I’ve been hearing about Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl for a while, and everyone I know who has read it seems to love it. I’ve actually owned a hard copy for about a year now, but getting the audiobook in Audible’s Black Friday sale gave me the motivation I needed to finally read it.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) 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 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. (Edit: Hope Jahren and her husband lived in Hawaii at the time the book was published, but now live in Norway.)
I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into with Lab Girl. I knew it was a memoir, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to focus on Hope Jahren’s personal life or her scientific career. What I got was a really great blend of both. I appreciated the science of this book, and thought Jahren does a brilliant job of explaining it in a way that is not only easy to understand, but extremely interesting. I never thought I’d care that a certain tree (the name of which I can’t remember at the moment) had a protective seed pod made from opal. But I did. (Because I knew opal was a naturally occurring substance, but I had no idea it could be made by trees, which is awesome.) I felt like I was right there with Jahren when she discovered this, and it really excited me. I don’t have the brain to be a scientist (numbers are not my thing), but I find it so intriguing, and loved feeling like I was a part of the process, at least for a few minutes.
Jahren’s memoir is insightful, not just in regards to science, but with people as well. I thought she did a wonderful job of representing people accurately, and presenting them in a way that embraced their quirks. I felt like I really got to know all of the people in this memoir, and I loved it. The writing was truly great, as well. It’s clear that Jahren has talent, and I was so engaged in the story. At no point while reading this did I get bored or feel the need to put it down. It’s just a really great book, and I had such a great time reading it.
★★★★☆ – Lab Girl was a fantastic memoir. I appreciated the science, and found it to be extremely well-written. I highly recommend this one, especially if you’re curious about hat being a scientist actually entails. But if you’re just looking for a great memoir (that won’t make you cry) you should definitely give Lab Girl a try.
Lab Girl is available in hardcover and paperback. If you’re interested, you can pick up a copy on Amazon.
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose Lab Girl as one of your two free books. I really enjoyed listening to the audiobook – read by Hope Jahren – and highly recommend it if you are interested in this book.
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