By Hope Jahren
Knopf Publishing Group, 9781101874936, April 2016, 304pp.
The Short of It:
What I especially liked about Lab Girl is that it read more like a novel than a memoir, plus it’s filled with fascinating facts about dirt, trees, and plants of all kinds.
The Rest of It:
I’m not sure what I expected when I pitched this to my book club. We don’t read much non-fiction and science tends to be pretty interesting as long as it’s not too heavy on math or complicated formulas so I took a chance and pitched it and it was selected. However, I wasn’t able to make the meeting that night due to my daughter’s volleyball banquet. Sigh.
That said, I read it on my own and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Most of the book focuses on Jahren’s quest to run and maintain her own lab. She does this through various faculty appointments and mostly through grants. She touches on this a few times in the book because funding for science labs that do not produce an actual product, tend to be limited.
What does she study? Jahren is a geobiologist.
Geobiology is a field of scientific research that explores the interactions between the physical Earth and the biosphere.
It’s a relatively young field. Jahren’s lab partner steals the show, so to speak. Bill is not your typical scientist or maybe he is. Not sure. He’s entertaining but in a very gruff, humorous way. It’s apparent while reading that Bill is much more than a lab partner but never once did it “go there”. Bill is like a brother to her and that’s made pretty clear as she tells her story.
The book is split into three sections:
- Roots & Leaves
- Woods & Knots
- Flowers & Fruit
Each section includes a bit of science but Jahren also manages to work in bits of life here and there. For example, Roots & Leaves details her early life and how she came to love science. She had a brief stint working in a hospital pharmacy and this part was especially interesting as she outlined the sterile procedure for preparing the medicated saline bags for patients. I’m telling you, fascinating stuff.
The only thing that I felt was missing was the struggle. Hope Jahren is an optimist and living up to her name. Her story is told in a very hopeful, uplifting way. Bill brings a lot of humor to the more dire situations for sure but I felt like maybe some of the more difficult challenges were left out.
In any case, I enjoyed the book and if you like to learn while reading Lab Girl is a good one to pick up.
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