Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Lab Girl (Hope Jahren)


Title: Lab Girl
Author: Hope Jahren
Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir/Biology/Science
First published: 2016
Edition: Paperback, published by Fleet in 2017

This 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.


I had been wanting to read this book for quite a while. It sounded so interesting! And it was interesting, but it did not quite grab me the way I wanted it to.

Essentially the author is telling a story about relationships. Not only with people, such as her long time friend Bill, but also with herself, her career and with her research.

Over the years she develops a unique friendship with Bill and it was kind of beautiful to read about that. They go on plenty of adventures together. Some funny, some kind of tragic, some endearing. I loved the way she writes about him. However, this is also so much about the way she sees herself and the way she relates to her own life, her character and her accomplishments. Maybe it also tells us something about the way we all see ourselves and how we perceive ourselves. The author’s mental health problems are touched upon, but not really delved in to too much, as if she simply accepts that these are a part of her. I thought that was interesting. The main focus of this book is her friendship with Bill and the labs they build together over the years, but it is clear that she goes through quite a transformation herself as she finds her feet. Life shifts as you get older. At least, it does for most people.

Little tidbits of plant science are dotted throughout the narrative and I kind of liked that. I kind of wanted a little bit more of that, but this is essentially a memoir and not really about all the sciency stuff!

Overall I really enjoyed this book, but it is not one I am likely to pick up again.

5 out of 7 stars


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