NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER • NATIONAL BESTSELLER • Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist.
"Does for botany what Oliver Sacks’s essays did for neurology, what Stephen Jay Gould’s writings did for paleontology.” —The New York Times
In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment.
Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Lab Girl is a memoir of a life dedicated to science. It’s also a meditation on nature’s majesty, a tale of spiritual awakening, and a guide to living in harmony with your purpose and your environment. Hope Jahren traces her roots as a groundbreaking biologist to her stoic Minnesota childhood, delivers anecdotes about her personal and professional experiences with the flair of an Irish poet, and shares fascinating observations about the quirks of plant life. Whether you consider yourself an artist or a scientist, this astonishingly beautiful book is a breath of fresh air. Writes Jahren: “Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.”
Jahren, a professor of geobiology at the University of Hawaii, recounts her unfolding journey to discover "what it's like to be a plant" in this darkly humorous, emotionally raw, and exquisitely crafted memoir. In clever prose, Jahren distills what it means to be one of those researchers who "love their calling to excess." She describes the joy of working alone at night, the "multidimensional glory" of a manic episode, scavenging jury-rigged equipment from a retiring colleague, or spontaneously road-tripping with students to a roadside monkey preserve. She likens elements of her scientific career to a plant world driven by need and instinct, comparing the academic grant cycle to the resource management of a deciduous tree and the experience of setting up her first desperately underfunded basement lab to ambitious vines that grow quickly wherever they can. But the most extraordinary and delightful element of her narrative is her partnership with Bill, a taciturn student who becomes both her lab partner and her sarcastic, caring best friend. It's a rare portrait of a deep relationship in which the mutual esteem of the participants is unmarred by sexual tension. For Jahren, a life in science yields the gratification of asking, knowing, and telling; for the reader, the joy is in hearing about the process as much as the results.
Aside from the science lessons about plants which were quite informative there is another aspect that is an awakening. The mental health profession may have gotten OCD all wrong. Instead of labeling it as a “disorder” perhaps it’s a condition that should be fostered and celebrated rather than medicated to muteness.
Someday it would be lovely to read Bill’s version of this story.
Couldn't put it down!
Hope Jahren's fascinating career in paleobotany is crystallized in this addictive memoir. Part adventure, part cautionary tale for women in a male-dominated field, her story is deftly woven with snippets of literary classics. I'll never look at a tree in the same way again. In fact, I'm going to plant one in her honor in our back yard!
It was nice to read about being a scientist from a woman’s perspective. My favorite part was Bill and his monkey doppelgänger.