Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Lessons in Chemistry chronicles the struggles of a woman scientist as she tries to succeed in a male dominated industry in the 1960s. It ranges from heavy to amusing, with a persistent hatred for Christians and the Catholic Church woven throughout (not amusing).

A summary of Lessons in Chemistry courtesy of Amazon:

“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.”

lessons in Chemistry

The novel has interesting characters and an original, engaging plot. The main character, Elizabeth, is complex – sometimes confident, sometimes vulnerable, but always inflexible. She reminds me of the main character in the TV series Bones, but with less charm. She is hard to like, but often easy to admire her. The best scenes are those with Calvin and also those with the newborn baby because they make Elizabeth seem much more human.

The topic of sexism in the mid-20th century is also a good reminder of how far we’ve come thanks to women, like the character of Elizabeth, who pushed for change. However, the sexism may have been a little overdone. Two rapes / attempted rapes in the workplace are a little hard to believe.

As promising as this book is, the unnecessary anti-God and anti-religion themes ruined it for me. As examples, Christians and the clergy are blamed for Elizabeth’s gay brother’s suicide, psychologically tortured Calvin in an orphanage, and couldn’t even spell “heathen” correctly. So many worn out tropes. The one decent cleric in the story admitted that he didn’t believe in God. Who hurt you, Bonnie Garmus?!?!

Honestly, the Christian hate in the story was distracting and off-putting and ruined (for me) what could have been an exceptional novel. And the story didn’t even need that particular theme – it just felt like the author had an axe to grind.

Lessons in Chemistry is very popular and has received rave reviews, so my opinion might be in the minority. If you’ve read it, I would love to hear your opinion!

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

  1. Worn out tropes….that’s exactly it these days isn’t it? I just finished a book (to remain unnamed) and all I kept thinking while reading it was, seriously, this stuff again? And again? And again?! Ironically, it too had a good story line but was tainted by the axes that apparently still need sharpened. I’m convinced it must be a requirement to get published these days. Life is too short for bad literature!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I disagree with George. As a woman starting out in the work world in the 1980’s we have come A LONG way. I think it’s important and valuable for the current generation to see what we had to deal with and how far we’ve come. For me, I was catapulted back tot he 80s and 90s and how I was treated. I was not in STEM, but I was in consulting and game development, both very male dominated at the time.


  3. I do agree. I loved the book until the end when it had to be soooooo negative about religion. I had recommended it to many people and now am sorry.
    There was no reason for everything about Catholics to be negative. So sad the author decided to include those parts. Totally unnecessary. Could have an amazing book. It was incredibly clever until the religion bashing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting! I agree – the negative Catholic theme ruined the book for me. I’m Catholic and I know the church has it’s problems, but it also does a lot of good across the world.


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