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Lab Girl

Narrated by: Hope Jahren
Length: 11 hrs and 37 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (2,777 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

National Book Critics Circle Award winner, Autobiography, 2016.

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).

39 of 39 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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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!

26 of 26 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.

21 of 21 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!

16 of 16 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.

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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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.

10 of 10 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.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Not what I was hoping for

Would you try another book from Hope Jahren and/or Hope Jahren?

Not if she narrates

What could Hope Jahren have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Find a good narrator

What didn’t you like about Hope Jahren’s performance?

Too long, too melancholy (including tears), too, too, too

Any additional comments?

Our library's theme this month is "Blind Date with a Book" offering participants the opportunity to check out a gift wrapped book marked only by a fiction or non-fiction designation. I chose "Lab Girl" for my second date.

In all honesty I’m not really sure what her point for this book was. True it was probably cathartic to let it all out whether or not the general public should actually know or want to know about her inwardly tragic life, but the research and information on trees, soils, etc was so much better without that. I rate the audiobook at about a 2 and the narration at 1.

The prologue, except for being a bit gloomy, seemed interesting and I was looking forward to a story of botany and research or something similar, which was there but dwarfed under a canopy of wounds that really seem too great for the woman to move beyond. Had this been a real blind date it wouldn’t have made it past the waiter bringing the water. I suffered through the meal hoping for some delectable tidbit, sumptuous dessert or even eventually a goodnight kiss but….it never really hit the mark. There was a moment in chapter nine when I actually laughed out loud because of a statement made that reminded me of something I once told my tree but it came and went quickly settling the reader back into the woe-is-me narrative. When part two started she gave more information on the plants and their life cycles, but then whole chapters were given up to various ways to acquire funding and truly manic ramblings.

In the book’s defense, and I’ve only said this on a rare few occasions, it might be much better to read “Lab Girl” rather than listen as I did (and do with all my books). The author narrated, which unfortunately even though it may save her money in the beginning by not having to pay for a professional, in the end because of the poor delivery the book suffers. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few authors who make great narrators but Ms. Jaren is not one of them. The story went at a morbidly slow pace droning on for about 3 hours longer than necessary. If I were a budding scientist I would definitely reconsider my options after hearing her melancholy, victim-like approach (including tears) to the production. When she wasn’t obsessing over how unloved she felt or manic she was I did find the research and the way she described plants to be interesting.

I’m a voracious reader and enjoy a wide variety of subject matter but this book just didn’t live up to it’s potential. The only good thing about this blind date was that I didn’t have to pick up the tab.

7 of 7 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.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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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.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful