Hope Jahren, a geobiologist and geochemist, wants to speak to you. For decades, she says, she’s been speaking to the same people, her scientific peers, and now it’s time for a change. “I wanted to write this book”—her memoir, Lab Girl, published today—“in order to talk to somebody new,” she told Nautilus recently. Her subject? The marvels of our distant, distant cousins in the plant kingdom; what we can learn from their immobile lives; and the emotional vicissitudes of scientific life.
In this endeavor Jahren fulfills, according to the New York Times, Vladimir Nabokov’s literary edict of displaying “the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.” Precision was very much on her mind: Jahren says every sentence and word in her book was constructed “with scientific accuracy.” The result, according to the Times, is “a book that, at its best, does for botany what Oliver Sacks’ essays did for neurology, what Stephen Jay Gould’s writings did for paleontology.” That’s sterling company for a debut book in popular science.
In this excerpt of her conversation with Nautilus, Jahren speaks specifically and with candor about the language she used—and didn’t use—in Lab Girl. Watch that, and then listen to her read Lab Girls’ first chapter in this exclusive audiobook excerpt, courtesy Penguin Random House. (If you like, you can read along with her, too—and then listen to her whole interview with Nautilus).
Brian Gallagher is an assistant editor at Nautilus. Follow him on Twitter @brianscottg.