Review: “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren

I’ve been sitting on this one for a little while – it took me a while to get my head around the content because, to be honest, it was like nothing that I’ve really read before. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I’d say that it was like “Eat, Pray, Love” for scientists but that doesn’t even really even begin to touch the sides of what this story tells. The book is part non-fiction science of plants, part-autobiography and part-mindblowing… that’s still not very helpful!

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The story, ostensibly, follows Jahren’s journey from grad student to the tenured professor that she is today. It focuses a lot on the relationships that she builds (and discards) along the way – including her chain-smoking colleague Lydia and her quirky relationship with her best friend Bill. The author doesn’t hold back on any gritty issues – mental health, sex, the reality of academia are all discussed.

Interwoven with this story are sweet little essays on nature that tie in with the topic content and seem to provide insight about our own personal growth. Jahren makes even fungus sound beautiful:

Why are they together, the tree and the fungus? We don’t know. The fungus could certainly live very well alone almost anywhere, but it chooses to entwine itself with the tree over an easier and more independent life. It has adapted to seek the rush of pure sweetness that comes direct from a plant root, such a strange and concentrated compound, unlike anything to be found elsewhere in the forest. And perhaps the fungus can somehow sense that when it is part of a symbiosis, it is also not alone.

Lab Girl is a book that has earned a place on my bookshelf because I feel it’s the type of book that I will get something new out of every time I read it. As the daughter of two scientists, it speaks to me of the mysteries in the world in a way that my heart connects with, not in a way that sets my skeptic radar off. Despite labouring over this review, I still don’t feel like I’ve done this book justice, so go out and get a copy and read it for yourself!

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