Cover Image: Lessons in Chemistry

Lessons in Chemistry

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Member Reviews

What an uplifting book! Elizabeth Zott is a research  chemist in 1960s who has spent her whole life fighting for her job: facing being groped by her university tutor, put down by her boss and even had her work stolen. 
She meets Calvin Evans a brilliant scientist and rower and they become soul mates. When tragedy strikes she is forced to find work and is forced to become a TV cook and becomes famous.
Back in the 1960s it was thought that a women's place was at home having babies and supporting her husband's much more important life. Women were openly discriminated against for wanting to work. This book reminds us how far we've come with equality in the workplace.
The story was a joy to read. I laughed and cried and was outraged on Elizabeth's behalf. The supporting characters all add flavour  to the equality story making a thought-provoking story.
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What an absolute joy Lessons in Chemistry was to read! I'm confidently expecting that it will become the feel-good hit of the season.

That said, it's not a book full of sunshine and kittens by any means - terrible and unfair things happen to the central character and her nearest and dearest on a frequent basis. But Elizabeth Zott is such an effervescent and inspiring character that one can't help but get caught up in her story and cheer her on.
"Once a research chemist, Elizabeth Zott was a woman with flawless skin and an unmistakable demeanour of someone who was not average and never would be." (Loc.49)
A brief prologue set in November 1961 introduces the central character, research chemist-turned-TV presenter Elizabeth Zott, and gives us a glimpse of what is to come. The book then moves back to the mid-1950s and the (fictional) town of Commons, southern California. Elizabeth is one of very few women employed at the Hastings Research Institute, and faces a constant uphill battle to garner the respect she and her work deserve, in the face of constant and unrelenting misogyny and sexual innuendo. One day, while on a mission to hijack some much-needed scientific equipment from a better-resourced lab, she meets the lab's wunderkind, Calvin Evans, a man who has a reputation for social awkwardness and bearing grudges. It's a match made in heaven...

The first half of the book builds the background for Zott's seemingly unlikely choice to turn her back on the scientific mainstream and take up a career in television. The second half follows her barnstorming journey to capture the hearts and minds of American women in her ostensibly domestic afternoon programme - Supper at Six. Zott resists all efforts by the production company and her long-suffering director/producer Walter Pine to mould both herself and the programme according to their own expectations, and in the process creates something very special indeed. In Supper at Six, Zott introduces the concept of food science to her audience, decades ahead of her time in the mainstream context. She explains fascinating physical science processes in the practical context of cooking. Had I had a teacher like Zott, I might have done a lot better at high-school chemistry than I actually did!

While there's a delightful sense of wonder as we follow Elizabeth, her hilariously precocious daughter Mad and their remarkably perceptive pet dog, Six-Thirty, in their very untraditional - for the 1960s - lives, there is a deeper current to the story. Author Bonnie Garmus explores issues including sexism, gender roles, social mores around marriage and parenthood, the impact of childhood and family trauma, the importance of community and the courage necessary to stand up and change things for the better.

Any reader who believes in gender equality will feel rightly agitated throughout the course of the book, but it's ultimately an uplifting and heart-warming story, featuring a central cast of wonderful characters, doing their best when faced with some genuinely horrible villains.

I'd highly recommend Lessons in Chemistry to any reader, female or male, who enjoys mid-century historical fiction, luminous characters and the us-against-the-world trope. It's a fabulous read, to which I fear I really cannot do justice in this review.

My heartfelt thanks to the author, Bonnie Garmus, publishers Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Doubleday, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this wonderful book in advance of its publication on 5 April 2022.
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The 1960s was not a good time to be a career woman of any sort, let alone a woman who wanted nothing more than to be a research chemist. Female scientist Elizabeth Zott completed her Masters degree in Chemistry at UCLA, but had her offer to enrol in a doctorate rescinded when she stabbed the head of the research team with a pencil after he attempted to take advantage of her. 

She found a position as a junior scientist at Hastings Research Institute in southern California, although found the the lab culture to be just as toxic there. She was considered difficult because not only would she not put up with being groped, she wouldn’t make the coffee or copy notes and didn’t like the senior scientists taking credit for her work. The only other women at the Institute were mostly secretarial staff and were not sympathetic, disliking her for being beautiful and having career aspirations. 

At this time, Calvin Evans was the star scientist at Hastings Research Institute in southern California, a Nobel prize winner in the making with a large lab and a large budget assigned to him while Elizabeth had to share a cramped lab with others and scrounge for equipment. However, Calvin was also not much liked by others. Tall and lanky, he was antisocial and only interested in one thing outside of Chemsitry and that was rowing. In fact rowing was the reason he accepted the job at Hastings with its sunny climate, instead of at one of the prestigious institutes that were headhunting him. 

Somehow Calvin and Elizabeth were made for each other and after clashing in the lab and again at a theatre, fell in love. They were superbly happy, moved in together despite this being scandalous at the time. Elizabeth refused marriage and didn’t want children but they did acquire a dog they call Six-Thirty and were deliriously happy together, despite what their colleagues thought of them. 

One year later, and Elizabeth found herself on her own with a new baby, fired from Hastings for being an unmarried mother. She turned her kitchen into a lab to continue her work, and did her best to make ends meet while bringing up her little girl Madeline, nicknamed Mad. When a father at her daughter’s school, who was a TV producer, discovered that she was not only beautiful (and thus made for TV) but also a superb cook, he invited her to try out as the host of a cooking show on afternoon TV. Elizabeth agreed but refused to do the show the way the station wanted, instead putting her own unique stamp on it and instructing women in the chemistry of cooking.

Both Calvin and Elizabeth were the products of unhappy childhoods, Elizabeth’s due to dysfunctional parents – her father now in jail for being a charlatan and her mother living in Brazil evading the US taxman. Calvin’s background was more of a mystery. He told Elizabeth his parents were killed in a car crash and then after the aunt who was caring for him died he was placed in a boys’ home, where he nevertheless received a good education due to a secret benefactor. However, he also once told a friend that he wished his father was dead. When Mad is given a school assignment to map her family tree, she decides to find out more about her father’s past and the fairy godmother/godfather who helped educate him. 

This debut novel is one of the most original I have ever read. There is a lot of humour in the plot and dialogue and it is filled with some delightful characters, including a wonderful dog with a large vocabulary and Mad, an infant prodigy who is totally engaging, as well as some odious male scientists who don’t think women are smart enough to be scientists, but are happy to take credit for their work. And then there is Elizabeth herself, who is unique, single minded and determined to be herself regardless of society’s rules and the judgement of others. Her cooking show is hilarious as she refuses to be coy and sexy for the camera but teaches women that they have brains they can use and that their role in nurturing their family is of vital importance and should be valued more.
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What a wonderful story, I felt so many emotions reading this. It has some very dark undertones, but it's beautifully written and a genuine warmth and humour. Elizabeth Zott is a wonderful heroine, a fantastic character, I loved her.   I adore reading books that teach me new things, I did stop and few times and look a few things up. 
I will be recommending this to friends and I will be re-reading this over and over. A classic in the making. Wonderful. 

Thank you so much to the author and publisher for the advance copy.
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A book that was different but is well written.

Elizabeth Zott is a scientist who is in a man’s world where they don’t treat woman the same as men they feel that woman don’t have the brains to be scientists.  Elizabeth ends up falling in love with Calvin Evans who is all for equal opportunities for woman.  Elizabeth ends up on TV showing woman what to cook but also at the same time teaching them chemistry.  The characters I really enjoyed and thought six thirty was cute.

I would recommend this book.
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Was lucky enough to get an ARC from Netgalley and this is one of the best books I've read in years. Set in the 1950s but with echoes of the continuing male entitlement that still occurs, the strength and resilience of the central characters is phenomenal. Beautifully written and utterly entertaining, a joy to read and a reminder of the brilliance that women possess
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This is a dream of a read. Elizabeth Zott is a feisty, independent woman; a talented chemist struggling for recognition in the male dominated laboratories of 1950's America. When she butts heads with the equally gifted and grudge bearing Calvin Evans, their worlds begin to shift in marvelous ways. This is and isn't a love story. It's about the love shared between Elizabeth and Calvin but also abut their mutual love of science. 

Beautifully written with wit and humour this is a terrific novel, The characters are absolutely charming, especially, Mads, Elizabeth and Calvin's daughter and the adorable dog, Six-Thirty. The dialogue is pitch perfect and wonderfully readable. The background of 50s America is evocatively created. 

Lessons in Chemistry also make astute observations about the role of women at the time and the beginnings of the Women's Movement. I wonder if Elizabeth will continue with the movement in a sequel?

With some similarities to the writing of John Irving, this is a truly fantastic book.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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There is simply no way I can fully express my feelings about this book in such a way that it covers every emotion I felt during reading. I happen to own a t-shirt with ‘Chemistry, it’s just cooking’ printed on it and that was in fact why I requested this book – I was drawn by the title. Little did I know how much more was happing with Elizabeth’s story than chemistry and cooking. 
Since there are already 582 reviews, I don’t have to give you a synopsis of the story. I’m sure there must be a lot of Elizabeths still out there – women who just don’t get the chance to do what they want, namely being an excellent scientist. Although the first female chemistry student (Mary Watson) started her studies in 1856, a little under a century before Elizabeth’s’ story unfolds, female scientists, and thus female chemists, are still underpaid and undervalued. It is one of the strong points of this book that the indignities Elizabeth must endure day-to-day are pictured with a wonderful grim sort of humor. 
It all starts with ‘stealing’ some beakers, but those beakers stand for everything that Elizabeth wants, needs, and deserves but never gets. It’s not just that she’s often mistaken for a secretary or the fact that her boss at the Hastings institute thinks she owns her success to the star chemist, Calvin Evans, who falls hopelessly in love with her or that she’s fired as soon as she’s pregnant. It’s the fact that these things not only happen with her because that’s how it was in those days, but it’s also the fact that ‘men’ are afraid of her, of what she can become, and therefore her wings need to be clipped. 
This story often made me laugh out loud but made me fume too! I just loved the characters, not only Elizabeth but Mad, Harriet, Calvin and the other people who play such an important role. Not to forget Six-Thirty! I’m very happy I was allowed to write a review for this outstanding book, an unbelievable debut from Bonnie Garmus. I cannot wait to read her next book.
Thanks to Netgalley and Doubleday for this review copy.
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Lessons in chemistry is a wonderful debut novel that lived up to my expectations and the social media high praise. 

It was so interesting to read about the 50s and 60s when the women weren't seen as more than a housemaid and children baring, unfortunately. Among those, there were a few that made a huge difference and here comes our heroine, chemist Elizabeth Zott. She's witty, straightforward, and so intelligent. She wants much more from her life and after becoming a widow, her life changed completely. As a new mother and unemployed, she's invited to host a show where she will teach lessons in chemistry mixed with the daily menu. 

At many points throughout the book, I had the feeling that she's more on the spectrum and I really loved how she acted when confronted with different situations as when she had the baby and how she had to step up and let her neighbour to help her when she needed. I'm not a big fan of children or pets in my readings, but here they were both amazing and their addition brings more nuances to Elizabeth’s ARC. 

This is a story that many people will enjoy.
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What a delight this book is! Deserving of all the hype, praise and glowing reviews .

Rarely does a book pull me in from the opening page but Bonnie Garmus writing engaged me instantly and I enjoyed every sentence from the opening sentence to the last. Witty, warm and written with what felt like such care and consideration. Elizabeth Zott is a wonderful character but every single character , even the horrible ones, felt well developed and realistic and Six Thirty! I never thought my favourite character in a book would be a dog, but here we are. 

I know this book will be one of the biggest hits of 2022 due to its immense readability. It made me laugh, the social commentary of the sexism portrayed was deliciously well captured without feeling preachy and it warmed my cynical heart. A wonderful, clever, quirky, lovely read.

Bravo Bonnie Garmus, I cannot wait to read what she writes next.

4.5 - 5 star
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A BRILLIANT read, it’s a heartwarming and engaging story about a chemist, Elizabeth Zott, who faced with the challenges of being a woman, an unmarried mother and a scientist in the 1960s, turns to cooking on TV. 

The story covers many aspects of life, work and death. I loved the quirkiness and the science. The characters, especially Mad, were brilliantly written and relatable. My only issue was that it was a long read, slow in places and the ending was just ok. I won’t spoil it though, as I still really enjoyed it and would highly recommend! I am very excited to hear this is also going to become a movie, though I doubt it will as good as the book as you really get a feel for the thoughts and feelings of the characters. 

Thank you to NetGalley, Random House UK, Doubleday books AND Bonnie Garmus for this book and the opportunity to review.
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This book! I just had to read it after seeing all of the excitement and anticipation as we neared the publication day and it did not disappoint at all. 

Elizabeth Zott has already become a beloved and inspirational character, and quite rightly so. We follow her life as she navigates both the chemistry lab and her television show, fighting at all times for women to be respected. 

It is funny, moving, and has exceptional characters to fall in love with. Six-thirty the dog is a real scene-stealer!

I can’t recommend this book enough.
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I really enjoyed Lessons in Chemistry, a full-on historical feminist tale of love, cooking and (of course) chemistry. Great fun, and I think almost everyone would like at least something about the book, it’s so joyful even though it sometimes tackles tough subjects.

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for honest feedback.
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Simplified to a single word, Lessons in Chemistry is amazing. Hilariously funny, witty and with somewhat surprising turn of events, I would truly challenge anybody not to enjoy this book. Elizabeth Zott is not your “average” woman and would happily counter that an “average woman” just doesn’t exist. Determined to live her life to her full potential and ignore what would be considered the “societal norms” of a 1950’s/60’s housewife/mother, Zott is a woman we should all aspire to and wish our daughters to be. 
Although described as hilariously funny by myself and many other book bloggers, Lessons in Chemistry also features some very important issues including discrimination, sexism, both sexual and physical assault as well as how under valued and unappreciated women were in society. As a female in a health profession with a love of science (not a nurse I might add!), it’s disturbing to think that my career would just not have been possible or accepted for women in the 50’s. Whilst I am pleased that women are also encouraged and able to have careers within previously male dominated areas such as maths, science and engineering today, it is also saddening to think we have not overcome all of the issues raised in this book. Whilst being entertaining and funny, this is an incredibly thought provoking read. 
That being said, Lessons in Chemistry is not serious or “heavy” and I wouldn’t wish to discourage potential readers. Elizabeth is a fantastic and well developed character, as is her intelligent and strong daughter Mad however my absolute favourite has to be “six-thirty”. A bizarre and absurd name for a dog however six-thirty’s personality shone throughout the book. I’ve never read a book where the dog has a voice for the reader, it’s imaginative and refreshing and I feel six-thirty is expressing all the thoughts our beloved canine companions have day to day.

Overall Lessons in Chemistry is a fabulous debut book and one of my favourites of the year so far. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to all my family and friends and I hope the soon-to-be TV series really does it justice!
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Lessons in Chemistry is a well deserved 5 star read, which I highly recommend to anyone looking for an enjoyable, entertaining story that is hard to put down! 

Although this is based on the 1960s, this book will appeal to all ages. Filled with unique and quirky characters, it's hard not to adore the main character Elizabeth Zott and her trusted canine companion, Six-Thirty, who has a voice of his own to the reader! This was a new element to me but incredibly refreshing and lovable. Giving the dog character is just one way this book is different to anything else I have read before. 

There are extreme elements to this plot around women's rights and how women were viewed as under-appreciated and not classed as valued members of society. Although this is a significant issue, the writing style means it is not heavy. 

Lessons in Chemistry is faultless as a debut read, and I can not wait to read more from this author in the future!
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Elizabeth is bold and headstrong, who is out of place in a man's world in the 1960s. When fate intervenes and pushes her to Calvin another unpopular chemist, life takes a different turn. She hadn't planned on any of this and life just keeps throwing her challenges. She is a survivor and determined to prove everyone wrong. A very funny story proving that you can do anything that you want.
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I had heard a lot of really positive reviews of this book which prompted me to read it. I'm so pleased I did!

This book is absolutely wonderful, full of humour and heartbreak, it had me gripped all the way through. I completely loved all of the characters but the main character, Elizabeth Zott, is one I'll remember for a long time. She is strong and determined and pays little to no attention to those around her telling her she "can't". 

This is a book I will re-read and its one I will be recommending to everyone, absolutely fantastic debut!
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This gave me my reading mojo back!!  After two books I really didn't enjoy I ventured into the reading class for some Lessons In Chemistry....and so glad I did!! Bonnie Backus has written a wonderful book, a little slow to start but picking up pace at a speed of knots and really upping the ante!! My faith in a good book restored, I swept through this, the amazing Elizabeth Zott as the central character, blazing in a career seen as a man's remit....she is bold, brave and truly inspirational!!!  
I loved the uniqueness of her character, pushing limits many writers prefer to steer clear of, she is fun and challenging yet one very determined lady.  I'm not hesitating to recommend this one to anyone who wants to know if a good book to read this year....   This book lives up to it's!ourful, nostalgic and very much a teaching tool for the modern lady....A superb debut!!!
Many thanks to Netgalley for my copy, this is my unbiased review.
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Even though the science in this book was completely lost on me this is by far one of my most favourite ever reads. It is clever, ironic, witty and has the most amazing protagonist in Elizabeth Zott. She is just simply wonderful and she had me from the moment she stated “A man can make lunch Mr Pine, it’s not biologically impossible.”

My feminist heart loved her strength in adversity, refusing to kowtow to the men who deem her subordinate just because she is a woman. She is a force to be reckoned with and every thought she had I agreed with completely. She is a pioneer, an outlier in a world where women should just want to get married and have babies. Elizabeth knows what she is and that’s a scientist.

Then there is the dog Six-Thirty, who Elizabeth accidentally gained and then taught words. It’s funny but I can’t actually think of a word capable of describing the dog’s thoughts and actions that happen in this book. None seem good enough, delightful, charming, astonishing, no they don’t even come close. Dolphins and cows, I mean only a dog could see that one was deemed smarter as it could do tricks. But the one not doing them was surely the smart one.

This may have been set in the 60’s but you could change the time to any decade and it would still work. This book was a breath of fresh nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide and I cannot recommend it enough.
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What a story! I gobbled up this book in one day due to the charm that radiates from this book.It was a pure joy to read and it isn't often that I get completely swept along and can't put a book down but Bonnie Garmus has achieved so much with her writing. 

Following Elizabeth Zott trying to figure her place in the world of science, a world that very much does not want her and belittles her for even trying, we meet a single mother fighting societal problems every single day through the unexpected format of a cooking show. Set in the 60s, Garmus paints an extremely vivid picture of the time and the battles that women faced but it wasn't overdone or predictable, the very matter of fact Zott through Garmus' writing simply laid out the realities of the day to day gender battles of the time. Zott's no nonsense approach was refreshing and amusing. Her character is fully formed and it isn't about liking the character but more respecting her. I was on Zott's side the entire story. This book is enjoyable from the very first sentence and simply a really really fantastic story. 

Thank you for the ARC!
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