thelitertarian.com
Lab Girl | Hope Jahren | Book Review | The Litertarian
Plants are alive. We all know this, but do we understand what it actually means? To the human eye, they don’t look alive. The only perceptible movement they make is in direct reaction to their environment (wind), they make no noise, they follow a predictable and measurable pattern every year, almost without fail, and yet, they’re alive. Hope Jahren has dedicated her life to studying plants; why they do what they do, observing their cycles, sprouting them, helping them thrive, splitting them, challenging them, and running them through a mass spectrometer. She lets her curiosity guide her hypotheses and performs her science with her hands. While studying for her Ph.D. at Berkeley, she met a student called Bill. Bill was an oddball, like her, who had a natural affinity and passion for soil (and a sharp sense of humor). This book is about the partnership forged between Hope and Bill and the many absurd and poignant moments throughout their shared career as they traverse the world for their studies and build three laboratories from scratch. Science can be a difficult field to get into for a woman, especially in the late 20th century (though significant progress has been made in this area with a focus on STEM education for women). The author shares her experience within a career that you have to fight for every step of the way. With no funding, you have no research, and funding is only granted for a year or two at a time and the budget for it overall is constantly dwindling. Interspersed between anecdotes involving herself and Bill as they built up their careers, are beautifully written vignettes of the life cycle and inter-workings of plants and trees. Do you know how trees survive the winter without freezing solid? What volume of water a tree needs to create the leaves it needs to survive another year? (hint, it’s A LOT). How improbable it is for a plant to reproduce & evolve? The world of green that is rapidly shrinking around us is a diverse and incredible world that we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about in our modern lives, although our own survival depends upon plants. We need trees & vegetation for sustenance (every bit of sugar in the world began in a plant), and for the very air we breathe. It is important that we understand it. Hope Jahren is not only a brilliant scientist, she is also a writer. Like, a good one. I was struck by her style in the opening chapters, and enjoyed it the whole way through. We made our way down hand-shoveled sidewalks, past thickly insulated houses that sheltered families who were no doubt partaking of silences similar to our own. She makes reading about plants not only fascinating in substance, but interesting to read as well. I really liked this book. It has purpose, it has structure, and it conveys an important message all while celebrating her oldest and closest friend and the span of their careers. I recommend it. Pages | 290Publishing Date | 2017Goodreads Page | Lab GirlBook Depository (affiliate link) | Paperback