Lab Girl

Hope Jahren|  Non-Fiction


  • Wood is still our best material for building.  Nothing human-made is as strong, flexible and lightweight.
  • Leaves mature from tip to base.
  • Plants are the only things in the universe that create sugar from non-living organic matter.
  • Trees have conduits that move soil water up and other conduits that move sugar water down.
  • When plants freeze, they die.  Do you know how trees keep themselves from freezing?
  • If you consider a modest maple tree, about the height of a street lamp, and pull off every leaf in the summer, you'll have about 35 pounds of leaves, every ounce of which has been created from air and soil, using the sun as energy, and absorbing and evaporating 3000 gallons of water in just a few short spring months.  In these 35 pounds, you have enough sugar to make 3 pecan pies and enough cellulose to manufacture 300 sheets of printer paper.
  • Trees talk to each other to ward off disease.

If these factoids fascinate you, you will love Lab Girl.  Yes, it is officially Hope Jahren's autobiography, but fully 80% of her book is about her passion for plants, especially trees, and only the basic structure of her life is presented in typical autobiographic cadence.  And Jahren was trained as a writer before she became an geochemist, geobologist, and a professor.  Her profound ability to write makes this book a page turner.

Someone in my hiking group, Sole Sisters, (Leslie, I think)  recommended this book when I was running on about enjoying The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (see my blog review at  To spark your memory, Gilbert's main character is the moss woman.  

Lab Girl is a very interesting book if you have any affinity for the out of doors.  I recommend it.  Spring is the perfect time of the year to read this book!


8 responses on “Lab Girl

  1. Denise

    Can’t wait to read it! Putting it next on my book list as it sounds like my cup of sugar water. Thanks for your review, Andrea.

  2. Charlene

    This is not the kind of book I usually like, but it sounds intriguing. It is added to my very long books to read list.

  3. Mary C Crawford

    Just ordered it. Along with Hawk and Hidden Figures. Have some interesting reading ahead of me!

  4. Mary Cary Crawford

    Loved this book! I would quibble with you about 80% of the book being about trees. Closer to 50% in my reading. I enjoyed the alternating chapters – one on trees/plants/earth/seeds followed by a memoir chapter (some of this about her research on trees/plants/earth/seeds). She is a wonderful writer. Demystifying science while making it all a beautiful mystery. Having worked in academia (in support services/administration vs. teaching/research), I appreciate her experiences of sexism and age-ism that is part of that world. Her experiences with her research partner Bill, bipolar disorder, falling in love, becoming a mother, all made for a great memoir. One omission I wondered about was much discussion of her family – parents and siblings. When she went off to college, it seemed this part of her life faded away. I would have liked more but then it is HER memoir.