Like a plant’s, the life of a research scientist is subject to conditions she can’t fully control: funding, adequate equipment, successful experiments. But while a tree has to stay put, a geobotanist like Hope Jahren is mobile. As long as she has a lab of her own, whether in California, Georgia, or Hawaii, she can set down roots and thrive. A woman in a notoriously male-dominated field, Jahren, aka Lab Girl (Knopf, $26.95) often feels insecure, but she’s a dedicated scientist, and always has been. “I grew up in my father’s laboratory,” she says. Now an award-winning Fulbright scholar and tenured professor, Jahren has had her share of failures. She tells lively stories of exploding glass tubes, of field trips ending in ditches, and anxiety severe enough to be clinical. But her warm and engaging memoir, interspersed with telling mini-essays on germination, soil, pollen, and roots is more than disasters, long hours, and meticulous measurements of leaf growth. Her lab partner and best friend is an endearing character somewhere on the genius end of the Asperger spectrum. He and Jahren share jokes and junk food in addition to a passion for plants, and their continual banter—and Jahren’s spirited prose—make this a compelling and funny story about friendship and adventures that belies the image of scientists as pale and asocial creatures in need of a life.
Lab Girl - Hope Jahren