Lessons in Chemistry: A Novel
by Bonnie Garmus
Hardcover- $26.10

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • GMA BOOK CLUB PICK • Meet Elizabeth Zott: “a gifted research chemist, absurdly self-assured and immune ...

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  "She is Fabulous" by [email protected] (see profile) 07/07/22

Sort of an intro to feminism - or at least why the movement was/is necessary. EASY read, so fun, and I didn't know where the author was going to take me, but I enjoyed the ride (read)!

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  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/11/22

I love the book. It was witty, charming, and the centered around a strong female lead. All around, a great read!

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This is our mother’s story.

  "This book will appeal to women of all backgrounds and ages.," by thewanderingjew (see profile) 12/20/22

Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Garmus, author; Miranda Raison, Pandora Sykes, narrators
Elizabeth Zott, with all of her uniqueness and quirkiness, is a brilliant scientist above all. However, it is the middle of the 20th century, and in the 1950’s, women were encouraged to be nurses, secretaries or teachers, gofers getting coffee for their male bosses, typing their reports, or wives and mothers, allowing the men in their lives to take credit for their accomplishments and ceding control of their lives to the men who were in charge. They were not encouraged to be scientists, and they were not treated as scientists. It was simply the way it was, but Elizabeth Zott did not appreciate the way she was being ignored, passed over, and mistreated, and she refused to accept it.
She worked in a lab and did intensive and brilliant research. Although she was defiant, she was still treated as a lab technician or worse. Her career and education were stymied by the behavior of what can only be considered toxic males, males who believed it was their right to be sexually aggressive, and then if reported, to claim they were enticed, used by the female who thought she could basically “sleep her way to the top”. Of course, this was untrue, but men were in charge, so women were easily blamed and shamed. Elizabeth insisted on being independent. She took charge of her own life and made the best of her unhappy situation. She worked hard, but often her efforts and successes were claimed by the men with whom she worked, men who betrayed her by stealing her thunder. They always had the superior position, so she was helpless and unable to fight back.
When Elizabeth and Calvin Evans met, both of their lives changed. He was also a scientist, and he accepted her as a scientist, not just as a woman. He believed in her, recognized her intelligence and her ability, and showed her the respect most men did not. He also respected her ideas and scientific theories, unlike the other men she had known who had mocked her, arrogantly believing they were more intelligent and capable, although her knowledge and her skill was often head and shoulders above theirs. Calvin’s personality had been shaped by the sadness and tragedies of his early life. He was adopted shortly after his birth, only to suffer the tragic loss of those parents in an unfortunate accident. Placed in an orphanage, he grew up experiencing the abuse of men who preyed upon those who were weaker. He was often a troublemaker, but he was always brilliant.
Elizabeth was also shaped by her experiences with hardship. Sad because of the death of her brother, estranged from her dysfunctional mother and criminal father, she was adrift in a world that did not appreciate her true worth. She angered people by expecting them to treat her as the scholar that she was, because she did not believe her gender defined her. She refused to accept the authority of men. She learned to protect herself from their advances. Both she and Calvin were mocked by those who were less intelligent because neither of them conformed to the mores of their peers, peers who often had no moral compass of their own.
Calvin was able to achieve fame, if not fortune, because of the many awards he won, and because he was a man. Elizabeth would not even have been considered for an award; a male co-worker’s name would unfairly get the credit for her effort. Calvin accepted her feelings about marriage, understanding that she did not want to be beholden to a man for her security. When they decided to set up a household together, much to the chagrin of those around them because they did not marry, as custom demanded, their coworkers talked about them. She was accused of using Calvin, who had garnered acclaim and fame, to advance her own career. They refused to give her the credit due her. Because Calvin and Elizabeth were truly in love, they weathered the whispers of those that laughed at them behind their backs, those who were jealous of their joy and success. More of the shameful comments were directed toward Elizabeth, because she was, after all, a woman who was still struggling to live in a man’s world.
Calvin and Elizabeth had a dog named 6:30 who rounded out their world. Even the dog was exceptional and unusual. They were incredibly happy until Calvin’s sudden death. At the time, Elizabeth didn’t know it, but her life would soon unalterably change. She had no idea that she was carrying their child in her womb, a child that would come into the world under unusual circumstances, with an unusual name; the child would be called Mad. Elizabeth had no idea how to raise another human being. She treated the infant as if she was her equal, teaching her about life through her lens of science. There was no baby talk for Mad. Because Elizabeth ignored the limits of infancy, so did Mad. She flourished, and by the age of three, she was able to read and converse with adults, asking intelligent questions when she did not understand their meaning. Elizabeth, however, was exhausted, and a neighbor, Harriet, fortuitously appeared in her life to make it proceed more smoothly. She and Mad got along famously.
When Mad was four, Elizabeth stretched the rules, and enrolled her in school. She was determined to engage her with children close to her age to give her a better childhood than she had experienced. Mad was more mature and more advanced than most of the children, though she was younger. She and her teacher did not see eye to eye. When Mad had an issue with another child, Amanda, Elizabeth became acquainted with Amanda’s father, Walter. They discovered that they had something in common. They were both often called in to a conference with the incompetent teacher. Walter had recognized Elizabeth’s natural ability to commune with people. She mesmerized him with her calmness and her explanations. He offered her a job doing a cooking show on television, but she was reluctant to accept. She would only do it if she could use science in the kitchen. She was not a cook; she was a scientist. Her kitchen at home had been transformed into a lab and she wanted to do the show in that same environment. She knew about all the ingredients that went into her recipes and what part of the body those ingredients benefited. She decided that because she needed the money, she would try it. However, her behavior during the live programs soon threatened to give Walter ulcers and to have both of them fired. She did not follow Walter’s rules. The man who was their boss was nothing less than an ogre, as were most of the men who had been in Elizabeth’s life. Some of the men fit the description of the toxic male to a “t”, although sometimes they appeared to be more caricatures than real people, so heinous was their behavior.
Using tongue in cheek humor, excellent character development and a narrative that is clear and easy to understand, Garmus has created a book that transcends age and background. It is a book that is hard to put down. It grabs every reader completely and is so compelling in its message that it will hold you until you turn the last page. As inviting as the beginning is, the ending is that much more satisfying! Justice is done.
This was a book that I didn’t think I was going to enjoy as much as I did because it is, obviously, a feminist tome. I knew it was going to present many progressive themes as so many authors choose to do today. I knew that I might not completely agree with the politics in the book and was conflicted about reading it, but rave reviews kept pouring in, so I decided to read it, and I am glad. Growing up a couple of decades later than Elizabeth, as a fraternal twin, I understood the premise of the book. I was subjected to the unfair and unequal treatment of males vs. females, in both the working world and the family world. My brother was afforded more freedom, more money, and more choices in life than I was because he was a boy and I was a girl. Parents looked away from the sins of their sons, since “boys would be boys”! There were “nice girls and good girls” and we knew exactly the kind of girl we were expected to be.
I have to admit that I loved the book. Elizabeth’s personality fascinated me. She drew people to her even as she turned them away, which is a contradiction in terms. Stubbornly, and with determination of purpose, she changed the world which proves that one person, and one idea, can bring change. As John F. Kennedy said, “one person can make a difference, and everyone should try”.
I did find some contradictions in the philosophy of this book, since today, the woke belief in the fluidity of gender is often becoming the antithesis of equality for women. Men who believe they are women can compete with women, though biologically they are definitely stronger than women because of their build and hormones, even with the drugs they take to enhance the sex they choose. Are the women who are demanding that all things be accepted, all genders, all sexual proclivities, actually hurting themselves, setting their own cause back, and ultimately, negating all of the rights and equality they have worked so hard to achieve? In demanding justice and equality, are they somehow laboring under the false idea that men and women are actually equal in all things? Does that not contradict science?

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  "Cooking, science and the powerful force of a woman" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/30/23

I loved this book about a strong woman who loves science and fights gender discrimination to do what she loves most. She is passionate about cooking and the science behind it. She loves and hates intensely. She is clueless, stubborn, and fierce but loves her husband and child so much that she is also endearing.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/04/23

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  "" by Hinder (see profile) 02/11/23

Every turning page I was more and more on the same page with Elizabeth Zott! Somehow, and how exactly I don’t know, are women still fighting the same issues today and back then. Are we ever going to equal? We shall see!

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  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/13/23

I liked the book. I had zero interest in reading it but once I started I found it very interesting.

  "" by AllaFarberMcEntee (see profile) 02/13/23

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  "Lessons In Chemistry" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/02/23

I couldn't put this book down. Read it in 2 days. A book all men should read

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/07/23

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  "Well written and engaging story" by marinegoddess (see profile) 03/15/23

I loved this book and found I had to keep reading once engaged in the story. The main character was intriguing and relatable. I have lived through this 50s-60s era, and fought through it as we worked our way out of it. It was all about power and those who did not want to give it up. The society needed to change and it has. Though there are still pockets perpetuating these beliefs and behaviors...

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  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/20/23

A very dramatic look into what women endured and how far we’ve come. Thanks for the intelligent take on a strong woman.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/26/23

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  "Lessons in Chemistry" by [email protected] (see profile) 04/18/23

I enjoyed the book from the very beginning.

  "" by skhastings (see profile) 04/20/23

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 04/25/23

This was a great book. So many good discussions covered today. Thanks for suggesting, Kathy!

  "Lessons in Chemistry" by AModic (see profile) 04/27/23

Our book club gave it a unanimous rating of 5 out of 5. We loved the strength of the main character, her resilience, and her lack of compromise in the face of patriarchy. We wondered if Julia Child would have watched the cooking show!

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  "" by AnnMC (see profile) 05/04/23

What a fun book. I laughed; I cried. Had it all.

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  "Daring to be Different" by BarbL (see profile) 05/16/23

The characters and “plot” are wonderfully woven together while adding insight into contemporary social issues such as: women’s place in society, resilience amidst life changing circumstances and perseverance when everything around you is looking bleak. Elizabeth Zott was that character that lived life her own way despite many upheavals, challenges and depression.

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  "A joy to read, a character that you will remember forever" by [email protected] (see profile) 06/01/23

Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself.

Bonnie Garmus's debut novel features Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant, formidable character, whose only wish was to become a scientist, specifically a chemist. And she is on her way at UCLA until a head professor, a known "lech" in a department whose female employees leave after only 6 months working in the department, makes his moves on her and when she threatens to rat him out, she realizes she has no voice in this man's world and knows her PhD is lost, possibly forever.
This is the late 1950s and women who might have been working for the war effort only a decade before, have been returned to the kitchen, bedroom and nursery. The only thing they are defined by are how they look, cook and rook and any woman wanting more than that is considered warped. When Elizabeth finally is able to land a lab job, it is at Hastings Research Institute and she is relegated to a project quite beneath her intellectual abilities but she has no choice. Hastings is known because the very famous Nobel candidate Calvin Evans is working there. He gets all the attention, money and prestige and supplies. Their department head is Dr. Donatti, who seems to publish papers regularly, but no one ever sees him work. When Elizabeth's lab comes up short on beakers, she raids Calvin's. This is the first time she meets him and it won't be the last. Chemistry after all, can't be denied! They need each other for so many reasons besides science and beakers. They become friends and soulmates, sharing their dysfunctional family lives and as the love bug worms itself into their relationship, they move in together. They can't keep their relationship a secret at work and this gets the gossip and tongues wagging, chiefly that she is only out for his money and celebrity because who could love a man who looked like him? Tall, gangly. His only redeeming quality is his smile. Calvin should have known better than to propose expanding their family because Elizabeth has said over and over that marriage and family isn't what she wants and she of course shoots him down. Calvin isn't suggesting children, he wants to get a dog! And soon, their new dog finds them, a scrawny runaway who was being trained as a bomb sniffing dog who they name Six-Thirty. This dog is an adorable character as we see some of the action through his eyes as he narrates some of the story in a great twist. He is loyal, protective and intuitive and spends the day Calvin's lab watching the comings and goings. He is also improving his vocabulary! Watch as is word count improves with each chapter!
Calvin is a rowing enthusiast and encourages Elizabeth to join him, eventually, she gets good enough to join a men's team, coached by Dr. Mason, who happens to be an OBGYN. Calvin even builds an "erg," a rowing machine for them to use in their house so she can get stronger and better. Elizabeth is only interested in the science behind the erg. Of course.
To say that the pair of them are better together is an understatement. They fill places in their social ineptness, can talk science together and understand it, and are the family they lack. All is well until a tragic accident takes Calvin's life. Elizabeth is devastated and returns to work with Six-Thirty only to be told by Miss Frask from Personnel that while they made an exception for Calvin to have the dog at work, she can't. Unsure if it is shock or something she ate, Elizabeth vomits. It doesn't take a mental giant, because Miss Frask isn't one, to figure out that Elizabeth is pregnant which she passes onto Donatti who uses it as a way to rid Hastings of an unwed mother-to-be. And just when they find this out, a huge windfall of money to fund Elizabeth's research appears out of nowhere. She worked with 3 men who, when pressed, couldn't answer any deep questions about the research so if she left, how would they continue and be able to be successful??
Elizabeth is now a mother-to-be with no Calvin, no family and no job. She only knows chemistry so she renovates her kitchen into a kind of lab and continues to work on her research. Eventually, she realizes she needs a doctor and finds her way into Dr. Mason's practice. Soon, she delivers a little girl named Mad (why is funny) but she calls her Madeline.
*Insert picture here of maternal chaos.*
Until one day, Harriet Sloane, the next door neighbor knocks on the door. Harriet will become the family that Elizabeth never had. Harriet is happy to help out at any hour, any day because she is in a loveless marriage but can't divorce because she is Catholic so spending hours at a time to be away from home is fine with her and helping to raise Mad fills her heart. Madeline is quite a bright little girl and easily grasps everything her mother teaches her even if at aged 4 she is reading things like Moby Dick so Elizabeth enrolls her into kindergarten to help her learn to engage socially. But just as it is for her mother, that is hard for her as she tends to look at things in a very mature and logical way, unlike the other students. This is problematic for her teacher Mrs. Mudford who struggles with how to deal with her precocious student. Elizabeth needs income now and returns to Hastings hoping to be able to return to her work there. Donatti does need her back on the payroll but only because the investor is back and wanting to know what has been happening to the Zott research, that nothing has been published in sometime. Donatti rehires her, gives her a new lab coat with the initials "E.Z" on it and then hands her a stack of papers. "Start by typing these. Also, we're low on coffee. And talk to each other fellas-- see what kind of support they need." "Support? Elizabeth says. "But I'm a chemist, not a lab tech." (pg 174)

Amanda Pike, the daughter of Walter Pike, producer of daytime tv at a local station, keeps eating Madeline's lunch and Mrs. Mudford calls both parents in to discuss this behavior. Walter is a single dad after Amanda's mother left them and he has no talent for making a kids lunch. Elizabeth explains that the lunches she provides Mad are highly nutritious and should be made for a developing mind. Walter is in a bind at work and he needs an afternoon show to fill in a time slot. He gets the crazy idea that Elizabeth can do a cooking show. Elizabeth calls it a chemistry show with cooking and accepts the job. It is rough going at first because the station manager has a preconceived notion as to how she should talk, dress and behave. Elizabeth will have none of that. She will be who she is, take it or leave it. At first, her off the cuff, honest discussions as to what women can and should do for their families is not widely accepted but over time, her voice and opinions begin to fill viewer minds with confidence and boldness that they can be more than just a housewife. It is now the early 1960s and I would like to believe is one of the first voices of the Women's Lib movement, getting women to find their voices and shrug off the bondage that men have relegated them to; that they can be more than just a housewife. She becomes so popular, she is highlighted in an article in Life Magazine. This article becomes a curse for her reputation but also allows some good things to happen for her as well. Elizabeth is faced one more time with a man who holds his power over her by trying to rape her but, just as before, she is armed and ready.
When Madeline and Amanda have an assignment to build their family tree, Madeline finds it a difficult task given she has none. But getting some help from the school librarian, she is able to track down where her father may have been raised as a child. It will come out who his people are by the end of a story in a unique well developed twist.

There are several strong themes in this novel starting with misogyny, chauvinism and sexualization of women. Elizabeth as well as another character have been sexually abused by men in power who felt that just because they were in charge, they could get away with it (who would believe the women?). Elizabeth also expresses her atheism during a time when the Church dictated so much of what was acceptable in society (living as a couple without marriage, single motherhood). When Elizabeth is terminated because she is pregnant, she says to Donatti,
"....When a woman gets pregnant outside of marriage, does the man who made her pregnant get fired, too?" "What? What are you talking about?"
"Would you have fired Calvin, for instance?"
"Of course not."
"If not, then technically, you have no grounds to fire me."
"Donatti looked confused. What? "Of course I do,....You're the woman! You're the one who got knocked up!"
"That's generally how it works. But you do realize that a pregnancy requires a man's sperm"
"Miss Zott, I'm warning you. Watch your language"
"You're saying that if an unmarried man makes an unmarried woman pregnant, there is no consequence for him. His life goes on. Business as usual." (pg 113-114)
And Harriet is stuck in a marriage that is abuse and unfulfilling and can't divorce because of her religious beliefs. She is told by her church that she needs to "improve HERSELF" but why is it up to her? Why isn't the man trying to make changes within HIMSELF??

It was not encouraged that a woman was able to be a successful scientist and at one point, Donatti tells Elizabeth that he was able to get her money to fund her education. She thinks the company is going to help her get her PhD but instead, Donatti says it was for secretarial school! He knows how smart she is but he is very threatened by her abilities. However, to prove "them" wrong, Elizabeth uses chemistry to explain why food cooks the way it does and empowers the women in her audience to feel they too are smart and capable understand complex concepts in science.

This is a fantastic read. I loved it! The characters are well developed and fun to read. There are some laugh out loud moments too as Elizabeth navigates her way. I liken Elizabeth to Eleanor Oliphant a bit in that she is so smart she really misses social cues. Calvin is a bit on the spectrum too but obviously was born with some great DNA. I loved Harriet who speaks her mind but is always nurturing. I loved how things turned out for her character in the end. Miss Frask realizes that while she has bullied and made things difficult for Elizabeth, she has more in common with her than she thought she had and has a complete turnaround. And you can't forget about Six-Thirty, the insightful dog who just keeps it real! My one little ding is the way Madeline was written. I know her character is very bright, but I just struggled with as a 6 yr old how she navigated things when it came to finding out about her father. She just seemed too wise beyond her years. It was a reach. For that, I can't give it 5 stars.

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  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 07/25/23

I am blown away by this debut novel by ….

Throughout this entire book I just kept thinking “this book is SO good, I can’t believe how good this book is, I need everyone to read this book.”

I will most definitely re-read this book it was that good. I wish I could buy you all copies I enjoyed it that much.

Every character was so well written and brought to life. I adored Six-Thirty ???? and Mad.

Elizabeth Zott pioneer and trailblazer whose no nonsense, tell it like it is made me want to channel my own inner “Zott”

It also made me want to re-take my college chemistry class and pay more attention.

So here’s to all those badass, pioneer, trailblazing women who put up with so much and made it possible for me to write a check without my husbands consent, get a degree, have my own bank account, vote, and much much more. Thank you to all the Elizabeth Zott’s who came before.

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  "Lessons in Chemisrty" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/07/23

A very easy, enjoyable read. Didn't want to put it down.

  "original story" by lking58 (see profile) 10/13/23

Very moving story of what a woman in the 50's might have lived through. This unique story made me laugh and cry, proud of all that happens.

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  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/05/24

I thought it was such a good insight into how hard it is to be a woman in STEM, even today and how hard the women before us fought for a seat at the lab bench.

  "Lessons in Chemistry " by 18cinnamon (see profile) 01/08/24

I wasn't very interested in reading this book, then a book group member suggested it. I loved it! I could not put it down! I applauded Elizabeth through the whole book. I realized how much women were not valued in the 50's. I loved how Elizabeth stood up for gerself. My book group (all women) had a very animated discussion on this book. I am in a second book group with both women and men. The men loved it too. They actually understood what Bonnie Garmus was saying. My favorite book of 2023.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/12/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/13/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/14/24

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  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/03/24

So well written and unlike anything I have ever read.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/07/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/15/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/19/24

The book is so much better than the Apple TV mini-series. Don’t short-change yourself—read the book!

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/22/24

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  "" by riggatoni (see profile) 02/24/24

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  "Not what I expected" by lpollinger (see profile) 03/04/24

Elizabeth Zott is a gifted chemist. However because of the era she was born into, women chemists are few and far between and she is finding it difficult to be taken seriously until she meets Calvin Evans. Both are brilliant and find it hard to connect to everyday people. They fall madly in love and have a child together. The story follows Elizabeth as she becomes a single mother and must provide for herself and daughter. So begins her TV career.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/06/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/25/24

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  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 05/07/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 05/11/24

  "Very Unique Characters and Funny." by judyramage (see profile) 05/12/24

The Characters were very unique and it was a quick read because it held my interest. I also learned a few things about how important women were to our technological growth--with no credit given.

  "" by mkress (see profile) 05/17/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 05/21/24

  "Lessons in Chemistry" by [email protected] (see profile) 05/21/24

Very insightful about the limited choices that women used to have with their careers. However, things are gradually improving, and the fraudulent events that happened in this book are hopefully less frequent now.

  "" by canguilla (see profile) 05/24/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 05/26/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 05/31/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 06/07/24

  "" by pjmorris (see profile) 06/17/24

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