This book is an embarrassment of riches; Hope Jahren is a gifted botanist as well as a gifted writer. In Lab Girl the reader gets to experience the stressful, competitive world of a research scientist trying to survive in academia while also navigating becoming a wife and eventually a mother, all while managing what is often a debilitating mental illness.
The author manages to describe mania flawlessly; that dangerously exuberant “high” someone with bipolar experiences in which all things are possible and which almost always leads to disastrous choices, and an inevitably devastating crash into depression.
Jahren brings plants and forests alive in ways that capture the reader’s interest while educating at the same time. From a carbon dated lotus seed husk that revealed the lotus had been waiting to blossom for 2000 years to the description of the first leaves a seed puts out being akin to the small spare tire meant to do nothing more than limp a car along to the nearest gas station, Jahren makes botany and research accessible to people who never studied science beyond high school.
Without stridency or using a soap box, Jahren explains the changes our planet is going through in order to sustain human life, and the way the United States has relegated science to the back of the funding line. By the end of the book, the reader will have a newfound admiration for just how precarious and tenacious the life of a tree is from seed to adult form.
But the real star of LAB GIRL is the woman who doesn’t fit easily into any particular category, and found people who could understand her, mostly because they themselves didn’t fit easily into any particular category. Her closest friend is a man who lived in a hole in his parents’ front yard (after wiring it for electricity) and helped Jahren set up and run labs at several different universities, her husband’s courtship of her was unique, and her experience of pregnancy was harrowing.
This is a book you won’t want to miss — her blog is every bit as entertaining and well written as Lab Girl; you can find her at hopejahrensurecanwrite.com.
Cara spent 10 years as a Library Reader’s Advisor in between performing with a belly dance troupe and teaching dance classes. She prefers Swinburne to Shelley, Faulkner to Hemingway, and can be found on most rainy days curled up with a good book and a cup of earl gray, hot.