I didn’t think I’d be all that interested in this book but once I started it I was fascinated – at least in parts. It’s not the science of The Hidden Life of Trees (Peter Wohlleben – 2016), but it’s similar in some ways – Jahren and Wohlleben are in the same general field of forest/botony, but the books are much different – Jahren’s is definitely a memoir, Wohllenben’s is more of a layman’s science book.
by Hope Jahren
2016 / 279 pages (Kindle)
rating 8.5 / memoir – science
The book describes Jahren’s childhood in a small town in Minnesota and young womanhood as she is set on becoming a scientist like her father and discovers she has a real talent. She is top of her class, graduates with honors and allowed to set up her own labs at universities in three different places in the country. Along with her on her journey to success comes the intrepid and extremely loyal lab assistant and long term friend, Bill. These two are a very fun pair to read about, hard-working, determined and very funny. To me it felt like their adventures constitute the main story of the book.
Jahren is generally hurting for funds and treated less than professionally by her male peers. These aspects of being a woman scientist are emphasized. Nevertheless, she loves her work and with indefatigable energy and good spirits she, with the always reliable Bill, manages what she has and what she finds and wins.
Part 2, Chapter 4- On Axel Heiberg Island she and Bill, along with other scientists, look at the fossils of ancient forests and Bill dances – beautiful chapter.
The literary elements are superb – structurally the science parts are chronologically ordered with the seeds and roots taking early positions and juxtaposed with the early life of Jahren. And so it goes through middle age and illness and producing seeds. Even the narrative has a few things to say about the comparison – snow is on the ground for 9 months in Minnesota? – Not quite – but something is gestating. And the young Jahren memorized parts of Dickens and wove those ideas and quotes into her memoir.
Overall it’s a good book – very nicely put together and written.