Lessons in Chemistry (2022)

by Bonnie Garmus

Elizabeth Zott wants a PhD in chemistry and a research career. But being smart and determined isn’t enough if you’re female in the 1950s–early 1960s. Elizabeth endures faces endless misogyny from sexual assault to the theft of her research to incessant, everyday sexism. Even the universe seems to conspire against her when her soulmate, the brilliant orphan Calvin Evans, is in a tragic accident.

Fired from the research laboratory because of an unwed pregnancy, Elizabeth takes a job as host of a cooking show on afternoon television. Defying management, she explains the chemical composition of the ingredients in her recipes and supplements the lessons in chemistry with appeals to women to stand up for themselves. Women are delighted to be spoken to as intelligent human beings, and the show becomes a nationwide hit. Elizabeth wants to return to her true calling as a research scientist, however, and is a mysterious benefactor who appears at the end of the book may make that possible.

In her debut novel Bonnie Garmus, a former copywriter, has managed to be both hilarious and serious. Women of a certain age will recognize the truth in Elizabeth’s adversities, and younger people will learn what their mothers and grandmothers went through. Many memorable characters populate the novel — including the courageous Elizabeth herself, of course; her precocious daughter, Madeleine; their empathetic dog, Six-Thirty; the exceptional Calvin; their supportive neighbor, Harriet; Elizabeth’s boss at the television studio, who becomes her good friend; and a slew of odious males who have power and use it badly.

Many publications chose Lessons in Chemistry one of the best books of 2022.


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