“Lab Girl” Book Review

Lab GirlLab Girl by Hope Jahren

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF. First of all let me state that I have lived in Scandinavia for over 10 years, although I am originally from Australia. I grew up myself in the middle of a protected rainforest; actually the first rainforest ever to be saved from logging by protest. It would not be an overstatement to say that I absolutely love the environment and that plants have a very special place in my heart. I am also very interested in studying a degree in environmental science and plant biology. It is for these reasons plus some others that I picked up this book.

So you can imagine my frustration when I got 34% into this book and I am given only a few breadcrumbs (albeit: beautifully described and almost poetic breadcrumbs) of facts and information about plants and such. 80% of the book can be classified as dismissive whining and at times even even paranoid ramblings (the scene where Hope takes a 3-inch wrench with her as “protection” from a supposed ‘angry male’ when she wanted to use the x-ray machine for her PhD studies).

Chapters in the book about her personal life drone on-and-on and I felt increasingly starved for the beautifully written descriptions of plant facts and anatomy. I constantly ran into lengthy descriptions of how self-critical Hope is of not only her success but even her thoughts. At times I tried skipping chapters to find more about the plants but there is just so much personal pensive reflection or contemplation (melancholia) that it feels inescapable whilst reading.

In short, the book is so little about Hope’s achievements or even the plants that she supposedly loves so much and is basically just a long-drawn-out tale about her friendship with Bill; the guy who likes to dig holes, chain-smoke and follow Hope around everywhere.

I did at times feel quite bad for Hope and her anxiety issues but at the end of the day, I read this book out of an interest for plants and biology. I was expecting to hear about the grueling task one would have to undergo if they wanted to own your own labs and study things of their own interest and not apply to work under governmental and political bodies. However, I did not expect the book to be almost completely centered around this subject.

Ultimately, from living in Scandinavia for over a decade I can relate to her sheltered upbringing and related themes but this does not mean that reading through so much of this material is ‘engrossing’ or ‘entertaining’. This and the constant whining and how Hope felt her gender made her a victim in the ‘science realm’ was just too much for me.

Honestly I feel like 2 stars might even be a bit too much on this review. As, if I don’t finish something it’s generally because I don’t think that it was remotely worth my time. I did however, learn some nice facts and the parts which detailed plants were beautifully written and captured the feelings of awe I already have for plants, completely. Unfortunately they are far and few in between and cannot save the overall ‘slog’ of a read this book was for me.

Read the book if you are interested in long bouts of whining, a constant and persistent feminist undertone and a tale of two oddities and their conversations in the labs. Do not read this if you are expecting to hear remotely any detail about what made Dr. Jahren ‘famous’, or if you want to learn a lot of rich information about plant biology or if you are interested on how to break into the environmental and plant-based sciences scene.

I’m off to find something that is more science and less anxious moaning.

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