Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

“Children, set the table. Your Mother needs some time for herself.”

This is a delightful book, full of humor and sharp observations, Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is a must-read if you like intelligent protagonists, a story of true love and overcoming everything thrown at you. That’s all of us, right?

Elizabeth Zott is a brilliant scientist, a chemist of remarkable intelligence but her advancement in the field is thwarted at every turn. Because it is the late 1950s, Elizabeth faces sexism repeatedly – she is sexually harassed, denied educational opportunities and promotions, paid far less than other, less talented scientists and is expected to get the coffee and run errands for the men at her lab. Her sharp tongue and refusal to back down don’t make her any friends.

And then she meets Calvin. Calvin Evans is also a brilliant scientist and has won many awards and is expected to one day win a Nobel Prize. Everyone treats him deferentially – he is the star of the lab (and brings in lots of donations because of his fame) and he is known to hold a terrible grudge against anyone who crosses him. After a rocky first meeting, the two outcasts discover a true meeting of the minds – finally! someone to discuss science with! – and they fall in love.

Their bubble of happiness and mutual respect ends tragically however and Elizabeth is on her own again, fighting the same battles against prejudice, misogyny and sexism. That is, until her no-nonsense and hyper-efficient attitude catches the eye of a programmer for a local television station. Desperate and impressed by her ability take command and fix things, he hires her to star in a cooking show. And thus, Supper at Six begins.

Elizabeth doesn’t just teach cooking. She’s teaching her viewers chemistry (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”). She does not talk down to her audience. She encourages and expects excellence, reminding her housewife following that they are capable and intelligent and that they must not settle for less.

This is such an excellent book, funny and sweet, sad and bittersweet, uplifting and encouraging wrapped around a protagonist you’ll love and with a very satisfying ending. Highly recommended!

 

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