiobook and the author read herself. I thought she was definitely good as a reader. I was so horribly bored for the first 60% of the book but something kept giving me hints it was worth sticking with it. The last quarter of the book was the best part by far and felt more human, connected, and self-aware than the very bland, detached and emotionally dull majority that came before it. In the end, I was glad I made it through because the last third of the book was really heartwarming. And throughout I learned some cool science! So overall this gets only 3 stars, but if I could rate the parts of the book separately, the end would get 4 while the first two parts would probably get 2. Can't highly recommend it, but at the same time it was lovely and worth reading for those with the luxury of making it pretty far down reading priority lists. ( )
  kate_r_s | Oct 29, 2018 |
An absolutely wonderful book about science and life

I haven't read a book about science that has moved me, educated me and just plain been so unputdownable since I read "The Lives of a Cell" by Lewis Thomas. You can read this for the wonderful story of a powerful friendship, you can read it and inadvertently find yourself in command of amazing facts about plants, life on earth and how science is done and you can read it for the sheer joy of lovely prose, lots of laugh out loud moments and happiness that the author is alive and well and will hopefully write some more wonderful books. ( )
  Darragh4444 | Oct 22, 2018 |
My rating for this book is a reflection not so much of my enjoyment of it as my acknowledgement of its importance. Hope Jahren is a successful female research scientist working within a STEM field that's still overwhelmingly male-dominated, a woman with mental illness who has been able to forge an academic career—voices like hers are too rarely heard in academia in general and STEM fields in particular. Jahren focuses less on the highs of her career (she's won multiple Fulbrights, for instance, but I'm not sure that she even mentions that in the book) than she does on the lows and even more so the monotonous middle: the antisocial hours spent doing repetitive prep work in the lab, the constant scrabble to secure funding, the gauntlet of aggressions (micro and macro) faced by women in academia.

However, for all Jahren's ability to be very upfront about her experiences (she clearly prides herself on her bluntness), Lab Girl is the kind of memoir that suffers from the author's lack of self-awareness. Although I'm not in a STEM field, I am a woman in academia, and so I'm quite familiar with other women (almost always white women) like Jahren: women for whom sexism is odious inasmuch as it affects them, but who care not one jot about systemic sexism or how it affects other women. Almost the only women to feature in the book are Jahren and her mother (who is treated with a hostility which I find inexplicable, given that nothing in the behaviour attributed to her seems particularly egregious or all that different from that ascribed to Jahren's beloved father), and I was almost surprised to end a book not having encountered a paragraph in which Jahren explains why she's Not Like the Other Girls.

More overtly jarring were Jahren's descriptions of her interactions with students and the means by which she "trains in" new graduate students. If these were the anecdotes she thought made her look like a competent instructor, I'm hoping her grad students have insurance which lets them access a good therapist—or failing that, that they have access to a steady supply of palatable beer. Don't haze your students! Don't pass on fucked-up measures of academic "worth" to students just because academia is messed up and most graduate advisors don't know pedagogical theory from a hole in the wall!

Listening to this as an audiobook was also a mistake. Jahren's talents are undoubtedly many, but acting out even her own words is not one she possesses. The vocal quivering and gulping she employed were distracting and maudlin; it was like listening to an audiobook from the Victorian period.

Listening to the audiobook version also made the section set in Ireland extra obnoxious to me (an Irishwoman), and retroactively made me question the trustworthiness of great swathes of the book. The most egregious example of this is when Jahren describes getting lost in Limerick City, and attributes this to the fact that all of the street signs are in Irish. (Now, I've heard Americans mangle Irish over the years, but never so comprehensively as Hope Jahren. I honestly asked myself if she'd just spoken in Klingon, had to go look up the text of the book on Google Books, and then shrieked at the realisation that she was trying to say "Sráid Eibhlín.) Here's the thing: street signs in Ireland are bilingual, with the English-language text generally appearing in larger font, and the Irish-language version smaller and in italics. There's no way that Jahren was lost and distractedly trying to figure out where "Sráid Eibhlín" was; she had to have known all along that she was on Ellen Street. This might seem like nitpicking, but such an obvious twisting of the truth—whether in service of a little bit of drama or getting an extra bit of comedy out of the Weird Irish—felt like the literary version of the bad scientific practice of p-hacking. ( )
  siriaeve | Oct 2, 2018 |
Jahren tells her life story growing up as a scientist with her partner, Bill. Interesting sub-stories with facts about trees and and plants woven together with her human interactions. ( )
  addunn3 | Sep 1, 2018 |
I would’ve given it 5 stars if it weren’t for me dozing off in some parts of the book. Don’t get me wrong, it’s me and not Hope Jahren’s writing. In fact her writing is impeccable. But being a scientist and writing your own biography i guess can get very technical at times - which is great and which is probably why it took me longer to finish the book. However, I pushed on and have no regrets finishing the book. I value trees and other greenery more now than I ever did and my heart goes out to struggling scientists everywhere. And this is why I love reading biographies. It helps me understand other people’s struggles and makes me feel that I’m not alone in my own personal struggles as well.

I have one tree in my front yard, and I will heed your advice Hope and take care of it and let it grow and write my name and my husbands name and children’s name on it.

Thank you Hope for sharing your story with the rest of the world.

===========

I’ve changed my rating to 5 stars because I thought she deserves it. It was really well written after all. ( )
  pistachioph | Aug 25, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 76 (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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Book description
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. [retrieved 9/20/17 from Amazon.com]
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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.… (more)

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