Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus


“Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.”

-Synopsis from StoryGraph


Cover image from StoryGraph

*light spoilers ahead*

I first heard about Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus when it arrived at my library along with a shipment of new books. The cover immediately caught my attention. Later that same day, I listened to the Thoughts From A Page podcast interview with Bonnie Garmus and then immediately requested the book. There was something about the way Bonnie Garmus spoke about the book that made me want to read it. As it turns out, a friend had recently picked up the book as well so we decided to make it a buddy read.

I want to say up front that there are a couple upsetting events in this book that I don’t think enough reviewers have been vocal about sharing. Sexual assault is a huge part of this story and I wish I had known that going in. Nothing in the synopsis or the majority of reviews I have seen even comes close to alluding to this and that was a little disappointing.

The story gets off to a strong start. I was blown away by how Elizabeth was treated by both men and women. I had to keep reminding myself that this was the 50s/60s when things were not good for women in general, but this book painted a particularly bleak picture of life for women during that time. I was surprised to find that I was pretty triggered by much of the dialogue while reading this book.

Elizabeth’s chemistry/cooking show comes into the story about halfway through, and keep in mind that there almost four hundred pages in this book. Every chapter and anecdote moves the story along and gives the reader a better picture of Elizabeth and the people in her life. We even get the perspective of her beloved dog.

I hope that people out there who do not believe sexism exists will read this book and understand that nothing could be further from the truth. It hurts to know so many women’s spirits were (and are still) crushed by men who are only placed at the top of society because of meaningless cultural norms. Elizabeth Zott is in turn a very inspiring character and one of the most memorable I have ever come across.

My overall thoughts are that I liked this book, but that the subject was difficult to digest. It was much heavier than I expected. With that being said, I would definitely read anything else that Bonnie Garmus writes because the writing was outstanding.

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