Review of Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus

Lessons in Chemistry

by Bonnie Garmus
read by Miranda Raison

Random House Audio, 2022. 11 hours, 56 minutes.
Review written April 1, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

I’m way behind the trend in finally reading this wildly popular book. The library has so many ecopies, we had to put a cap on it, so occasionally they’ll buy some special two-week-only copies to put a dent in the holds list, and I got in on one of those. I expected a rom-com, but that’s not what I got. This book begins with Madeleine Zott, a precocious 5-year-old girl, saying good-by to her mother, who is going to work to host a cooking show.

The book is about her mother, Elizabeth Zott, and it’s good they warned us she’s going to become a single mother — because right away they go back in time ten years to tell how she got there, and it involves such a beautiful romance that without the foreshadowing, I would have thrown my phone across the room when she became single.

I said in my review of Check and Mate that I’m a sucker for romance where two brilliant people are attracted to each other and come together in part because they appreciate each other’s minds. The romantic part of this book was all about that.

Elizabeth Zott is a chemist. Her soulmate Calvin Evans is also a chemist, but in 1950s California, he gets much more recognition for his work than Elizabeth ever does. They both come from difficult childhoods, but Elizabeth also had to deal with the aftermath of sexual assault – and not being quiet about it got her kicked out of a PhD program. She goes on to struggle to get credit – and funding – for her work as a research chemist. And is finally driven to quit. So when she gets an opportunity to host a cooking show, she takes it, because she has to support her daughter.

But in the TV studio, she’s got new biases to fight. She’s in afternoon television making a cooking show for a female audience — but Elizabeth Zott approaches it as lessons in chemistry. She tells the listeners about the chemical bonds being formed and all the chemistry of food and life itself — and ends up becoming wildly popular. Because women like having their intelligence respected. Who knew?

The story is delightful (except I could have done without the sad part) and wonderfully empowering and inspiring. Calvin’s back story that comes out is maybe a little overly convoluted, but it’s all in good fun. Oh, and their dog, Six-Thirty, has much to contribute as well. But the book is a winner because of the dynamic character of Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant woman who stands up for herself and never backs down, even when the odds seem to be impossible. She is constantly underestimated, and that’s always a mistake.

I highly recommend reading this book and meeting the unforgettable Elizabeth Zott.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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