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Lessons in Chemistry summary

Bonnie Garmus

A Novel

4.2 (259 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is a captivating novel that follows the journey of a brilliant female chemist challenging societal norms in the 1960s.
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    Lessons in Chemistry
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    A tale of two chemistry careers

    When we first meet Elizabeth Zott, the central character in Lessons in Chemistry, she is better known to her legions of fans as “Luscious Lizzy” – a no-nonsense but winningly charismatic TV chef who is revolutionizing the way 1950s-era America cooks and eats. Even President Lyndon B. Johnson watches Lizzy religiously.

    But before she became a television phenomenon, Lizzy was a chemist – specifically, an underpaid, underappreciated chemist. It wasn’t because she was bad at chemistry. On the contrary! It was because she was … a woman. 

    In the 1950s, the US wasn’t especially kind to ambitious women like Elizabeth Zott. Her employer, the Hastings Research Institute in California, is no exception. It offers her an unremarkable career working on minor lab projects where she’s paid far less than her male colleagues; the unspoken assumption that Elizabeth will make coffee and perform administrative tasks like a glorified secretary rather than a serious scientist; and an actual secretary, Miss Frask, who is always admonishing Elizabeth when she acts “unladylike” – and who has clearly never heard of words like feminism or sisterhood.

    But there is one thing to like about Hastings: Calvin Evans, the institute superstar. Not that Elizabeth likes the brilliant chemist very much to start with – during an argument over beaker allocation, Calvin mistakes Elizabeth for a secretary. But he soon sees her for the talented, ambitious woman she is. 

    Though they’re equally intelligent, Calvin and Elizabeth’s careers have been very different so far. Calvin received 43 offers of employment after graduating from college, and ended up choosing Hastings because he liked the weather in California. Elizabeth chose to work at Hastings because it was the only offer she got. Elizabeth had initially planned to pursue a doctorate focusing on abiogenesis – the theory that, back in the days of primordial soup, living forms arose from nonliving forms. But then her lecherous supervisor, Dr. Mayer, sexually assaulted her in his office – and Elizabeth fended off his advances with a swift pencil stab to his hand. When Mayer massaged the optics of the situation to make it look like she attacked him, the promised pathway to her doctorate evaporated just as quickly as her reputation.

    Elizabeth’s boss at Hastings, Dr. Donatti, hasn’t made any advances on her – but he seems determined to keep her from doing any of her own research. However, he does eventually approve her abiogenesis project after a rich donor contacts him. This donor has read a paper on abiogenesis by E. Zott and wants to fund further research into the area. Donatti lets the donor believe that Zott is a man, and quietly diverts most of the money to other projects. 

    Calvin and Elizabeth agree to work together in a strictly professional capacity – each hoping the other might not be so strict about the professionalism as their mutual attraction blossoms. Sparring over protein synthesis ensues. Soon enough, Elizabeth and Calvin are dating, though their relationship setup is far from conventional for the time. They move in together without getting married, or even engaged – Elizabeth doesn’t want to get married because she’s worried her own academic work will be overshadowed by Calvin’s. Besides, she’s been publishing under the last name of “Zott”; she can’t take on a new name now. So they get a dog, who they call Six-Thirty. And instead of paying rent to Calvin, who owns their shared home, Elizabeth decides to cook for him five nights a week. Cooking, she likes to remind Calvin, is chemistry.

    They continue in this vein – scandalizing their colleagues, and joyously happy to have found each other. And then, one night while he’s out walking Six-Thirty, Calvin is hit by a police car and dies. 

    ANALYSIS

    Reading Elizabeth Zott’s story, it becomes crystal clear why, even now, STEM fields continue to be male-dominated. At every step of her scientific career, Elizabeth is forced to justify her presence in academia to her doubtful colleagues. At Hastings, she’s routinely mistaken for an assistant. Even Calvin, the love of her life, initially takes her for a secretary. Her colleagues are dismissive of her work and take her support for granted. And, as the Dr. Mayer incident neatly illustrates, misogyny – ranging from lewd comments to outright assault – isn’t exactly frowned upon in the workplace.

    In scenes where Elizabeth and Calvin playfully riff on topics from amino acids to silkworms and their pheromones, it’s abundantly clear that Elizabeth is Calvin’s intellectual match. Yet the prevailing attitudes of the 1950s work against her. Women, it’s assumed, aren’t serious scientists and shouldn’t have ambitions outside of marriage, child-rearing, and homemaking. If Elizabeth Zott wants to achieve professional success, she’ll have to overcome the many odds that are stacked against her.

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    What is Lessons in Chemistry about?

    Lessons in Chemistry (2022) is the story of Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant scientist who has the misfortune of being a woman in 1950s America. After a frustrating failed academic career, Zott finds success in an unlikely place: as the host of a television cooking show.

    Lessons in Chemistry Review

    Lessons In Chemistry (2022) is a compelling tale of a woman's pursuit of knowledge and equality in a male-dominated world. Here's what sets it apart:

    • The novel explores gender stereotypes and the importance of challenging societal expectations.
       
    • It offers an intriguing look into the world of 1960s chemistry and scientific research.
       
    • The inspiring protagonist and her journey will captivate readers from all backgrounds.

    Delve into Lessons In Chemistry for an unforgettable and thought-provoking experience.

    Who should read Lessons in Chemistry?

    • Foodies interested in the science behind cooking
    • Feminists looking for a window into the history of women in STEM
    • Anyone who appreciates stories that are sharp and warm-hearted

    About the Author

    Bonnie Garmus is a copywriter and creative director who has worked across the fields of medicine and tech. Lessons in Chemistry, her first novel, is an international best seller.

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    Lessons in Chemistry FAQs 

    What is the main message of Lessons In Chemistry?

    Lessons In Chemistry highlights the importance of challenging societal norms and fighting for gender equality in science.

    How long does it take to read Lessons In Chemistry?

    The reading time for Lessons In Chemistry varies, but it typically takes around 10-12 hours. The Blinkist summary takes about 15 minutes.

    Is Lessons In Chemistry a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Lessons In Chemistry is a captivating and thought-provoking novel that will resonate with readers interested in science and gender equality.

    Who is the author of Lessons In Chemistry?

    The author of Lessons In Chemistry is Bonnie Garmus.

    How many chapters are in Lessons In Chemistry?

    Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus has 20 chapters. The chapters are as follows

    1. The Beginning
    2. A New Opportunity
    3. The Laboratory
    4. Breaking Barriers
    5. A Turning Point
    6. The Experiment
    7. Unexpected Results
    8. A New Discovery
    9. The Presentation
    10. The Aftermath
    11. A New Path
    12. The Conference
    13. A Chance Encounter
    14. The Collaboration
    15. The Breakthrough
    16. The Recognition
    17. The Award
    18. The Future
    19. The Legacy, and
    20. The End.

    How many pages are in Lessons In Chemistry?

    Lessons In Chemistry has 384 pages.

    When was Lessons In Chemistry published?

    Lessons In Chemistry was published in 2022.

    What to read after Lessons in Chemistry?

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