Archive for the 'Book Club' category

Silent Spring Book Club

We recently read Silent Spring, the classic exposé of the impact of pesticides written by Rachel Carson in 1962. The book details the use of these chemicals, and the severe but overlooked impact on the environment, from widespread destruction of wildlife and domestic animals to the frightening and ubiquitous exposure to humans. Leading up to the March for Science and Earth Day, we thought this was a fitting example of the importance of scientific analysis of public concern, and the value of communicating these ideas and findings with the public.

Silent Spring

What impressed you most about the book?

Megan: What’s not to be impressed about? This book created an irrevocable social awareness of the detrimental effects of careless pesticide use, spawned a coherent fact-based environmentalist movement, and provided the legal and social leverage necessary to create the EPA. David Attenborough said that Silent Spring has probably had the most impact on the scientific world after Origin of Species, and I think he’s right.

Carson did this by creating a concise, clear, and convincing narrative. She doesn’t pander, doesn’t go on self-indulgent tangents, and is neither overly technical nor emotional. Her passion for her country and its natural beauty, however, becomes obvious through the unrelenting accumulation of anecdotal and documented evidence she meticulously catalogues regarding the destruction wreaked upon it by the wanton and widespread use of pesticides. She uses facts instead of rhetorical devices and scare tactics. The amount of gumption, research, persistence, courage, and hard work involved in the production of this book is humbling.

Carson is an inspiration to anyone who aspires to write or communicate about science—and even more so when you remember she was largely excluded from the academic scientific establishment because of her gender.

SweetScience: It is amazing that Carson pulled all this together when, as noted in E.O. Wilson’s afterward, ecology was not a supported science, and conservation biology was not even a thing! It takes a really special mind to be able to synthesize information from seemingly different realms to come to new big ideas; and to be able to then communicate all of the research to capture the hearts and minds of a lay audience is astounding.

What surprised you about the book?

SweetScience: I was shocked at how many times the same mistake was made without any regard for past experiences – states employed programs of mass pesticide use with little reason, destroying life, often in incredibly visible ways, like hundreds of birds and other animals writhing and dying in plain view, and virtually always without success eradicating the intended pest. How could they not have researched this before making the choice?

Megan: I’ve recently heard a lot of people, typically right-wing, crediting Carson for the wholesale ban of DDT. These people also blame her, and the environmentalist movement, for millions of malaria deaths worldwide. So, I was somewhat surprised to read that her position was much more nuanced. She writes: “No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored. The question that has now urgently presented itself is whether it is either wise or responsible to attack the problem by methods that are rapidly making it worse. The world has heard much of the triumphant war against disease through the control of insect vectors of infection, but it has heard little of the other side of the story—the defeats, the short-lived triumphs that now strongly support the alarming view that the insect enemy has been made actually stronger by our efforts. Even worse, we may have destroyed our very means of fighting.“ In other words, blanket spraying of DDT leads to insect resistance to DDT. So, if blanket spraying in high concentrations were not conducted (sometimes for agricultural reasons), DDT may have proved a more effective weapon against insect-borne diseases. This is what Rachel Carson was arguing for: the use of powerful chemicals according to scientific, evidence-based, careful practice– as scalpels rather than anvils, as precision tools to cure a specific ill rather than to kill indiscriminately.

Needless Havoc

What questions did the book raise for you?

SweetScience: Since the book was published in 1962 and focuses on events of the preceding decade, I was constantly wondering how much was still true about regulations, which chemicals are commonly used, and especially whether agencies and people ignore the evidence and warnings in choosing to use mass application of pesticides. And then unfortunately that question was partially answered by the EPA’s recent rejection of scientific evidence of chemical harm. I also want to know about the differences in organic farming, especially what pesticides are allowed and how much they have been tested. I really wish there was a modern response/annotation to the book that outlined how things have changed since then.

Megan: Sooo many questions…. As a society, we’re currently facing down threats to our environment and public health, and we’re being led by a political administration with little regard for science, or even facts. How can we most effectively deal with the threat of Zika, while learning from the lessons of Silent Spring? What will the impact of the repeals of EPA regulations under Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt be? What would Rachel Carson do today? What can we do, as citizens and scientists?

Who would you recommend the book to?

SweetScience: I suggested this to someone who cares a lot about preserving the environment and is really worried about the current state of government control on these issues.

Megan: Scott Pruitt.

Also– environmentalists, feminists, scientists, science writers, US historians, politicians, voters, policy-makers, citizens, farmers, teachers…

But mostly Scott Pruitt. I may even mail him a copy.

The Other Road

Here are a few excerpts that resonated with us.

Megan: “For mankind as a whole, a possession infinitely more valuable than individual life is our genetic heritage, our link with past and future. Shaped through long eons of evolution our genes not only make us who we are but hold in their minute beings the future– be it one of promise or threat”.

I just love her writing style: “[Genes] hold in their minute beings the future”… I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about genetics phrased so eloquently!

SweetScience: “Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good?”

The description of the introduction of natural predators to maintain a forest ecosystem in the chapter “The Other Road” really struck me with its final note that “Much of the work of caring for the ant colonies (and the birds’ nesting boxes as well) is assumed by a youth corps from the local school… The costs are exceedingly low; the benefits amount to permanent protection of the forests.” which is really something to aspire to: community understanding and involvement to maintain precious resources.


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Hidden Figures Book/Movie Club

Feb 14 2017 Published by under Book Club

A number of us recently read and watched Hidden Figures, a book and its film adaptation about a group of female black mathematicians, known as computers, who individually and as a group played a crucial role in early air and space flight. It focuses on Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn. Both the book and movie touch on topics of racism, sexism, and how a combination of smarts, hard work, and confidence can break barriers.

What was the most relatable part of the story for you?

SweetScience: I related to the way many of the people featured in this book more or less stumbled into their careers – yes, based on talent and interest in mathematics, but also because they just needed a job and this was the most appealing one for practical reasons. Especially early in my education and career I felt like I just kept going ahead in a field I enjoy and am good at even when I didn’t know where the path would take me. These brilliant women make you wonder how many people have the abilities to make a major impact if only given the opportunity and exposure to different fields to test their talents.

Curiouser: Although the book only touched on this peripherally, I related to the two body (or more) issue that popped up for many of the women in the book.  It was interesting to see them choose between career and living close to family and how they managed having families and husbands with their own careers.        

peírama: I related to the relationship between work and family that was highlighted in these women’s stories. Some gave up career opportunities to get married and have children, even though they really enjoyed their work. They all ended up getting the opportunity to do work that they loved in addition to having families, a situation I hope can be achieved for all of us.

StrongerThanFiction: These women accomplished so much. I related to the quiet persistence that they had. Sometimes in the type of world we live in today that seems like it is never-ending headline to headline with constant drama. I found it so refreshing to read about people who worked so hard professionally, and made slow but steady steps in social justice issues. They earned respect instead of trying to grab it.

 

What surprised you about the story?

SweetScience: I was constantly surprised by the treatment of women and people of color as ‘less than’, even though I already knew. For example “The black teacher and her colleagues, including the principal, made less money than the school’s white janitor.” Ugh, it just hurts!

Curiouser: Since I had not heard of women computers of any color, that was fascinating to me.  It made me wonder how we went from the mentality that women were able to do the advanced and meticulous math required to be a “computer” to the idea that (hopefully is going away) that girls aren’t good at math.  

peírama: I know that before computers people did math by hand, but it is still amazing to think about the calculations required for space travel being written out with pen and paper.

StrongerThanFiction: I knew that race relations were very bad at the time, but I was very surprised by the persistence into the professional sphere. An analogy can be made relating the work that gets done to currency. The more work, and the better quality work that gets done is like more money. It is crazy to me that supervisors and other higher ups could still be totally degrading and unfair when they saw firsthand the work that these women did.

 

Who would you recommend the book or movie to?

SweetScience: The book was a little hard for me to follow even though the author clearly tried to keep reminding the reader who was who, so I would probably only recommend the book to anyone who really wants to understand the history of this group of women and operations related to race. I imagine I would recommend the movie to everyone though!

Curiouser: I also had a hard time following the book.  I wanted to be fully engaged but because of the range of characters and time, the plot was a little meandering. However, I think the facts and message behind the story are absolutely critical for everyone to know so I would say either give the book a try or at least watch the movie.

peírama: The movie is great for all audiences. It is easy to follow and inspiring. Like the other reviewers said, the book is not so straightforward. I really like the background that the book includes that the movie does not have time for and I highly recommend the book. However, you may enjoy it more if you have a lot of time in a couple of sittings to read it rather than spread out over weeks like I did.

StrongerThanFiction: To parents that want to watch a movie with their kids and discuss it afterwards. To my daughter when she gets old enough.

 

Here are a few quotes that resonated with us.

 

While the importance of mentors and women helping one another is stressed throughout the stories of Hidden Figures, the primary theme was about women who forged their own paths, and earned their positions and respect in a meritocracy.

“There’s something about this story that seems to resonate with people of all races, ethnicities, genders, ages, and backgrounds. It’s a story of hope, that even among some of our country’s harshest realities – legalized segregation, racial discrimination – there is evidence of the triumph of meritocracy, that each of us should be allowed to rise as far as our talent and hard work can take us.”

“A new future stretched out before them, but Dorothy Vaughan and the others found themselves at the beginning of a career, with few role models to follow to its end. Just as they had learned the techniques of aeronautical research on the job, the ambitious among them would have to figure out for themselves what it would take to advance as a woman in a profession that was built by men.”

“Each one had cracked the hole in the wall a little wider, allowing the next talent to come through. And now that Mary had walked through, she was going to open the wall as wide as possible for the people coming behind her.”

 

The women coped with bias on several levels in a variety of ways:

“Bemused, Katherine considered the engineer’s sudden departure. The moment that passed between them could have been because she was black and he was white. But then again, it could have been because she was a woman and he was a man. Or maybe the moment was an interaction between a professional and a subprofessional, an engineer and a girl.”

“Against ignorance, she and others like her mounted a day-in, day-out charm offensive: impeccably dressed, well-spoken, patriotic, and upright, they were racial synecdoches, keenly aware that the interactions that individual blacks had with whites could have implications for the entire black community.”

 

This quote is really important for everyone to consider regarding how invisible fences and glass ceilings can cause biases about limits to be internalized – think about it for any marginalized group, and think about it for yourself.

“The electrified fence of segregation and the centuries of shocks it delivered so effectively circumscribed the lives of American blacks that even after the current was turned off, the idea of climbing over the fence inspired dread. Like the editorial meetings in 1244, like so many competitive situations large and small, national and local, black people frequently disqualified themselves even without the WHITES ONLY sign in view.”

 

One impression that stuck out was that these women had different expectations for themselves. They worked harder than anyone else, and (it seems) made more sacrifices than anyone else just to coexist. While they noticed this, they persisted. I think that they noticed that while they could certainly have an influence on social dynamics, there were still many things out of their control. And they chose to work hard instead of give up.

“Mary didn’t have the power to remove the limits that society imposed on her girls, but it was her duty, she felt, to help pry off the restrictions they might place on themselves. Their dark skin, their gender, their economic status – none of those were acceptable excuses for not giving the fullest rein to their imaginations and ambitions. You can do better – we can do better, she told them with every word and every deed. For Mary Jackson, life was a long process of raising one’s expectations.”
Have you read Hidden Figures or seen the movie? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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Hidden Figures Book/Movie Club

Feb 14 2017 Published by under Book Club

A number of us recently read and watched Hidden Figures, a book and its film adaptation about a group of female black mathematicians, known as computers, who individually and as a group played a crucial role in early air and space flight. It focuses on Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn. Both the book and movie touch on topics of racism, sexism, and how a combination of smarts, hard work, and confidence can break barriers.

What was the most relatable part of the story for you?

SweetScience: I related to the way many of the people featured in this book more or less stumbled into their careers – yes, based on talent and interest in mathematics, but also because they just needed a job and this was the most appealing one for practical reasons. Especially early in my education and career I felt like I just kept going ahead in a field I enjoy and am good at even when I didn’t know where the path would take me. These brilliant women make you wonder how many people have the abilities to make a major impact if only given the opportunity and exposure to different fields to test their talents.

Curiouser: Although the book only touched on this peripherally, I related to the two body (or more) issue that popped up for many of the women in the book.  It was interesting to see them choose between career and living close to family and how they managed having families and husbands with their own careers.        

peírama: I related to the relationship between work and family that was highlighted in these women’s stories. Some gave up career opportunities to get married and have children, even though they really enjoyed their work. They all ended up getting the opportunity to do work that they loved in addition to having families, a situation I hope can be achieved for all of us.

StrongerThanFiction: These women accomplished so much. I related to the quiet persistence that they had. Sometimes in the type of world we live in today that seems like it is never-ending headline to headline with constant drama. I found it so refreshing to read about people who worked so hard professionally, and made slow but steady steps in social justice issues. They earned respect instead of trying to grab it.

 

What surprised you about the story?

SweetScience: I was constantly surprised by the treatment of women and people of color as ‘less than’, even though I already knew. For example “The black teacher and her colleagues, including the principal, made less money than the school’s white janitor.” Ugh, it just hurts!

Curiouser: Since I had not heard of women computers of any color, that was fascinating to me.  It made me wonder how we went from the mentality that women were able to do the advanced and meticulous math required to be a “computer” to the idea that (hopefully is going away) that girls aren’t good at math.  

peírama: I know that before computers people did math by hand, but it is still amazing to think about the calculations required for space travel being written out with pen and paper.

StrongerThanFiction: I knew that race relations were very bad at the time, but I was very surprised by the persistence into the professional sphere. An analogy can be made relating the work that gets done to currency. The more work, and the better quality work that gets done is like more money. It is crazy to me that supervisors and other higher ups could still be totally degrading and unfair when they saw firsthand the work that these women did.

 

Who would you recommend the book or movie to?

SweetScience: The book was a little hard for me to follow even though the author clearly tried to keep reminding the reader who was who, so I would probably only recommend the book to anyone who really wants to understand the history of this group of women and operations related to race. I imagine I would recommend the movie to everyone though!

Curiouser: I also had a hard time following the book.  I wanted to be fully engaged but because of the range of characters and time, the plot was a little meandering. However, I think the facts and message behind the story are absolutely critical for everyone to know so I would say either give the book a try or at least watch the movie.

peírama: The movie is great for all audiences. It is easy to follow and inspiring. Like the other reviewers said, the book is not so straightforward. I really like the background that the book includes that the movie does not have time for and I highly recommend the book. However, you may enjoy it more if you have a lot of time in a couple of sittings to read it rather than spread out over weeks like I did.

StrongerThanFiction: To parents that want to watch a movie with their kids and discuss it afterwards. To my daughter when she gets old enough.

 

Here are a few quotes that resonated with us.

 

While the importance of mentors and women helping one another is stressed throughout the stories of Hidden Figures, the primary theme was about women who forged their own paths, and earned their positions and respect in a meritocracy.

“There’s something about this story that seems to resonate with people of all races, ethnicities, genders, ages, and backgrounds. It’s a story of hope, that even among some of our country’s harshest realities – legalized segregation, racial discrimination – there is evidence of the triumph of meritocracy, that each of us should be allowed to rise as far as our talent and hard work can take us.”

“A new future stretched out before them, but Dorothy Vaughan and the others found themselves at the beginning of a career, with few role models to follow to its end. Just as they had learned the techniques of aeronautical research on the job, the ambitious among them would have to figure out for themselves what it would take to advance as a woman in a profession that was built by men.”

“Each one had cracked the hole in the wall a little wider, allowing the next talent to come through. And now that Mary had walked through, she was going to open the wall as wide as possible for the people coming behind her.”

 

The women coped with bias on several levels in a variety of ways:

“Bemused, Katherine considered the engineer’s sudden departure. The moment that passed between them could have been because she was black and he was white. But then again, it could have been because she was a woman and he was a man. Or maybe the moment was an interaction between a professional and a subprofessional, an engineer and a girl.”

“Against ignorance, she and others like her mounted a day-in, day-out charm offensive: impeccably dressed, well-spoken, patriotic, and upright, they were racial synecdoches, keenly aware that the interactions that individual blacks had with whites could have implications for the entire black community.”

 

This quote is really important for everyone to consider regarding how invisible fences and glass ceilings can cause biases about limits to be internalized – think about it for any marginalized group, and think about it for yourself.

“The electrified fence of segregation and the centuries of shocks it delivered so effectively circumscribed the lives of American blacks that even after the current was turned off, the idea of climbing over the fence inspired dread. Like the editorial meetings in 1244, like so many competitive situations large and small, national and local, black people frequently disqualified themselves even without the WHITES ONLY sign in view.”

 

One impression that stuck out was that these women had different expectations for themselves. They worked harder than anyone else, and (it seems) made more sacrifices than anyone else just to coexist. While they noticed this, they persisted. I think that they noticed that while they could certainly have an influence on social dynamics, there were still many things out of their control. And they chose to work hard instead of give up.

“Mary didn’t have the power to remove the limits that society imposed on her girls, but it was her duty, she felt, to help pry off the restrictions they might place on themselves. Their dark skin, their gender, their economic status – none of those were acceptable excuses for not giving the fullest rein to their imaginations and ambitions. You can do better – we can do better, she told them with every word and every deed. For Mary Jackson, life was a long process of raising one’s expectations.”
Have you read Hidden Figures or seen the movie? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


One response so far

Book Club – Lab Girl

We recently read Lab Girl, the nationally bestselling memoir by Hope Jahren, PhD. Dr. Jahren is a Professor at the University of Hawai’i Manoa where she runs a Geobiology Laboratory. She also blogs about interactions between women and men in academia at https://hopejahrensurecanwrite.com. The book is mostly about her life and career path, but it also weaves in interesting vignettes about plant life that appear as metaphors related to aspects of her experiences.

Lab Girl image

What was the most relatable part of the story for you?

fishprint: I read this book, in part, to find a relatable female scientist. I probably wouldn’t have admitted this at the time, but I like her writing, I love her Twitter presence, and I really wanted to relate to her. So, I spent the first half of the book hating it. Until finally I recognized I’d brought all these expectations to the book. Then I could let all that go and read it.  Do not read this book if you want a relatable female scientist role model to compare yourself to. Read this book for a well written, complicated personal story. You may relate more to the grad student who quits, “sneering on her way out that she didn’t want a life like mine”, but that’s OK. No one, probably not even that student, was really being asked to have a life like Jahren’s. But the proximity of the book (and worse if you work for her, I imagine) makes you compare and question.

peírama: One thing the book relies on and yet only briefly touches on directly is how Jahren’s relationship with Bill is important to her success in science. There are the straightforward ways, that he works for almost nothing yet works harder than most employees would and that he is a consistent presence in her lab from before she even starts her lab throughout her career (a trait which can make someone invaluable if they are competent, which Bill seems more than). Then there is the personal aspect of it. As Jahren readily admits, doing science is hard. There are setbacks from the natural world and from the world of people. Having someone interested in the same things as you, thinking about the same questions as you, who you get along with, who is there to support you when things get tough, makes things so much easier. I think the way our scientific society is set up to put people out on their own without a built in network and constantly ripping scientists away from people they know is counterproductive. Jahren lucked into a situation that should be more common in science – scientists with common interests working closely together, supporting each other, and working toward the same scientific goals.

Curiouser&Curiouser: Unlike fishprint, I had not heard of Dr. Jahren before reading this book, but I think I initially expected to find a role model in Lab Girl.  I did not.  I found very few specifics in her story relatable, but these 3 themes resonated with me.  

  1. In science you do not act alone.  I felt like the second half of the story was basically a platonic love letter to her best friend/lab manager.  While at times I felt awkward when it seemed to me that she was writing for/to Bill, (even though he said he would never read the book) I appreciated the sentiment that led her to want to say thank you and make sure credit is appropriately shared.   
  2. Being a scientist is hard work. ‘Nuf said
  3. Your personal struggles impact your career both positively and negatively.  It’s not always possible to check your personal baggage at the door.  

SweetScience: Dr. Jahren has clearly worked hard throughout her education and career, but it seemed like many major elements (i.e. certain jobs, her work partner Bill) just fell into place for her. This is not to say that she didn’t earn and work to keep those things, but I can relate to feeling like some things just come to you, even while things you try so hard for remain elusive.

 

Here are a few quotes that resonated with us. (Pages refer to original hard-cover edition)

  • “…my true potential had more to do with my willingness to struggle than with my past and present circumstances.” P. 18
  • “As much as I have loved being a scientist, I am ready to admit that I am tired of all the hard things that should be easy by now.” P. 25 (stated in the context of funding, but widely applicable)
    • C&C: This was one of my favorite quotes from the book.  I feel discouraged at least weekly by how much of a struggle it can, and will continue to be.  
  • “…there are only two kinds of people in the world: the sick and the not sick. If you are not sick, shut up and help.” P. 44
  • “On some deep level, the realization that I could do good science was accompanied by the knowledge that I had formally and terminally missed my chance to become like any of the women that I had ever known.” P 71
  • “…because I am a female scientist, nobody knows what the hell I am, and it has given me the delicious freedom to make it up as I go along.” P 277
    • SS: I can’t directly relate to this because I feel that female scientists are common in my field/generation, but I do think it’s interesting and important to understand that someone has felt this way in very recent history. Further, I can relate to the idea of ‘making it up as I go along’ as it feels like everyone is struggling through the decisions that need to be made early in one’s career in a way that is probably different than previous decades, given the overabundance of PhDs, lower relative number of traditional academic research jobs, and wide array of other science-related careers open to us. There’s no clear path, and no history of scientists having to navigate these conditions.

 

What surprised you about the book?

SS: I was surprised that there was virtually nothing relating to the interactions between women and men in academia that are the focus of Dr. Jahren’s blog, and a talk I saw her give to a Women In Science group. Given that she’s had plenty of experiences relevant for the subject and is clearly passionate about the topic and changing the state of academia’s treatment of women, I wonder why she didn’t draw attention to those issues in this book. Maybe it will be the focus of book number two?

f: She still doesn’t sleep. She still goes to the lab every night.

P: I was also surprised about how she talked about working all night like it was normal and how her family seems like afterthought.

C&C: I didn’t pick up on her struggle with mental health issues early on in the book, and so I found her description of her interactions and environment unnerving and often depressing.  Once she made it clear that there was more going on than a selectively empathetic, extremely driven person I was able to let go of the idea that an “ideal scientist” should follow her model, and I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the second half of the book.  

I also was shocked by Bill’s living conditions until they get to hawaii, what a loyal friend to stick it through!

 

Are there any messages in the book you disagree with for yourself or as a role model for young scientists?

SS: I don’t love the propagation of ‘the absent-minded professor’ stereotype, particularly the scientist who is so passionate and caught up in their work that they are up all night excited about a potential discovery at the expense of their personal lives; it is possible and indeed common for a career in research to be ‘just a job’ and that’s something I feel is a valuable message for young scientists.

f: Many of the pronouncements in this book are things that have worked for Jahren, and are not broadly true (or good) for other people. She is in lab all day and then hits the lab again every night starting around 10:30pm. I doubt she sleeps more than a few hours a night. And that’s OK for her, it makes her happy, and it works for her team (Bill). But seen as a message, it is a damaging one. My first PI bragged about sleeping 3 hours a night. In fact, every boss I’ve ever had has tedious glory days stories about being in the lab all night. They are not all successful, but they all want to cast themselves as passionate, committed night owls. Why? Is that really when they do their best work? That’s when I start breaking things and deleting files. Not sleeping and not caring for your health can look like a thing that interesting and successful people do, but it’s not going to work for everyone. In defense of Jahren, she’s just telling her story. It’s messy, it’s literally manic, and her life would only work for her.

Oh, and that part about trying to weed out the students who value their time. Sigh.

P: She paints a picture of a world where a certain type of man is what the world sees as a scientist, and thus she and her best friend/lab tech who is a man but doesn’t fit that description are science outsiders who have to work twice as hard as everyone else to gain scientific acceptance.

I do not argue with that, as that is clearly true. However, she paints an alternate picture of a stereotypical scientist. The scientist that can’t stop until they’ve answered all the questions. The scientist who works until their knuckles bleed and needs no other sustenance but a good question. I think a lot of people, including myself and my fellow bloggers, love science and consider ourselves scientists but also do not fit that stereotype of a scientist.

One sentence that caught my eye in the very first chapter was “I glanced at the clock and noted that my son had gone to bed several hours ago.” She makes clear that her priority is science over everything else. That is not how I want to live my life. Yes, my husband is perfectly capable of putting my children to bed and does on many occasions, but I like to put my children to bed. My children and my husband bring me joy and I knew a life with a husband and children was something I wanted as surely as I knew I loved science. Hope Jahren has written a memoir, so perhaps it is unfair to criticize what is only her own story. Her way is one way to be a scientist. Perhaps the problem is not that she has told her story without any acknowledgment of other alternative ways to be a scientist but that there are not more stories that make it to the mainstream of those other alternative ways to be a scientist.

C&C: From the description in the book I don’t think Jahren can be considered a viable role model for most young scientists.  She has a unique set of challenges and gifts (she has found the most loyal employee ever and neither of the seem to need to sleep?!) that make her career and life choices reasonable to her, but I can not see them leading to happiness or scientific success for most people.  

 

Who would you recommend this book to?

SS: I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about what it means to be an academic scientist, or who likes different memoirs.

f: People who enjoy memoirs and science. I would not pitch it as an “inspirational female scientist”.

P: On the whole, I enjoyed this book as a book. That is to say, I enjoyed reading it when not thinking critically about what message it was sending and whether I agreed with that. I think it tells a compelling story of a woman finding her way in the world. It flows well and drew me in.

I also think this book is good for anyone interested in the natural world. I learned a lot about seeds and trees.

C&C: I think people who feel marginalized and/or struggle with mental health issues may enjoy the book.

 

All in all, most of us enjoyed reading most of the book, and we’d love to hear what you think too – tell us in the comments!


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