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Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Lab Girl - Hope Jahren

This is an enjoyable memoir of a life in science. Jahren is an award-winning geobiologist and geochemist, and she seems to have intended the memoir as an “all the messy bits” counterpoint to scientific writing. She writes a lot about life in the lab and about road trips, and about the difficulty of raising funding and making ends meet and breaking in as a young scientist (especially a young female scientist), and about her long-term platonic relationship with her eccentric lab technician and best friend, Bill. She also writes a lot about trees and plants, talking about how they function in a dynamic and colorful manner, worlds away from the dry facts that dominate most biology classes. She writes a little about her personal life – a bit about her mental health issues, largely in the context of her awful pregnancy, and a little about her family – and although she discusses various experiments, says almost nothing about her accomplishments. Mostly you can tell Jahren is successful because she dared to write such a personal account of her life in science at all.

At any rate, it’s a good book and I enjoyed reading it. The writing is clear and the stories engaging. Although I’m classifying it as part memoir, part nonfiction, readers shouldn’t be put off by the scientific information, which is either presented as part of personal stories or set apart in short chapters detailing the lives of plants in lively and easily understood ways. And the heart of the book – about two wacky people who are willing to work hard and sacrifice and persevere to follow their dreams – will appeal to a wide audience. This book didn’t blow me away, but I understand why it did others, and would recommend it.