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Lab Girl

A Memoir

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Best Seller
National Bestseller

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography

New York Times Notable Book
 
Winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Science Books & Film Prize for Excellence in Science Books 

One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, TIME.com, NPR, Slate,Entertainment WeeklyNewsdayMinneapolis Star Tribune, Kirkus Reviews

Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment. Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together. 

“Engrossing. . . . Thrilling. . . . Does for botany what Oliver Sacks’s essays did for neurology, what Stephen Jay Gould’s writings did for paleontology.” —The New York Times

Lab Girl 
by Hope Jahren is a beautifully written memoir about the life of a woman in science, a brilliant friendship, and the profundity of trees. Terrific.” —Barack Obama

“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.” —Cheryl Strayed

“Brilliant. . . . Extraordinary. . . . Delightfully, wickedly funny. . . . Powerful and disarming.” —The Washington Post
 
“Clear, compelling and uncompromisingly honest . . . Hope Jahren is the voice that science has been waiting for.” —Nature

"Spirited. . . . Stunning. . . . Moving.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A powerful new memoir . . . Jahren is a remarkable scientist who turns out to be a remarkable writer as well. . . .  Think Stephen Jay Gould or Oliver Sacks. But Hope Jahren is a woman in science, who speaks plainly to just how rugged that can be. And to the incredible machinery of life around us.” —On Point/NPR 

“Lyrical . . .  illuminating . . . Offers a lively glimpse into a scientifically inclined mind.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Some people are great writers, while other people live lives of adventure and importance. Almost no one does both. Hope Jahren does both. She makes me wish I’d been a scientist.” —Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder 

Lab Girl surprised, delighted, and moved me. I was drawn in from the start by the clarity and beauty of Jahren’s prose. . . . With Lab Girl, Jahren joins those talented scientists who are able to reveal to us the miracle of this world in which we live.” —Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

“Revelatory. . . . A veritable jungle of ideas and sensations.” —Slate

“Warm, witty . . . Fascinating. . . . Jahren’s singular gift is her ability to convey the everyday wonder of her work: exploring the strange, beautiful universe of living things that endure and evolve and bloom all around us, if we bother to look.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Magnificent. . . . [A] gorgeous book of life. . . . Jahren contains multitudes. Her book is love as life. Trees as truth.” —Chicago Tribune

“Mesmerizing. . . . Deft and flecked with humor . . . a scientist’s memoir of a quirky, gritty, fascinating life. . . . Like Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir or Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, it delivers the zing of a beautiful mind in nature.”  —Seattle Times

“Jahren's memoir [is] the beginning of a career along the lines of Annie Dillard or Diane Ackerman.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A scientific memoir that's beautifully human.” —Popular Science

“Breathtakingly honest. . . . Gorgeous. . . . At its core, Lab Girl is a book about seeing—with the eyes, but also the hands and the heart.” —American Scientist
© Erica Morrow
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 View titles by Hope Jahren
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.
  • WINNER | 2016
    American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS)'s Science Books & Films Best List
  • WINNER | 2016
    National Book Critics Circle Awards
  • FINALIST | 2017
    PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography A New York Times Notable Book Winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Science Books & Film Prize for Excellence in Science Books Finalist for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, TIME.com, NPR, Slate, Entertainment Weekly, Newsday, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Kirkus Reviews

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a beautifully written memoir about the life of a woman in science, a brilliant friendship, and the profundity of trees. Terrific.” —President Barack Obama

“Engrossing. . . . Thrilling. . . . Does for botany what Oliver Sacks’s essays did for neurology, what Stephen Jay Gould’s writings did for paleontology.” —The New York Times

“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.” —Cheryl Strayed

“Brilliant. . . . Extraordinary. . . . Delightfully, wickedly funny. . . . Powerful and disarming.” —The Washington Post
 
“Clear, compelling and uncompromisingly honest . . . Hope Jahren is the voice that science has been waiting for.” —Nature

"Spirited. . . . Stunning. . . . Moving.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A powerful new memoir . . . Jahren is a remarkable scientist who turns out to be a remarkable writer as well. . . .  Think Stephen Jay Gould or Oliver Sacks. But Hope Jahren is a woman in science, who speaks plainly to just how rugged that can be. And to the incredible machinery of life around us.” —On Point/NPR

“Lyrical . . .  illuminating . . . Offers a lively glimpse into a scientifically inclined mind.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Some people are great writers, while other people live lives of adventure and importance. Almost no one does both. Hope Jahren does both. She makes me wish I’d been a scientist.” —Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder 

Lab Girl surprised, delighted, and moved me. I was drawn in from the start by the clarity and beauty of Jahren’s prose. . . . With Lab Girl, Jahren joins those talented scientists who are able to reveal to us the miracle of this world in which we live.” —Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

“Revelatory. . . . A veritable jungle of ideas and sensations.” —Slate

“Warm, witty . . . Fascinating. . . . Jahren’s singular gift is her ability to convey the everyday wonder of her work: exploring the strange, beautiful universe of living things that endure and evolve and bloom all around us, if we bother to look.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Deeply affecting. . . . A totally original work, both fierce and uplifting. . . . A belletrist in the mold of Oliver Sacks, she is terrific at showing just how science is done. . . . She’s an acute observer, prickly, and funny as hell.” —Elle

“Magnificent. . . . [A] gorgeous book of life. . . . Jahren contains multitudes. Her book is love as life. Trees as truth.” —Chicago Tribune

“Mesmerizing. . . . Deft and flecked with humor . . . a scientist’s memoir of a quirky, gritty, fascinating life. . . . Like Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir or Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, it delivers the zing of a beautiful mind in nature.”  —Seattle Times

“Jahren's memoir [is] the beginning of a career along the lines of Annie Dillard or Diane Ackerman.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A scientific memoir that's beautifully human.” —Popular Science

“Breathtakingly honest. . . . Gorgeous. . . . At its core, Lab Girl is a book about seeing—with the eyes, but also the hands and the heart.” —American Scientist

About

National Bestseller

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography

New York Times Notable Book
 
Winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Science Books & Film Prize for Excellence in Science Books 

One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, TIME.com, NPR, Slate,Entertainment WeeklyNewsdayMinneapolis Star Tribune, Kirkus Reviews

Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment. Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together. 

“Engrossing. . . . Thrilling. . . . Does for botany what Oliver Sacks’s essays did for neurology, what Stephen Jay Gould’s writings did for paleontology.” —The New York Times

Lab Girl 
by Hope Jahren is a beautifully written memoir about the life of a woman in science, a brilliant friendship, and the profundity of trees. Terrific.” —Barack Obama

“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.” —Cheryl Strayed

“Brilliant. . . . Extraordinary. . . . Delightfully, wickedly funny. . . . Powerful and disarming.” —The Washington Post
 
“Clear, compelling and uncompromisingly honest . . . Hope Jahren is the voice that science has been waiting for.” —Nature

"Spirited. . . . Stunning. . . . Moving.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A powerful new memoir . . . Jahren is a remarkable scientist who turns out to be a remarkable writer as well. . . .  Think Stephen Jay Gould or Oliver Sacks. But Hope Jahren is a woman in science, who speaks plainly to just how rugged that can be. And to the incredible machinery of life around us.” —On Point/NPR 

“Lyrical . . .  illuminating . . . Offers a lively glimpse into a scientifically inclined mind.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Some people are great writers, while other people live lives of adventure and importance. Almost no one does both. Hope Jahren does both. She makes me wish I’d been a scientist.” —Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder 

Lab Girl surprised, delighted, and moved me. I was drawn in from the start by the clarity and beauty of Jahren’s prose. . . . With Lab Girl, Jahren joins those talented scientists who are able to reveal to us the miracle of this world in which we live.” —Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

“Revelatory. . . . A veritable jungle of ideas and sensations.” —Slate

“Warm, witty . . . Fascinating. . . . Jahren’s singular gift is her ability to convey the everyday wonder of her work: exploring the strange, beautiful universe of living things that endure and evolve and bloom all around us, if we bother to look.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Magnificent. . . . [A] gorgeous book of life. . . . Jahren contains multitudes. Her book is love as life. Trees as truth.” —Chicago Tribune

“Mesmerizing. . . . Deft and flecked with humor . . . a scientist’s memoir of a quirky, gritty, fascinating life. . . . Like Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir or Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, it delivers the zing of a beautiful mind in nature.”  —Seattle Times

“Jahren's memoir [is] the beginning of a career along the lines of Annie Dillard or Diane Ackerman.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A scientific memoir that's beautifully human.” —Popular Science

“Breathtakingly honest. . . . Gorgeous. . . . At its core, Lab Girl is a book about seeing—with the eyes, but also the hands and the heart.” —American Scientist

Author

© Erica Morrow
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 View titles by Hope Jahren

Excerpt

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.

Awards

  • WINNER | 2016
    American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS)'s Science Books & Films Best List
  • WINNER | 2016
    National Book Critics Circle Awards
  • FINALIST | 2017
    PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

Praise

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography A New York Times Notable Book Winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Science Books & Film Prize for Excellence in Science Books Finalist for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, TIME.com, NPR, Slate, Entertainment Weekly, Newsday, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Kirkus Reviews

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a beautifully written memoir about the life of a woman in science, a brilliant friendship, and the profundity of trees. Terrific.” —President Barack Obama

“Engrossing. . . . Thrilling. . . . Does for botany what Oliver Sacks’s essays did for neurology, what Stephen Jay Gould’s writings did for paleontology.” —The New York Times

“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.” —Cheryl Strayed

“Brilliant. . . . Extraordinary. . . . Delightfully, wickedly funny. . . . Powerful and disarming.” —The Washington Post
 
“Clear, compelling and uncompromisingly honest . . . Hope Jahren is the voice that science has been waiting for.” —Nature

"Spirited. . . . Stunning. . . . Moving.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A powerful new memoir . . . Jahren is a remarkable scientist who turns out to be a remarkable writer as well. . . .  Think Stephen Jay Gould or Oliver Sacks. But Hope Jahren is a woman in science, who speaks plainly to just how rugged that can be. And to the incredible machinery of life around us.” —On Point/NPR

“Lyrical . . .  illuminating . . . Offers a lively glimpse into a scientifically inclined mind.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Some people are great writers, while other people live lives of adventure and importance. Almost no one does both. Hope Jahren does both. She makes me wish I’d been a scientist.” —Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder 

Lab Girl surprised, delighted, and moved me. I was drawn in from the start by the clarity and beauty of Jahren’s prose. . . . With Lab Girl, Jahren joins those talented scientists who are able to reveal to us the miracle of this world in which we live.” —Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

“Revelatory. . . . A veritable jungle of ideas and sensations.” —Slate

“Warm, witty . . . Fascinating. . . . Jahren’s singular gift is her ability to convey the everyday wonder of her work: exploring the strange, beautiful universe of living things that endure and evolve and bloom all around us, if we bother to look.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Deeply affecting. . . . A totally original work, both fierce and uplifting. . . . A belletrist in the mold of Oliver Sacks, she is terrific at showing just how science is done. . . . She’s an acute observer, prickly, and funny as hell.” —Elle

“Magnificent. . . . [A] gorgeous book of life. . . . Jahren contains multitudes. Her book is love as life. Trees as truth.” —Chicago Tribune

“Mesmerizing. . . . Deft and flecked with humor . . . a scientist’s memoir of a quirky, gritty, fascinating life. . . . Like Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir or Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, it delivers the zing of a beautiful mind in nature.”  —Seattle Times

“Jahren's memoir [is] the beginning of a career along the lines of Annie Dillard or Diane Ackerman.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A scientific memoir that's beautifully human.” —Popular Science

“Breathtakingly honest. . . . Gorgeous. . . . At its core, Lab Girl is a book about seeing—with the eyes, but also the hands and the heart.” —American Scientist

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