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Reviews of Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Lessons in Chemistry

A Novel

by Bonnie Garmus

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus X
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
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  • Published:
    Apr 2022, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

A must-read debut! Meet Elizabeth Zott: a "formidable, unapologetic and inspiring" (Parade) scientist in 1960s California whose career takes a detour when she becomes the unlikely star of a beloved TV cooking show in this novel that is "irresistible, satisfying and full of fuel. It reminds you that change takes time and always requires heat" (The New York Times Book Review).

New York Times Bestseller • Good Morning America Book Club • One of NPR's Best Books of 2022 • One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year—New York Times, Bustle, Real Simple, Parade, CNN, Today, E! News, Library Journal

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.

Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.

Chapter 1
November 1961

Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second thought; back before anyone knew there'd even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when the big wars were over and the secret wars had just begun and people were starting to think fresh and believe everything was possible, the thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.

Despite that certainty, she made her way to the lab to pack her daughter's lunch.

Fuel for learning, Elizabeth Zott wrote on a small slip of paper before tucking it into her daughter's lunch box. Then she paused, her pencil in midair, as if reconsidering. Play sports at recess but do not automatically let the boys win, she wrote on another slip. Then she paused again, tapping her pencil ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. The late 1950s into the early 1960s was supposedly a halcyon time in American history. But was it? The war was over and men returned home to take back the jobs women had done in their absence. As a result, women were pushed into more subservient roles. What influences played a part in encouraging women to accept their place as only in the home? And why, in today's world, when women are in the workforce in record numbers, are they still doing most of the housework and child-raising?
  2. Elizabeth Zott had no formal education, and yet she was able to self-educate, thanks to her library card. With the advent of technology, the library almost seems outdated, though many would argue that the library is more important than ever. Do you think ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Bonnie Garmus's debut, Lessons in Chemistry, introduces readers to an exceptional woman struggling to succeed in a male-dominated field. Garmus sets her novel in the days before the Equal Rights Amendment and the #MeToo movement, when most men — and many women as well — believed that any woman who dared to enter a traditional men's profession was either "a lightweight or a gold digger," in the author's words. One might assume the novel is a dark, weighty exploration of the sexual discrimination rampant during the 1950s and early 1960s. Amazingly, it's really not; although the book's substance depends largely on this theme, its overall tone is positive and affirming...continued

Full Review (766 words)

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Minneapolis Star Tribune
[Garmus] presents a rollicking feminist tale full of humor and hope even as she doesn't shy away from life's ugliness. Clever and sharp, Lessons in Chemistry has a winning formula.

People Magazine
Between the outrageous sexism and the bitter misfortune that thwart our heroine at every turn, this may not sound like a comic novel, but it is. Full of charm, energy and hope—and featuring a really great dog—it's one to savor.

The Atlantic
Strikingly relevant...Darkly funny and poignant...Lessons in Chemistry's excellent experiment [is] quirky and heartwarming.

Buzzfeed
A kicky debut, this book tackles feminism, resilience, and rationalism in a fun and refreshing way.

Christian Science Monitor
Lessons in Chemistry catalyzes science, cooking, and humor…Elizabeth [Zott]—determined, practical, uncompromising—shines brightest.

Historical Novels Review
Garmus tells a familiar story in a completely original voice in her delightful debut novel...Zott is an unforgettable protagonist, logical and literal and utterly herself...The novel deftly mixes comedy and tragedy, with only one very clear villain: the patriarchal culture of mid-20th century America, the days of which are numbered because of women like Zott...For those who admire a confident, bone-dry, and hilarious authorial voice, this novel achieves the difficult task of being both sharply satirical and heartwarming at the same time.

LA Daily News
While the novel focuses on serious themes of misogyny, feminism, family, and self-worth, it never gets didactic. The characters are rich and original, the story sarcastic and humorous, and the novel with all its twists and turns, difficult to put down. Zott is aloof and amazing, rational and revolutionary. Like Garmus, you may even find yourself channeling Elizabeth, asking 'Now what would Elizabeth Zott do?'

Martha Stewart Living
A fun, feminist charmer, Bonnie Garmus's novel Lessons in Chemistry follows singular single mother Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant chemist in a man's world—1960s America—as she becomes an unlikely cooking-show host and the role model her daughter deserves.

Minnesota Public Radio News
If you can imagine Julia Child channeling a little bit of Lucille Ball, and all of the science edginess of Madame Curie, then you'll have a really good idea of the humor and the wit and the warmth that just shine through this entire novel.

New York Times
In Garmus's debut novel, a frustrated chemist finds herself at the helm of a cooking show that sparks a revolution. Welcome to the 1960s, where a woman's arsenal of tools was often limited to the kitchen—and where Elizabeth Zott is hellbent on overturning the status quo one meal at a time.

New York Times Book Review
Feminism is the catalyst that makes [Lessons in Chemistry] fizz like hydrochloric acid on limestone. Elizabeth Zott does not have 'moxie'; she has courage. She is not a 'girl boss' or a 'lady chemist'; she's a groundbreaker and an expert in abiogenesis...To file Elizabeth Zott among the pink razors of the book world is to miss the sharpness of Garmus's message. Lessons in Chemistry will make you wonder about all the real-life women born ahead of their time—women who were sidelined, ignored and worse because they weren't as resourceful, determined and lucky as Elizabeth Zott. She's a reminder of how far we've come, but also how far we still have to go.

Real Simple
A bold, smart, and often hilarious look at the value of so-called women's work.

The Seattle Times
[A] delightful debut...Elizabeth Zott, Garmus' unflappable heroine, is no cheerily lilting [Julia] Child...[Garmus] skillfully moves her narrative forward and backward, filling in the empty spaces in Elizabeth's story. It's a novel full of dark moments...and yet Lessons in Chemistry feels richly funny...Elizabeth Zott is a unique heroine, and you find yourself wishing she wasn't fictional: A lot of us—perhaps even Julia Child—might have enjoyed watching 'Supper at Six.'

Washington Post
[Garmus] delivers an assured voice, an indelible heroine and relatable love stories...At the center of the novel is Elizabeth Zott, a gifted research chemist, absurdly self-assured and immune to social convention...Elizabeth is a feminist and modern thinker […] in a world nowhere ready for her mind, character or ambition...[Garmus] charm[s]. She's created an indelible assemblage of stubborn, idiosyncratic characters. She's given us a comic novel at precisely the moment we crave one.

Mail on Sunday (UK)
Elizabeth Zott is the smart, fierce star of Garmus's witty debut…Brilliant.

Sunday Times (UK)
A smart, funny, big-hearted debut combining chemical elements into what seems a winning formula—one whose breakneck pace and gently ironic tone should appeal to readers of literary-commercial hits by American authors such as Katherine Heiny, Emma Straub and Curtis Sittenfeld.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[An] energetic debut...A more adorable plea for rationalism and gender equality would be hard to find.

Booklist
Indefatigable and formidable, Elizabeth pushes the bounds of how women and their work are perceived in this thoroughly engaging debut novel.

Today.com
Find this runaway hit where history meets humor. The book follows a chemist in the 1960s who doesn't get the respect she deserves. Her life takes an unexpected turn when she becomes the host of a famous cooking show. With her platform, she encourages viewers to push the boundaries the same way she did at work.

Author Blurb Claire Lombardo, author of The Most Fun We Ever Had
Lessons in Chemistry is a breath of fresh air—a witty, propulsive, and refreshingly hopeful novel populated with singular characters. This book is an utter delight—wry, warm, and compulsively readable.

Author Blurb Maggie Shipstead, author of Great Circle
It's the world versus Elizabeth Zott, an extraordinary woman determined to live on her own terms, and I had no trouble choosing a side. Lessons in Chemistry is a page-turning and highly satisfying tale: zippy, zesty, and Zotty.

Author Blurb Nigella Lawson, author of Cook, Eat, Repeat
I loved it and am devastated to have finished it.

Author Blurb Rachel Yoder, author of Nightbitch
On par with Beth Harmon of The Queen's Gambit, Elizabeth Zott swept me away with her intellect, honesty, and unapologetic selfhood. Lessons in Chemistry is a story for all the smart girls who refuse to dumb themselves down despite a culture that demands otherwise. Though a creation of the 50s & 60s, Zott is a feminist icon for our time.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

Funny, moving and thought-provoking, this is a brilliant debut.
“… here she was, a single mother, the lead scientist on what had to be the most unscientific experiment of all time: the raising of another human being. Every day she found parenthood like taking a test for which she had not studied. The questions ...   Read More
Roberta

A Delightful Read
The book takes place in the 1960s. The main character, Elizabeth Zott, is not your average woman. She is strong, independent and a chemist and finds herself subjected to all manner of sexism and abuse by her male colleagues. One of her colleagues ...   Read More
Cathryn Conroy

SO Good! This Book Is Like Quicksand. It Will Suck You In and Not Let Go Until You Finish!
This book is like quicksand. It will suck you in and not let go until you finish it. Oh, it is GOOD! Written by Bonnie Garmus, this is a novel that is both a riveting story and a feminist manifesto. It's 1952 and Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant ...   Read More
Marcelle Joffily

Best read from 2022
Bought this novel for a holiday book exchange last December. Throughly enjoyed the writing, the plot, the characters and even the fairy tale ending. I’m looking forward to that Bonnie Garmus will write next.

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Beyond the Book

A Short History of the Cooking Show

Philip Harben In Lessons In Chemistry, the main character is the reluctant host of a popular TV cooking show.

Gordon Ramsay, Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray are just a few of the many modern TV chefs who’ve become household names. Cooking shows are now not only daytime television staples; they're featured in the primetime lineup. Such was not always the case.

The first cooking shows were produced for the radio. Dr. Édouard de Pomiane, a French food scientist and writer, hosted what's likely the first, starting in 1923. His weekly program on Radio Paris featured stories about his experiences in the kitchen as well as recipes for home cooks.

U.S. advertisers soon took notice of the program's popularity. In 1921, food ...

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