Karen / Memoir / Nonfiction Book Club / Science

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Lab Girl is the most recent Non-Fiction Book Discussion pick, and participants for the most part said they enjoyed the book. It is the memoir of Hope Jahren, a geobiologist and teacher. Divided into three sections, it chronicles her hopes and dreams, as well as her setbacks.

 The first section discusses her early years growing up in rural Minnesota, and here is where she became interested in plant life. This section is also where you learn of her strained relationship with her mother, which becomes more of an issue in the last section of this book. Finally, this is the time that she meets her lifelong friend, Bill Hagopien, who is working on his undergrad degree in soil science. Hope offers him a job in her first lab, and this partnership continues throughout the book.

 Section two mainly focuses on the trials and tribulations that most scientists go through; trying to secure funding for their focused studies. Anyone who has ever written a grant knows that there are many ups and downs in that process. And Bill and Hope are no different.

 Section three focuses more on Hope’s personal life and her struggle with mental illness.

 In between these three sections, what I would call the memoir parts, is all of the scientific “stuff”. Each section here focuses on one aspect of plant biology or geobiology. In an unscientific nutshell, it is how seeds turn into plants, which turn into food, which turn into waste, which gets the soil ready for more seeds. And yes, quite obviously, I glazed over much of this part. No offense to the author.

 The group agreed that most readers would probably focus on either the memoir or the science, but probably not both. We were lucky enough to have a scientist attend this discussion and her insight was very valuable as she explained university hierarchies and how funding is distributed. And what happens to scientists who do not produce!

 Overall, most thought they would recommend this book to others.



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