Lab Girl

Lab Girl

Book - 2016
Average Rating:
Rate this:
An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a long-time collaboration, in work and in life; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see and think about the natural world.
Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she's studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book might have been a revelatory treatise on plant life. Lab Girl is that, but it is also so much more. Because in it, Jahren also shares with us her inspiring life story, in prose that takes your breath away.
Lab Girl is a book about work, about love, and about the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren's remarkable stories: about the things she's discovered in her lab, as well as how she got there; about her childhood--hours of unfettered play in her father's laboratory; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work "with both the heart and the hands"; about a brilliant and wounded man named Bill, who became her loyal colleague and best friend; about their adventurous, sometimes rogue research trips, which take them from the Midwest all across the United States and over the Atlantic, from the ever-light skies of the North Pole to tropical Hawaii; and about her constant striving to do and be the best she could, never allowing personal or professional obstacles to cloud her dedication to her work.
Jahren's insights on nature enliven every page of this book. Lab Girl allows us to see with clear eyes the beautiful, sophisticated mechanisms within every leaf, blade of grass, and flower petal, and also the power within ourselves to face--with bravery and conviction--life's ultimate challenge: discovering who you are.
Publisher: Toronto : Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2016.
ISBN: 9780345809865
Branch Call Number: 580.92 Jahre
Characteristics: 290 pages ; 25 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Mar 25, 2021

Never has science been so wild.

Mar 02, 2021

Hope is one of those exceptional writers able to create engaging text phrase after phrase by choosing the exact right words, avoiding clichés, and delightfully surprising the reader with the way she puts together words, paragraphs and chapters. I am so different from Hope that I probably would not have finished this book... many times I wanted to put it down in order to read something else, but in the end I couldn't - the chapters about growing things were fascinating, and there was something in the unfolding personal narrative that hinted at a style very intentionally chosen, and that suggested if I persevered I might find myself with someone quite different from the beginning chapters when I finally reached the end. When I closed the book for the last time I felt a deep affection for all of Hope's loved ones, and an irresistible urge to plant an oak in the front yard.

Oct 26, 2020

Read for bookgroup

Aug 19, 2020

If my fellow readers out there are looking for a true botany journey with beautiful writing, read Michael Christie's "Greenwood."

Jul 03, 2020

This is a fabulous read. I found it to be a real inspiration to me and perhaps others who love botany.

Jun 03, 2020

I will never look at a tree in quite the same way again after reading Hope Jahren's memoir of what it's like to be a woman and a scientist in the United States today. She combines her personal history with deep and engaging dives into the lives of different plants. How do cacti survive? How does one stand of trees give others of their species the weapons to fight off insects? How does a research scientist manage to keep a lab going when scrambling for funding seems to take as much time as doing the actual science? Jahren's writing is often funny, quite lyrical, and always thoughtful. And now I want to go plant a tree!

Jan 27, 2020

I appreciated the perspective of the book, written by a female scientist that was used to being told “no” because she was a girl and yet she always dreamed big to have her own research lab some day. When she reached that dream, she still had to overcome male bias while competing for grants and status amongst her peers. She writes like I would imagine that she talks in real life, down to earth, honest, no frills. At times sad when she writes about her feelings of loneliness, not belonging, and living with bipolar disorder. In one chapter she takes you through a bipolar episode, the extreme high followed by extreme low. It was only a couple of pages, but I had to read it twice. She’s odd and quirky, and so is her lab partner Bill. The mishaps and adventures they went through together are quite entertaining. Interweaved with her journey to becoming a successful tenured professor are bits and pieces of the journey seeds take to become trees and plants. After I finished this book, I wanted to hug a tree and plant a couple of seedlings.

Sep 19, 2019


Aug 25, 2019

Part of former US President, Barack Obama's summer reading list for 2019.

JessicaGma Jun 25, 2019

I feel this is a good book for anyone debating whether they should pursue or avoid being a scientist. Hope Jahren is willing to do anything for her work, and finds her colleague Bill who is also a hardcore scientist. But it's a lifestyle few are meant for.....Interesting,despite the pacing being a bit weird, and I can't say I liked it, but I finally read it

View All Comments


Add a Quote
Mar 01, 2020

Love and learning are similar in that they can never be wasted.

Nov 17, 2016

Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.

FSJPL_Amy Jul 01, 2016

"Being able to drive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a happy life" - Hope Jahren, "Lab Girl"

Jun 28, 2016

These two organisms--the wasp and the fig--have enjoyed this arrangement for almost ninety million years, evolving together through the extinction of the dinosaurs and across multiple ice ages. Theirs is like any epic love story, in that part of the appeal lies in its impossibility.

Jun 28, 2016

Unlike the overall character of winter, which may be mild one year and punishing the next, the pattern of how light changes through autumn is exactly the same every year...These plants know that when your world is changing rapidly, it is important to have identified the one thing that you can always count upon.

Jun 28, 2016

Love and learning are similar in that they can never be wasted.

Jun 28, 2016

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.

Jun 28, 2016

Now you ask a question about your leaf. Guess what? You are now a scientist. People will tell you that you have to know math to be a scientist, or physics or chemistry. They're wrong. That's like saying you have to know how to knit to be a housewife, or that you have to know Latin to study the Bible. Sure, it helps, but there will be time for that. What comes first is a question, and you're already there. It's not nearly as involved as people make it out to be. So let me tell you some stories, one scientist to another.


Add a Summary
Nov 17, 2016

The daughter of a community college science professor, Hope Jahren always felt at home in the laboratory, playing there while her father worked. After obtaining her PhD from UC Berkeley, she would go on to become a geobiologist, founding multiple laboratories, and winning honours from the Fulbright to the Young Investigator Medal. Part memoir, and part science, Lab Girl shares Jahren’s experiences from graduate school to tenured professor, and all the bumps along the way, including funding cuts, bipolar disorder, and changing institutions.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at VPL

To Top