Laboratory Notebook (1) Paperback – May 12, 2018
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Though this is a quick, entertaining read in general, some readers may find the descriptions of lipoproteins and hydrophobic interactions tough sledding. Fortunately, these are brief passages that don’t seriously interrupt the narratives, and they provide verisimilitude to what might otherwise seem like an outsider’s view of what happens in science labs.
I spent my career working as a legal aid lawyer and later in private practice doing family law. As I struggled to rescue my clients from their messes I often found myself frustrated and frazzled. I envied my friends in academia. How gratifying that life would be! And those who spent their days in the laboratory, looking into microscopes—why, they seemed even luckier. How could anything be more stimulating, so purely intellectual?
J.A.V. Simson explodes those myths. This splendid collection of short stories, “Laboratory Notebook,” takes us inside the lab, inside the institutions which house them, and into the complicated and often very messy lives of those who work there. Just as a microscope allows us to see what otherwise would be invisible to us, Simson’s ability to observe and understand her fellow human beings is a revelation.
But scientific ideas and practices are not incidental to the story. Nor is Laboratory Notebook just a science exposé. With great empathy, it tells us much about the quotidian life of biology researchers and their assistants, from the mind-numbing tasks of growing tissue cultures to occasional moments of discovery. There are interesting scientific lessons to be had here, even for the uninitiated. The author has a rare talent for weaving in scientific terms and ideas, without mystifying or talking down. I came away from reading Laboratory Notebook knowing a lot more about cell biology, a field that is transforming science and medicine, than I did going in. I also learned about the perils of love in the hot-house atmosphere of one of today’s most competitive scientific specialties.
[Reviewed by Arthur Molella]