Lab Girl

Lab Girl

Hardcover | April 5, 2016

byHope Jahren

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An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a long-time collaboration, in work and in life; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see and think about the natural world.
Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she's studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book might have been a revelatory treatise on plant life. Lab Girl is that, but it is also so much more. Because in it, Jahren also shares with us her inspiring life story, in prose that takes your breath away.
Lab Girl is a book about work, about love, and about the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren's remarkable stories: about the things she's discovered in her lab, as well as how she got there; about her childhood--hours of unfettered play in her father's laboratory; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work "with both the heart and the hands"; about a brilliant and wounded man named Bill, who became her loyal colleague and best friend; about their adventurous, sometimes rogue research trips, which take them from the Midwest all across the United States and over the Atlantic, from the ever-light skies of the North Pole to tropical Hawaii; and about her constant striving to do and be the best she could, never allowing personal or professional obstacles to cloud her dedication to her work.
     Jahren's insights on nature enliven every page of this book. Lab Girl allows us to see with clear eyes the beautiful, sophisticated mechanisms within every leaf, blade of grass, and flower petal, and also the power within ourselves to face--with bravery and conviction--life's ultimate challenge: discovering who you are.

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Lab Girl

Hardcover | April 5, 2016
In stock online Available in stores
$20.85 online $34.00 (save 38%)

From the Publisher

An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a long-time collaboration, in work and in life; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see and think about the natural world.Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she's studied trees, flowers, seeds, ...

HOPE JAHREN is an award-winning scientist who has been pursuing independent research in paleobiology since 1996, when she completed her PhD at UC Berkeley and began teaching and researching first at the Georgia Institute of Technology and then at Johns Hopkins University. She is the recipient of three Fulbright Awards and is one of fou...

other books by Hope Jahren

Blattgeflüster: Die wunderbare Welt der Pflanzen. Aus dem Leben einer leidenschaftlichen Forscherin
Blattgeflüster: Die wunderbare Welt der Pflanzen. Aus d...

Kobo ebook|Oct 3 2016

$24.29 online$31.48list price(save 22%)
Format:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 9.56 × 6.63 × 1.13 inPublished:April 5, 2016Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345809866

ISBN - 13:9780345809865

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Bookclub Guide

1. Lab Girl opens with a detailed description of the laboratory Jahren loved as a child. How does she transform a cinder-block room stocked with scientific equipment into a “castle” (p. 8)?  In what ways do her recollections of her time in the lab and the trips home late at night with her father evoke the mood and magic of fairy tales? 2. Jahren writes of the emotional distances between members of a Scandinavian family, of “growing up in a culture where you can never ask anyone anything about themselves” (p.11). Are Jahren’s feelings about her family shaped solely by cultural tradition? 3. Does Jahren’s observation that “being mother and daughter has always felt like an experiment that we just can’t get right” (p. 16) capture something you have experienced, either as a parent or child? Why do you think Jahren dedicated Lab Girl to her mother? 4. Jahren writes, “I chose science because science gave me what I needed—a home as defined in the most literal sense: a safe place to be” (p. 18).  Discuss and evaluate the combination of elements that determine her choice, including her attachment to her father and the recognition that “being a scientist wasn’t his job, it was his identity,” the acceptance by her science professors of “the very attributes that rendered me a nuisance to all of my previous teachers,” and her simple declaration that the desire to become a scientist “was founded upon a deep instinct and nothing more.”  Compare this initial explanation with the self-portrait she offers in the final chapter (p. 277.) 5. In alternating chapters, Jahren forges links between her own life and the plants that have populated it. How does the story of the blue spruce tree (pp. 27–29) set a pattern that is echoed and enhanced throughout the book? What insights do these close examinations of a large variety of plants provide into the needs and the capabilities shared by all living things? Is there a particular topic—for instance, the universal struggle for survival or the interdependence evident in nature—that resonates with you?6. In recalling her first scientific breakthrough, Jahren writes, “On some deep level, the realization that I could do good science was accompanied by the knowledge that I had formally and terminally missed my chance to become like any of the women that I had ever known” (p. 71).  What are the emotional and practical repercussions of this moment?  Is there a moment in most people’s lives that marks a line between who they are and who they might have been?7. Jahren describes her struggles with mental illness in a gripping and vivid interlude (pp. 144–47).  Why do you think she introduces this at the midpoint of her book?8. Jahren’s relationship with Bill is a sustained theme in Lab Girl.  In what ways do Bill’s manner and methods in the lab complement Jahren’s?  What qualities shape their behavior toward each other on a personal level? Discuss the sense of intimacy and tolerance at the core of their friendship, as well as the boundaries they establish.  What do their long conversations, their reactions to institutional rules, and the misadventures they share on their field trips all add to the book?  In what ways does their trip to the Arctic capture the essence of their bond (pp. 195–201)?9. What previously hidden aspects of Jahren’s character come to light as she describes her meeting and marriage to Clint (pp. 205–209)?  10. Jahren writes of her pregnancy, “I know that I am supposed to be happy and excited. . . . I am supposed to celebrate the ripening fruit of love and luxuriate in the fullness of my womb. But I don’t do any of this” (p. 217).  How do such factors as her childhood, her professional ambitions, and her mental illness affect her experience? Why does she “decide that I will not be this child’s mother. Instead, I will be his father” (p. 228). 11. What obstacles does Jahren face in her career as a research scientist?  Are some of the setbacks Jahren faces attributable to her being a woman in a male-dominated field? 12. Do you agree that “America may say that it values science, but it sure as hell doesn’t want to pay for it” (p. 123)?13. Science writing is sometimes criticized for seeming to anthropomorphize scientific subjects. Do you think that Jahren avoids this potential pitfall? In what ways do her choice of words and use of metaphor balance the scientific facts that she wants to convey with having the reader understand and even delight in these facts? What facts did you find most interesting?14. As you read Lab Girl, were you equally engaged with the autobiographical sections and the chapters on plants and trees, or did you find yourself more drawn to one or the other? 15. Lab Girl makes use of a wide range of language and tones, from the scientific to the colloquial, from biblical references to profanity. Does this range subvert our expectations about how scientists “should” talk? What do the different tones reveal about Hope? How does her varied language help us to see her in multiple lights—as scientist and writer, as friend and human?16. Memoir is a highly intimate form. Do you feel you’ve gotten to know Hope through Lab Girl? Does she seem similar or different to science teachers you have had? Do you see her as an inspiration for young women who want to pursue a career in science?

Editorial Reviews

FINALIST - 2017 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing AwardFINALIST - 2016 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers®Award for Non-FictionWINNER - 2016 National Book Critics Circle Awards for Autobiography Longlisted - 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Non-Fiction INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLERNATIONAL BESTSELLER“Lab Girl made me look at trees differently. It compelled me to ponder the astonishing grace and gumption of a seed. Perhaps most importantly, it introduced me to a deeply inspiring woman—a scientist so passionate about her work I felt myself vividly with her on every page. This is a smart, enthralling, and winning debut.” —Cheryl Strayed “Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl burns with her love of science, teaching us the way great teachers can. This is a powerful book that is as original as it is deeply felt.” —Adrian Nicole LeBlanc “Lab Girl surprised, delighted, and moved me. I was drawn in from the start by the clarity and beauty of Jahren’s prose, whether she was examining the inner world of a seed, the ecosystem around the trunk of a tree, or recounting her own inspiring journey. With Lab Girl, Jahren joins those talented scientists who are able to reveal to us the miracle of this world in which we live.” —Abraham Verghese “Some people are great writers, while other people live lives of adventure and importance. Almost no one does both. Hope Jahren does both. She makes me wish I’d been a scientist.” —Ann Patchett“Vladimir Nabokov once observed that ‘a writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.’ The geobiologist Hope Jahren possesses both in spades. Her engrossing new memoir, Lab Girl, is at once a thrilling account of her discovery of her vocation and a gifted teacher’s road map to the secret lives of plants—a book that, at its best, does for botany what Oliver Sacks’s essays did for neurology, what Stephen Jay Gould’s writings did for paleontology.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times “[Lab Girl is a] mesmerizing and unconventional memoir. . . . Jahren . . . has a knack for inviting the reader to feel the joy in scientific—and personal—discovery, rather than trying to make the reader feel the joy she thinks they should.” —Paul Taunton, National Post   “Botany, like cybersecurity, ocean acidification or stamp collecting, can elicit genuine interest from maybe six percent of the reading public. In this memoir . . . Hope Jahren takes a valiant stab at punching up that percentage, misses, and lands on something far better. Her short, standalone chapters on the inner lives of plants are fascinating, even intoxicating. But the story of her life, spanning her childhood in an emotionally chilly Scandinavian-American family, her science education, her struggles with bipolar disorder, and eventual life as ‘mangy stray’ (woman) in academia, succeeds as a non-fiction novel. Lab Girl has madcap adventures . . . vivid scenes . . . and a profound, bittersweet love story at its core. The result is a hybrid weirder and more beautiful than the prehistoric plants she studies—part road movie, part academic paper, part polemic extolling public funding for science. . . . [H]aunting and moving . . . the human story [in Lab Girl] is so good.” —Maclean’s“The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. . . . The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. . . . Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.” —Kirkus Reviews(starred review)   “A geobiologist with a literary bent makes her science both accessible and lyrical.” —The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)   “[A]n exceptionally compelling and enlightening memoir. Gracefully meshing her struggles as a woman scientist with the marvels of plants, she aligns the risks a sprouting seed takes in an inhospitable world with her entry into the sexist realm of science, and symbiotic plant-pollinator relationships with her crucial collaboration with Bill, a heroically steadfast and self-sacrificing partner in mischief, hard work, and discovery. . . . [S]he matches her findings about how plants thrive and maintain life on Earth with grave concern over our reckless destruction of forests. A botanical variation on Helen Macdonald’s best-selling H Is for Hawk, Jahren’s forthright, beautifully expressed, and galvanizing chronicle deserves the widest possible readership.” —Booklist  “[An] engrossing story. . . . Lab Girl instills the reader with an appreciation for botany as well as for scientific discovery. . . . Jahren’s rich language encourages readers to give taken-for-granted greenery a second look. . . . She candidly discusses the gritty details of it all, and it is this honest behind-the-scenes depiction of what a scientific life is actually like that makes her book stand out.” —The Guardian   “Large numbers amaze; numbers of large numbers amaze even more. Cognitive neuroscience can explain why (numbers of a certain opulence can be grasped only conceptually, and thus stupefy) but it takes a passionate geobiologist with the soul of a poet to make us really swoon in the face of computational amplitude. Science is in the end a love affair with numbers, and when it comes to botany, the ‘numbers are staggering,’ Hope Jahren writes in [Lab Girl,] her spirited account of how she became an eminent research scientist. . . . Jahren’s literary bent renders dense material digestible, and lyrical, in fables that parallel personal history. . . . [Lab Girl is] a gratifying and often moving chronicle of the scientist’s life. She also earns her license to issue warnings we would do well to heed.” —The New York Times Book Review   “Hope Jahren’s remarkable memoir is both personal odyssey and the story of her profound affinity with the natural world. Leaves, soil and seeds. Not normally words that make your pulse race. But they do light a fire in the mind and heart of Hope Jahren. In her hands, you will never feel the same way about these words again. Leaves become elegant machines, soil is the interface between the living and the dead, and seeds, well, they are transformed into the most patient and hopeful of all life forms. Jahren has such a passion for the natural world that it’s hard to imagine her in any role other than her current one; a professor of geobiology at the University of Hawaiʻi. Lab Girl is her engaging new memoir. . . . [A] fascinating journey. . . . Lab Girl is immediately engrossing and extremely readable. . . . Academic research is rich with science stories and tales of human endeavour. And it’s refreshing that Jahren talks to us about both. . . . Jahren is making herself accessible as a role model for younger generations of female scientists too. . . . In [Lab Girl] you’ll find a renewed interest in the natural world and notice things that have been hidden in plain sight. Jahren marvels at the perfectly clean break of a leaf stem and the first leaves of a new plant—‘The first real leaf is a new idea’—and you will find yourself marvelling too.” —Lucie Green, The Guardian   “[Lab Girl] is delightfully, wickedly funny. I was constantly surprised by the literary tricks this first-time memoirist manages to pull off. . . . With Lab Girl, Jahren has taken the form of the memoir and done something remarkable with it. She’s made the experience of reading the book mimic her own lived experience in a way that few writers are capable of. She swerves from observations about plant life . . . to a report from the interior of her tortured brain . . . to adventures on the road with Bill . . . and somehow, it all works, because the structure and the language follow the story. . . . [Jahren’s] harrowing account of childbirth is rendered in vivid and terrifying Technicolor because it was vivid and terrifying. Descriptions of her research projects are precise and detailed and engrossing because that’s what research is like. . . . It’s a powerful and disarming way to tell a story, and I admire the craft behind it. Mostly, though, I love this book for its honesty, its hilarity and its brilliant sharp edges. Jahren has some serious literary chops to go along with all that science she gets up to. I can’t wait to see what comes next.” —Amy Stewart, The Washington Post “[Refreshing]. . . . At times funny and at other points poignant. . . . This title should be required reading for all budding scientists, especially young women. However, being a scientist is not essential in order to savor Jahren’s stories and reflections on living as well as fossil plant life.” —Library Journal  “[An] engrossing story of [Jahren’s] love of science and of the adventures she has while pursuing her hunches and hypotheses. . . . Lab Girl instills the reader with an appreciation for botany as well as for scientific discovery. . . . [Jahren] intersperses her memoir with brief, seductive chapters about the remarkable abilities and life cycle of plants. . . . Jahren’s rich language encourages readers to give taken-for-granted greenery a second look. . . . She candidly discusses the gritty details of it all, and it is this honest behind-the-scenes depiction of what a scientific life is actually like that makes her book stand out.” —The Guardian