Chrissie's Reviews > Lab Girl

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
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it was ok
bookshelves: bio, science, flora, usa, audible, 2016-read, philo-psychol, feminism, returned

The book is not bad, it is OK. It spreads itself thin.

It is an autobiography of one specific woman, a woman both ordinary and exceptional. The book depicts the life of a female botanical research scientist at the turn of the 21st century, a central issue being the difficulty in attaining adequate research grants to survive on. It is about friendship. It is about choosing where one's main interests lie - family or job. What I think it does best is draw the author's fervent passion for plants, research and ecology. She loves what she does almost to the point where it destroys her. It only touches upon the latest research on trees.

The book begins by showing how the author’s Norwegian descent and relationship with her parents led her toward a career in research science. The reader watches her emotional involvement, sense of responsibility and compulsion to do a good job grow as she through scholarships and hard work gets an education. In May 1996she got her Doctorate at University of California Berkeley and began teaching as well as pursuing independent research in paleobiology.

We then follow her for another twenty years, twenty years of struggles to get money, recognition and lab facilities. It is the struggle rather than her particular scientific goals that are focused upon. For example, she travels to San Francisco to give a talk at a conference. We are given a lengthy description of the horrendous trip, rather than what she spoke about! We are told in detail how the four traveling practically killed themselves in a car accident, of their miserable hotel rooms and Hope’s reliance upon her work associate, Bill. This friendship runs straight through the entire book. Any reader of this book will be gripped by the importance of research work to Hope. However, it is not her scientific results per se that is the central focus. The research work that is detailed is more often about lab techniques or sterility procedures or the proper statistical means of accounting data rather than a detailed explanation of her discoveries in plant science. These are merely touched upon. Neither does one get a complete coverage of all that she has done in these twenty years. Near the end of the book she travels with Bill to Ireland; we are told then that she had been to Ireland many times before!

This book contains little about contemporary plant research. It is instead about one researcher’s struggles.

The author reads her own book, and she does it very well. You hear her engagement. You hear her frustration. Her emotions come through very, very well. At emotional crises her voice trembles. However there are parts where she is more detached, in the epilog and the endnote for example, which drag on f-o-r-e-v-e-r! I suppose here the main fault is not the narration, but rather a more rigorous editing would have helped.
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Reading Progress

February 10, 2016 – Shelved
February 10, 2016 – Shelved as: follow-up
February 10, 2016 – Shelved as: bio
February 10, 2016 – Shelved as: science
February 10, 2016 – Shelved as: flora
February 10, 2016 – Shelved as: usa
February 19, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
November 17, 2016 – Shelved as: wishlist-nf
November 17, 2016 – Shelved as: audible
November 25, 2016 – Shelved as: 2016-read
November 25, 2016 – Shelved as: own-unlistened
December 16, 2016 – Started Reading
December 18, 2016 – Shelved as: philo-psychol
December 18, 2016 – Shelved as: feminism
December 18, 2016 – Shelved as: returned
December 18, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan I'm so eager to read this book! It's been on my on-deck shelf since I shelved it. If you love it I might try to bump it up!


Chrissie So far I like it. The writing is so different from the last book! RELIEF...... She comes from Scandinavian stock, in this case Norwegian, and her parents were exceedingly reticent. I pointed this out to Per. I nudged him and said, "See! It is not only me who says this about Scandinavians." He is less willing then I am to see cultural differences. Maybe this is because I have moved, not him.


message 3: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan I think so, Chrissie. You've not only visited but lived in different places. I do think that (statistically if not always individually) it's at least common knowledge that people from certain countries/areas/cultures/languages have personalities and styles specific to their areas. I've always noticed some truth to that. It makes sense as we are so influenced by our culture and those around us, and our particular lsnguage(s) too.


Chrissie Lisa wrote: "it's at least common knowledge that people from certain countries/areas/cultures/languages have personalities and styles specific to their areas. I've always noticed some truth to that. It makes sense as we are so influenced by our culture and those around us, and our particular lsnguage(s) too. "

That is what I say too. I don't find this strange at all.


message 5: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Well I'd definitely like a lot of science and this book does seem flawed in a few ways. I still might be interested in reading it. I have one friend who really liked it. I'll have to talk to her about it. I expect to see her next month at my book club meeting.


message 6: by Lisa (last edited Dec 18, 2016 03:12PM) (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Great review though. Thanks, Chrissie. She sounds as though she's an author who can do a good job reading her own book so that's good.


message 7: by Carmen (new) - added it

Carmen I've heard from multiple people that this just isn't impressive as a book, Chrissie. You're not alone.


Chrissie Lisa, simply put, those who want a book about a woman's struggles may love it. I personally think it is completely wrong to categorize this as feminist literature. Why? Because Bill struggles too. It is about being devoted to your job, loving what you do. THIS is what I appreciated most in the book, but there are so many many holes. Little about newest discoveries in new plant biology, little about the content of her own scientific studies, Little about the husband she marries. You should ask yourself what you are expecting from the book; this is what should determine if you read it or not.

Lisa, what are YOU looking for?


Chrissie Carmen wrote: "I've heard from multiple people that this just isn't impressive as a book, Chrissie. You're not alone."

Its rating is sorely inflated. It is one of those books that starts off being praised and then everyone follows suit!


Chrissie Thanks to all who appreciated my review. I simply hope I have properly clarified what the book gives and doesn't give.


message 11: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie wrote: "Lisa, what are YOU looking for? "

Well I was hoping for reading about a woman in science including a lot of the science. More than what's there it sounds like but I still might want to read it.


Chrissie Lisa, well I hope it gives you what you want.

You will get much more science from The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World, but as I have stated, that has its problems too. Although different problems. Writing a good book is really hard.

What I am looking for is Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel about plants. Maybe I should have given that five stars and not just four. In comparison to other books it shines.


message 13: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan That tree book looks good to me too.

But with this I was hoping to read science by a woman in science.


Chrissie Lisa wrote: "But with this I was hoping to read science by a woman in science."

OK, don't get mad at me........but why are women so fixated in reading about women?! I say if you see both sexes as totally equal you make no differentiation between the two. I was HAPPY that Bill is closely followed in this book as well as Hope!

Oh yeah, another issue that could have been delved into deeper is Bill's father of Armenian descent. Again, again again, I wanted MORE!


message 15: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Because women in science is still a big deal.


Chrissie I think that feminism is so very strong and so built into Swedish life influences my perspective. There are so many things in our culture that influence us! I was discriminated against when employed, but I have gotten over it. I know where I stand and demand of myself to treat both sexes equally. I also keep in mind that it is up to women to fight like heck to achieve what they want. I sort of see all life this way; it becomes less an issue of sex.

In the book, Bill had battles to fight too.


message 17: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, for me not a main issue. I simply find it interesting to read about women scientists. Men scientists too but with this book I was looking forward to the women angle. Not necessarily about discrimination but the scientific mind and what led her to her career. Etc. Was hoping for a lot of science too.


Chrissie One thing that I did learn that was interesting is that a branch of a willow floats down the river, fasten in the soil and then grows. Poof, a new tree!

I wanted much more of such info. I am not saying the book is without ecological, botanical content, merely that it is thin.


message 19: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan That is cool, and I'm sure I'd like more of that too. But the scientific inquiry, the process and the mind working, is what I was most hoping for.


Chrissie Are you going to get it at the library?


message 21: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie wrote: "Are you going to get it at the library?"

Chrissie, If/when I get it, yes. I get virtually all books from the library.

The only books I buy anymore are books written by friends and sometimes vegan cookbooks or other vegan books. We're talking fewer than 5 books a year. Some years it will be zero.


Chrissie I thought so, but I wanted to check b/c I don't think you should buy it.


message 23: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie wrote: "I thought so, but I wanted to check b/c I don't think you should buy it."

Thanks!!!


Chrissie You're welcome.


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