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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Book Review: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

I loved this book! Yes, it's my bread-and-butter: a memoir with lots of odd, fun facts. But it was just terrific. I'm still spouting off some of the fun facts two weeks later, and I read a 4-page section out loud to my husband. It was so compelling.

Hope always wanted to be a scientist. Her father was a science instructor at a community college and she loved his lab when she was a little girl. She grew up and went to college and got her doctorate and became a tenure-track professor. In college she met a younger science student, Bill, who she hired as a lab assistant and who stuck with her throughout her career. She eventually focuses on paleobiology, mostly on dirt and trees. You might think that sounds boring but trust me—it's fascinating. At one point she and Bill are in Northern Canada looking into a prehistoric deciduous forest. Obviously at the time this existed, the poles were much warmer than they currently are, but she's baffled and impressed with how the trees dealt with the 3 months of constant sun and 3 months of constant dark. Do the trees have a special ability they've been hiding for several thousand years? Or were they impressively adaptive?

Hope has a real way with explaining science accessibly and even in a fun way. I noted quite a few quotes, which I hadn't expected in this type of book. She struggles with personal relationship aside from with Bill, which she partly attributes to  her upbringing with Scandinavian parents who talk little and never about feelings, and partly we find out later, due to her bi-polar. Although eventually she does marry and even has a child (which is tricky with her diagnosis as she has to go off her meds.)

I wish this book were twice as long. I very much hope that Dr. Jahren is writing a second (and third) book. This one was terrific. If you like science at all, and if you like memoirs, you must check out this book.

I got this book out of the library on my cruise ship, Oceania Regatta.

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