Top critical review
Mostly A Self-Absorbed Memoir
Reviewed in the United States on June 15, 2018
I started and could not finish this book 2 years ago, so yesterday I decided to read it. As in 2016, I enjoyed the science-related chapters and asides/sections discussing any science. The memoir chapters dragged, reminding me of rambling, daily journal excerpts. If this book were fiction, I’d have said the protagonist is an unreliable narrator, who’s not a very relatable person.
Dr. Jahren spends almost all day at the lab; I estimate >100 hours/week. She expects the same of her grad students, who don’t come close to meeting any of her expectations. Except for Bill—her favorite grad student and later her lab partner—I can’t recall her teaching, mentoring, or even caring about students. Worse, she HAZES them!
When Jahren gets a new student, she makes them use a pen and label HUNDREDS of empty vials with “long and complicated alphanumeric code, rich with Greek letters and nonsequential numbers . . .” After the newbie has toiled away most of a day, Jahren comes up with a staged excuse and proceeds to throw ALL the vials into a trash can . . . while the newbie watches. Jahren then says it’s a bad omen if she sees that the newbie regarded his/her time as having value. She adds: “As a corollary, any recognition of futility was perhaps worse.”
Dr. Jahren may be an outstanding scientist, but I believe I would’ve hated being one of her grad students.
2 stars because this time, I was able to make it to the end.