Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus #BookReview

Meet Elizabeth Zott. Fierce feminist, passionate chemist, natural non-conformist. 

To her misfortune, the world around her (in the 50s and 60s) isn’t evolved enough to appreciate any of her abilities. Women could be housewives or secretaries or lab assistants at best, but Elizabeth is a brilliant scientist researching biogenetics, quite an oddity.

Worse, she is also beautiful with a stunning presence — all things brainy scientists just aren’t allowed to be.

And it makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, these are the people in power which is why, one day, Elizabeth finds herself alone, pregnant and jobless.

Undaunted, she picks herself up and makes a living through freelance work helping her erstwhile colleagues decode chemical mysteries.

Then, one life-changing day, she is offered a job as a television cooking show host. The money is tempting and Elizabeth has a young daughter to support, so she accepts the position.

Desperately in love with science, with no talent for television, she soldiers along hosting Supper at Six, seamlessly mixing cooking with chemistry, empowering women, annoying sponsors and making her producer pull out all his hair.

And she’s a hit – a huge massive hit.

She gathers around her, a tiny group of friends and also a most adorable dog-buddy as she finds her way back to the research lab and her happy ending.

This book by Bonnie Garmus made me feel all kinds of wonderful.

It’s written from Elizabeth’s point of view, in a geeky, Sheldonish (from the Big Bang Theory) kind of way. That helps keep the narrative light despite touching upon some extremely serious issues.

I enjoyed the strong feminist tone. I liked the way Elizabeth stands up to every small injustice, every overt or implied put-down.

I loved her, despite the fact that she makes no attempts to be likeable.

I loved her for the way she remained true to her beliefs, for her intense loyalty and for the passion she brought not just to her work but also to each of her relationships.

The bit about her research being stolen as also about being discriminated against by her male bosses hit a raw nerve. It’s sad, that this continues to happen in academic circles even today.

There was a bit of a mystery too, that tied up the ending.

The book did have some very obvious shortcomings.

Let me reiterate that I loved it despite all of these and I’m only putting them out here because I believe the bad should be laid out along with the good.

To begin with, the timeline didn’t sit quite right. I found it hard to believe that the 50s and 60s were this unkind to women in science. Is it really that far back?

Also, the science is uncomfortably in-your-face. Even as a complete non-chemist I couldn’t see any Chemistry fanatic saying NaCl instead of salt. However, I put it down to one of Elizabeth’s quirks and then it was okay.

The book plays a lot with stereotypes – the men, are mostly bad and the good ones are really good – no greys here.

The women empowerment angle is exaggerated, sudden and unbelievable. 

And yet I could get past all of those and completely appreciate the spirit of the book.

Last thought: If like me, you can get past the shortcomings I spoke about, you’re in for a fantastic read.

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2 Replies to “Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus #BookReview”

  1. Now I definitely have to pick this book up. I bought a copy a few months ago because I was intrigued by the blurb. But I haven’t read it yet. Thanks for such a balanced review!

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