Lab Girl lab-girl-by-hope-jahren

“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.”

This is one of many wonderful lines from Hope Jahren’s memoir, Lab Girl, which I read this spring. As I walked under budding trees and past flowering bushes in the Boston area, where I live, Jahren’s memoir of becoming a botanist, building three successful labs and constructing a life from scratch resonated with me deeply.

Jahren draws wonderful parallels between plants and people, exploring roots, leaves, seeds, flowers and fruit in both the botanical and human realms. She writes about the cyclical nature of growth, the right conditions for flourishing, the ways both plants and humans react to unexpected strain. She never loses sight of the fundamental differences between plants and people, but her elucidation of those differences is also insightful. She never takes herself too seriously (and her wry humor crops up on nearly every page), but she is dead serious about her love of science and all it entails: the meticulous study, the long nights of experimentation and analysis, the deep disappointment of failure, and the joy that comes with discoveries, even–or especially–the totally unexpected ones.

I read Lab Girl during a difficult time in my life: I’d been grinding through a prolonged job search, working several temp gigs and sending out dozens of job applications, doing months and months of waiting. I was finding it difficult to flourish, and wondering what would come next. So, in addition to the quote above, I especially loved Jahren’s lines about seeds and trees:

“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.”

Lab Girl is, essentially, a memoir about thriving: how we do it, what we chase to make it possible, how we come to understand our place in the world in relation to our pasts, our passions and other people. It is fascinating, thoughtful, often funny, and–a bonus–totally accessible for non-scientists like me. If you love a good memoir and a good metaphor, I highly recommend Jahren’s book.


Katie Noah Gibson is a writer, editor, knitter and compulsive tea-drinker living in the Boston area with her husband. Born in Texas, she’s a lifelong Anglophile with a particular love for Oxford, but she loves to travel just about anywhere. You can find her at her blog, Cakes, Tea and Dreams, reviewing books at Shelf Awareness, or on Twitter at @katiengibson.


Have you read Lab Girl? We’d love to hear what you think — please share in the comments below. Thanks!

Link to buy Lab Girl at your local independent bookstore (we love them!) or at Indiebound by clicking here.