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Lab Girl
Cover of Lab Girl
Lab Girl
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Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for AutobiographyA New York Times 2016 Notable BookNational Best SellerNamed one of TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People"An Amazon Top 20 Best...
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for AutobiographyA New York Times 2016 Notable BookNational Best SellerNamed one of TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People"An Amazon Top 20 Best...
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Description-

  • Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography
    A New York Times 2016 Notable Book
    National Best Seller
    Named one of TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People"
    An Amazon Top 20 Best Book of 2016
    A Washington Post Best Memoir of 2016
    A TIME and Entertainment Weekly Best Book of 2016 So Far

    An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime friendship; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world

    Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she's studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.

    Lab Girl
    is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren's remarkable stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom's labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done "with both the heart and the hands"; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.
    Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.
    Jahren's probing look at plants, her astonishing tenacity of spirit, and her acute insights on nature enliven every page of this extraordinary book. Lab Girl opens your eyes to the beautiful, sophisticated mechanisms within every leaf, blade of grass, and flower petal. Here is an eloquent demonstration of what can happen when you find the stamina, passion, and sense of sacrifice needed to make a life out of what you truly love, as you discover along the way the person you were meant to be.
 

Awards-

Excerpts-

  • From the book 3

    A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance—to take its one and only chance to grow.

    A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is just as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it. Neither the seed nor the old oak is growing; they are both just waiting. Their waiting differs, however, in that the seed is waiting to flourish while the tree is only waiting to die. When you go into a forest you probably tend to look up at the plants that have grown so much taller than you ever could. You probably don't look down, where just beneath your single footprint sit hundreds of seeds, each one alive and waiting. They hope against hope for an opportunity that will probably never come. More than half of these seeds will die before they feel the trigger that they are waiting for, and during awful years every single one of them will die. All this death hardly matters, because the single birch tree towering over you produces at least a quarter of a million new seeds every single year. When you are in the forest, for every tree that you see, there are at least a hundred more trees waiting in the soil, alive and fervently wishing to be.

    A coconut is a seed that's as big as your head. It can float from the coast of Africa across the entire Atlantic Ocean and then take root and grow on a Caribbean island. In contrast, orchid seeds are tiny: one million of them put together add up to the weight of a single paper clip. Big or small, most of every seed is actually just food to sustain a waiting embryo. The embryo is a collection of only a few hundred cells, but it is a working blueprint for a real plant with root and shoot already formed.

    When the embryo within a seed starts to grow, it basically just stretches out of its doubled-over waiting posture, elongating into official ownership of the form that it assumed years ago. The hard coat that surrounds a peach pit, a sesame or mustard seed, or a walnut's shell mostly exists to prevent this expansion. In the laboratory, we simply scratch the hard coat and add a little water and it's enough to make almost any seed grow. I must have cracked thousands of seeds over the years, and yet the next day's green never fails to amaze me. Something so hard can be so easy if you just have a little help. In the right place, under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you're supposed to be.

    After scientists broke open the coat of a lotus seed (Nelumbo nucifera) and coddled the embryo into growth, they kept the empty husk. When they radiocarbon-dated this discarded outer shell, they discovered that their seedling had been waiting for them within a peat bog in China for no less than two thousand years. This tiny seed had stubbornly kept up the hope of its own future while entire human civilizations rose and fell. And then one day this little plant's yearning finally burst forth within a laboratory. I wonder where it is right now.

    Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.

About the Author-

  • HOPE JAHREN is an award-winning scientist who has been pursuing independent research in paleobiology since 1996, when she completed her PhD at University of California Berkeley and began teaching and researching first at the Georgia Institute of Technology and then at Johns Hopkins University. She is the recipient of three Fulbright Awards and is one of four scientists, and the only woman, to have been awarded both of the Young Investigator Medals given within the Earth Sciences. She was a tenured professor at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu from 2008 to 2016, where she built the Isotope Geobiology Laboratories, with support from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. She currently holds the J. Tuzo Wilson professorship at the University of Oslo, Norway.
    hopejahrensurecanwrite.com
    jahrenlab.com

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 15, 2016
    Jahren, a professor of geobiology at the University of Hawaii, recounts her unfolding journey to discover “what it’s like to be a plant” in this darkly humorous, emotionally raw, and exquisitely crafted memoir. In clever prose, Jahren distills what it means to be one of those researchers who “love their calling to excess.” She describes the joy of working alone at night, the “multidimensional glory” of a manic episode, scavenging jury-rigged equipment from a retiring colleague, or spontaneously road-tripping with students to a roadside monkey preserve. She likens elements of her scientific career to a plant world driven by need and instinct, comparing the academic grant cycle to the resource management of a deciduous tree and the experience of setting up her first—desperately underfunded—basement lab to ambitious vines that grow quickly wherever they can. But the most extraordinary and delightful element of her narrative is her partnership with Bill, a taciturn student who becomes both her lab partner and her sarcastic, caring best friend. It’s a rare portrait of a deep relationship in which the mutual esteem of the participants is unmarred by sexual tension. For Jahren, a life in science yields the gratification of asking, knowing, and telling; for the reader, the joy is in hearing about the process as much as the results.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from January 15, 2016
    Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world. The author's father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren's journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way--e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed's first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: "Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited." The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she's worked ever since. The author's tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist. Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2015
    Multi-award-winning scientist Jahren talks about plant life but also "her" life. That rare book getting pushed in venues ranging from "Scientific American" to "Jezebel".

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Siobhan O'Connor, TIME, 100 Most Influential People "It is a rare breed of scientist who is both a leader in her field and a great writer, but Hope Jahren is both. A tenured professor at the University of Hawaii, Jahren has built a career and a reputation in science by unearthing secrets hidden in fossilized plant life. Her work has resulted in at least 70 studies in dozens of journals, but it's also given her a platform to talk about something else: widespread sexual harassment and discrimination in science. On her blog, in op-eds and in her new memoir, Lab Girl, Jahren wields her influence to call out a culture that has caused women to flee the field she so loves. That's why she does it: she loves science. And whether she's writing about lab funding, discrimination or deciduous trees, she has a way of making you love it too."
  • Cheryl Strayed "Lab Girl made me look at trees differently. It compelled me to ponder the astonishing grace and gumption of a seed. Perhaps most importantly, it introduced me to a deeply inspiring woman--a scientist so passionate about her work I felt myself vividly with her on every page. This is a smart, enthralling, and winning debut."
  • Abraham Verghese "Lab Girl surprised, delighted, and moved me. I was drawn in from the start by the clarity and beauty of Jahren's prose, whether she was examining the inner world of a seed, the ecosystem around the trunk of a tree, or recounting her own inspiring journey. With Lab Girl, Jahren joins those talented scientists who are able to reveal to us the miracle of this world in which we live."
  • Lucie Green, The Guardian (UK) "Jahren has dedicated her life's work to the study of trees with extraordinary single-mindedness and insight. Lab Girl is both an engaging account of her maturity as a scientist and a heartfelt paean to plants. They emerge from her memoir as much more than a bundle of biological processes, but beings with strange, secret lives, supported by astonishingly elegant machinery . . . Lucid, brilliant."
  • Jennifer Rohn, Nature "Fascinating, engaging . . . immediately engrossing and extremely readable . . . Leaves, soil and seeds light a fire in the mind and heart of Hope Jahren. In her hands, you will never feel the same way about these words again . . . The main theme of her memoir is survival: in science, in life, in love. For humans and for plants. In these pages you'll find a renewed interest in the natural world, and notice things that have been hidden in plain sight. Jahren marvels at the perfectly clean break of a leaf stem, the first leaves of a new plant--and you will find yourself marvelling too. She writes: 'Love and learning are similar, in that they can never be wasted.' And neither is time spent reading this book."
  • Amy Stewart, The Washington Post "Hope Jahren is the voice that science has been waiting for. Lab Girl is a tell-all autobiography that demystifies a research career, even as it reveals its strangeness. She writes about the plight of women in research academia, but Lab Girl is much more. From childhood origins as a loner through a 20-year career, Jahren's voice is clear, compelling and uncompromisingly honest . . . Plant development becomes a metaphor for her own progress in the challenging landscape of academia . . . She's the type of scientist who cheerfully spends three seasons drilling through Arctic turf; between sessions of hard graft, her lab group takes road trips to see bizarre attractions, or attempts elaborate campfire cuisine. Amid descriptions of the work, uncomfortable secrets of science are laid bare. Jahren pulls no punches on the stark realities of being a woman in science, which won't come as a surprise to many. This is not a how-to manual, but young scientists of either gender could learn a lot simply from Jahren's perseverance. Lab Girl is funny, full of joyous moments, and often sad. But despite all the hardship, there is clearly nowhere else that Jahren would rather be."
  • Bruce Jacobs, Shelf Awareness (starred) "Sparkling, unexpected . . . delightfully, wickedly funny . . . precise, detailed, engrossing. Any woman who opens her book with the line 'There is not

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