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Publisher's Summary

An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime 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 probing look at plants, her astonishing tenacity of spirit, and her insights on nature enliven every minute 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 the power within ourselves to face - with bravery and conviction - life's ultimate challenge: discovering who we are.

©2016 Hope Jahren (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A paradigm-shifting perspective on plant life

Although initially annoyed by the author's somewhat languid reading style, I gradually came to appreciate her authenticity and honesty and--most of all--the way she utterly transformed my view of the natural world (and especially trees). Her memoir is at once a coming of age story about a driven young female scientist battling for relevance in a patriarchal profession, a love story between the protagonist and her best friend and colleague, and a passionate and scientifically precise guide to the "secret lives" of trees and other plant life, which are far more fascinating than I'd been led to believe. Now when I look out my window (as the author invites readers to do early on in the book), what I see is not just trees, but the outward manifestation of hundreds of millions of years of evolution, a struggle for survival on a monumental scale, and unimaginably complex processes, communications, and interactions about which most humans have no clue. I ended up listening to the entire book twice and parts of it multiple times (just so I could remember the astonishing data the author provides on trees).

21 of 21 people found this review helpful

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Well Researched, Wonderfully Endearing

Hope Jahren narrated her own book, which I didn't like at first, since she read in a sort of melancholy tone. But as I listened on, her voice grew on me and I started connecting with the main character's pattern of speech/thoughts. I respect the author's intense research on science, particularly biology. Hope Jahren's passion for plants, trees, scientific research, humanity, life cycles, statistics, etc revealed itself more and more as the book progressed. The main characters were complex and felt realistic to me. The plot carried me away into the character's mind and world. I definitely recommend experiencing this book!

20 of 20 people found this review helpful

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This book is precious!

This book is so special, I hardly know how to describe it. It's a book about a life well lived. It's about finding yourself, accepting who you are and thriving. If you like science and nature and trees, you'll love the little nuggets of botany and biology, strategically placed to compliment the thread of the story. It's also a book about love, friendship, family and survival. I highly recommend it.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Science biography, personal story, good read

Excellent read! Shares the challenges of being a female scientist in today's American university context as well as the difficulties of being a scientist more generally if one is doing non military related pure research. More than that she tells a deeply personal and powerful story of her own challenges and dreams while sharing something of the realities of dealing with bipolar disorder. Those who want to know more about how plants operate should read this book. Those who enjoy good biography can enjoy it too. I found it interesting on many levels!

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Marvelous book

When I like a book, I try to stretch out my listening experience as long as possible, but this book is so engaging that I finished listening to it over one weekend. All sorts of subjects are melded: science research of course, depressing statistics about difficulties of funding, academic department dynamics, and a memoir of an amazing work relationship spanning two+ decades. I will never look at the tree-line I planted behind my house in the same way. It is more of a marvel than I knew.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Science made interesting!

I truly enjoyed listening to this book. Normally I would not pick up a memoir, but I heard Ms. Jahren speak on NPR and knew that this would be an interesting one. I also am not a scientist, but I do love plants....all kinds. I have always found them fascinating and my greatest joy in spring is playing with flowering and non flowering plants. Ms. Jahren has given me a new appreciation for all the hours of dedication that her research requires. And yet, it will go mostly unnoticed by the average person. Sad, but true. On the other hand, I am just glad that such painstaking research is taking place, hopefully to make our world better for future generations.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Wonderful!

This is the best book I have read in at least a decade. The juxtaposition of life and science is perfect. The story is honest and moving, educational and entertaining. The author's reading of her own book is so tenderly performed that I was filled with love and gratitude and an ever-growing appreciation for the plant life and quirky people whose world we share.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • B.J.
  • Minneapolis, MN, United States
  • 03-05-17

How can one person have this much talent?

I'll try to write a review without gushing, but it's difficult. This is simply a great book.

Hope Jahren is that rare person with both a scientific mind and an author's gift. Though I don't know enough about science to give her a grade, she certainly gets high marks for her writing. This book is splendid -- so much so that I listened to it twice just to grab onto some of that cleverness again.

She has this way of weaving things together that usually don't belong. For instance, she describes a plant as a machine -- and does so in such detail, you expect it to have gears. A sentence will veer in the middle and take on a new life with the most unexpected, delightful word choice. Through it all, she shares a brutally honest inside view of mental illness, the drive to discover, pregnancy and more. Holding the whole thing together on the page (as in the lab) is Bill -- her lab partner of 20+ years -- the man she calls her 12-year-old fraternal twin.

To top off the science gifts and the writing, she narrates this herself. Normally that's a disaster. Here, it's just perfect. It is yet another thing this accomplished woman can do well.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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The best

Best book I've read in a long time. Everything about it from the narrater the the poetic words used to describe everything. Who would imagined plants could be so interesting. And don't forget to plant a tree. Or ten or more.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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A very personal look into becoming a scientist

Would you consider the audio edition of Lab Girl to be better than the print version?

No

Who was your favorite character and why?

Bill, because of his constant weirdness and his stalwart friendship

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

This book made me cry when Jahren during a painful childbirth yelled out and made her yell into a visceral complaint against the "imperfections in a world of limitless potential". Just one phrase, and the author summarized all that has gone wrong in any middle-aged reader's life, you cannot deny it.

Any additional comments?

Because of its detailed reflectiveness on how it feels to struggle against a local default way of life, how it feels to struggle as a woman in a career dominated by men, how it feels to love your work, how it feels to discover a purpose to claim as your own, how it feels to have a friend, and how it feels to explore new territory in your chosen field, this book is worthy of status as a classic. Like Moby Dick, the book includes a lot of little-known technical info, but it is about trees and plants and it is more concise and it is more superbly woven into the author's personal experiences and emotions.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful