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Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Historical fiction

Lessons in Chemistry

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Bonnie Garmus, on your first book!

by Bonnie Garmus

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Quick take

This novel has the perfect molecular structure: a charming protagonist, humor, a lovable dog, and feminist bonafides.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Feminist

    Feminist

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Brainy

    Brainy

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Underdog

    Underdog

Synopsis

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.

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Content warning

This book contains descriptions of sexual assault.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Lessons in Chemistry.
Lessons in Chemistry

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 against the table. It is not your imagination, she wrote on a third. Most people are awful. She placed the last two on top.

Most young children can’t read, and if they can, it’s mostly words like “dog” and “go.” But Madeline had been reading since age three and, now, at age five, was already through most of Dickens.

Madeline was that kind of child—the kind who could hum a Bach concerto but couldn’t tie her own shoes; who could explain the earth’s rotation but stumbled at tic-tac-toe. And that was the problem. Because while musical prodigies are always celebrated, early readers aren’t. And that’s because early readers are only good at something others will eventually be good at, too. So being first isn’t special—it’s just annoying.

Madeline understood this. That’s why she made it a point each morning—after her mother had left and while her babysitter neighbor, Harriet, was busy—to extract the notes from the lunch box, read them, then store them with all the other notes that she kept in a shoebox in the back of her closet. Once at school she pretended to be like all the other kids: basically illiterate. To Madeline, fitting in mattered more than anything. And her proof was irrefutable: her mother had never fit in and look what happened to her.

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Why I love it

I am grateful for books always, but especially lately, these last—well, couple of years now, when all I want is to be elsewhere, doing something interesting in the company of people who make me happy. So I was especially grateful to find myself in the world of Elizabeth Zott and Lessons in Chemistry, a cheerful, cinematic, whip-smart novel about finding one’s family and the ongoing fight for gender equality. (Also, cooking! And television! And teaching dogs how to read!)

Why did I love this book? It’s shrewd and vibrant and carefully plotted. But most of all I loved it because reading it made me feel good, hopeful even. Lessons in Chemistry is, in addition to being a very funny novel, refreshingly earnest, a word I use carefully and as a high compliment. This is a book that is complicit with its reader and takes care of her, allowing her to walk away from it feeling optimistic about being a person in the world.

And did I mention Six-Thirty? He’s one of the best fictional dogs I’ve ever encountered. Honestly, I felt a superlative affection for almost every character in this book and continued to think about them—and root for them—long after I finished reading. In short: it’s a fabulous novel. I hope you’ll read it and relish its companionship as much as I did.

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Member ratings (39,608)

  • Melanie C.

    Long Beach, CA

    Absolutely lovely. Brings up so much like, equality & feminism, while painting a vivid portrait of life in SoCal in the early 60’s. I ???? all the chemistry and Zott’s unapologetic character. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Amy M.

    Austin, TX

    So good! Don’t judge a book by its cover. I totally thought this was a rom com but it wasn’t at all- it reminded me a bit of a prayer for Owen meany which is one of my all time faves! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️!

  • Bianca V.

    Indio, CA

    Elizabeth Zott is like a female version of Sheldon Cooper—very intelligent, but can be annoying and dense AF. Despite that, I was rooting for her to succeed. I highly enjoyed this book! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Christine G.

    Trumbull, CT

    Very funny and such a different story with a touch of mystery. I didn’t know where we were heading when I started it, but definitely a 5⭐️ for me! Left me wanting more of “Supper at Six.” ❤️‘ed 6:30!!

  • Madison M.

    Nashville, TN

    Wow this book was so incredible and inspiring. Not at all what I expected but I LOVED IT. The writing style was unique in the best way. This would make an amazing limited series TV show ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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