I received a copy of this book from the publisher and this is my honest opinion of the book.
Lab Girl explores the career of Hope Jahren, Professor of Geobiology at the University of Hawaii, following her life from childhood to her current role. Professor Jahren and her colleagues work includes research into the effects of global warming upon plant and crop growth, endeavouring to predict the repercussions of climate change in the coming centuries. It is a moving, funny, candid book that looks into a fascinating area of science and a fascinating woman who leads the way in the field.
This is a intriguing insight into not only the life of a scientist but also about botany in general. I’ll admit I knew little about plant life, save what I can vaguely remember from my school biology lessons and I had no knowledge of Hope Jahren and her work before I picked up her book.
What I really liked about the book was that the chapters alternated between the growth cycle of a plant or tree and the story of Hope Jahren’s life and career progression. The metaphorical seed of her interest in science was planted at a young age when she accompanied her father to his work. We see her career begin to sprout buds whilst she is at college and take root in her early career and the metaphor continues throughout.
Whilst I had little knowledge about the life cycle of plants I did find this aspect of the book fascinating. If the thought of reading a book about leaves and roots puts you off please don’t let it. The struggle a plant or tree goes through to grow to maturity is very interesting to read and you’ll come away looking at the grass and the elm at the bottom of your garden in a different light.
This is not just a book about plants. The majority of it is about Hope herself and she writes in such a modest, engaging way, with oftentimes such beautiful prose you’ll forget you are reading a work of non-fiction.
There are some touching moments throughout the book. Hope Jahren is modestly open about her strained relationship with her mother and how her childhood was affected as a result, open in how this may have impacted upon her life, and her own approach to motherhood in particular. She is also very open about her manic depression, giving a fascinating and moving insight into how the illness manifested itself in her and how she balances this with her career and family life.
There is of course reference to the sexism faced throughout her career, and which she still faces despite of, or indeed as a result of her success and accolades. Hope Jahren is quite open about the issues she has faced because of her gender, that she and her work have not always been taken seriously and that there is the continuing battle of being a woman in a man’s field. However, she does not make this novel a militant crusade, she is matter of fact in the face of the sexism she meets, understands it to a point, and yes, is somewhat resigned to it. What shines through is that she has not let these attitudes stop her or embittered her and the fact that she has received so many awards and is considered so highly in her field is testament to this.
I adored reading about the relationship between Hope and Bill, her lab partner for the past 20 years or so. The development of their working relationship and the anecdotes recalled were a joy to read, genuinely touching and funny. The banter recollected between the two was heart-warming and it was lovely to see the friendship grow as the book progressed.
I’ll admit there were times that the scientific references went over my head. The complex world of botany and its processes sometimes required a re-read or two to sink in and I wasn’t always sure I understood things correctly but I didn’t let that spoil my enjoyment of the book.
This is the true story of the power of the drive to succeed, that you can battle inner demons and outside obstructions and win. It’s also a shining example that it is ok to follow your passion and that the bumps in the road of life can be overcome.
A fascinating, funny and thought-provoking read.