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Lessons in Chemistry
Cover of Lessons in Chemistry
Lessons in Chemistry
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • GMA BOOK CLUB PICK Meet Elizabeth Zott: “a gifted research chemist, absurdly self-assured and immune to social convention” (The Washington Post) in 1960s California whose career takes a detour when she becomes the unlikely star of a beloved TV cooking show. STREAM ON APPLE TV+


This novel is “irresistible, satisfying and full of fuel” (The New York Times Book Review) and “witty, sometimes hilarious...the Catch-22 of early feminism” (Stephen King, via Twitter).

A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: The New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, Oprah Daily, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek

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.
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • GMA BOOK CLUB PICK Meet Elizabeth Zott: “a gifted research chemist, absurdly self-assured and immune to social convention” (The Washington Post) in 1960s California whose career takes a detour when she becomes the unlikely star of a beloved TV cooking show. STREAM ON APPLE TV+


This novel is “irresistible, satisfying and full of fuel” (The New York Times Book Review) and “witty, sometimes hilarious...the Catch-22 of early feminism” (Stephen King, via Twitter).

A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: The New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, Oprah Daily, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek

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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Excerpts-
  • From the cover 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.

    It was there, in the Southern Californian town of Commons, where the weather was mostly warm, but not too warm, and the sky was mostly blue, but not too blue, and the air was clean because air just was back then, that she lay in her bed, eyes closed, and waited. Soon she knew there’d be a gentle kiss on her forehead, a careful tuck of covers about her shoulders, a murmuring of “Seize the day” in her ear. In another minute, she’d hear the start of a car engine, a crunch of tires as the Plymouth backed down the drive, a clunky shift from reverse to first. And then her permanently depressed mother would set off for the television studio where she would don an apron and walk out onto a set.

    The show was called Supper at Six, and Elizabeth Zott was its indisputable star.

    Chapter 2

    Pine

    Once a research chemist, Elizabeth Zott was a woman with flawless skin and an unmistakable demeanor of someone who was not average and never would be.
    She was, as all good stars are, discovered. Although in Elizabeth’s case, there was no malt shop, no accidental bench sighting, no lucky introduction. Instead, it was theft—specifically food theft—that led to her discovery.

    The story was simple: a child named Amanda Pine, who enjoyed food in a way some...
About the Author-
  • BONNIE GARMUS is a copywriter and creative director who has worked widely in the fields of technology, medicine, and education. She’s an open-water swimmer, a rower, and mother to two pretty amazing daughters. Born in California and most recently from Seattle, she currently lives in London with her husband and her dog, 99.
     
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 28, 2022
    Garmus debuts with a perplexing feminist fairy tale set in 1960s Southern California. Plucky chemist Elizabeth Zott believes she’s not like other women (“Most of the women she’d met in college claimed they were only there to get their MRS,” Garmus writes. “It was disconcerting, as if they’d all drunk something that had rendered them temporarily insane”). She proceeds to fall madly in love with her colleague, have his child, and then, after being sidelined by double standards, sexual harassment, and scandal around her pregnancy, she’s dismissed from her job and becomes an overnight sensation as the host of a daytime cooking show. This trajectory, and its few tragedies, are intermittently interrupted by the anthropomorphized thoughts of her dog, Six-Thirty: “Humans were strange, Six-Thirty thought, the way they constantly battled dirt in their aboveground world, but after death willingly entombed themselves in it.” In the end, everything works out—not because the patriarchy is destroyed or fairness is achieved, but thanks to the favors of a rich female benefactor equipped to strike back at those who humiliated Zott. While the scenes of Zott hosting her show do have their charm, the overall effect is about as deep as a Hallmark card. The author has a great voice, but contemporary readers will be left wondering who this is for. Agent: Jennifer Joel, ICM.

  • AudioFile Magazine Miranda Raison delivers a zestful performance of Bonnie Garmus's debut novel. Set in the 1950s and early '60s, the story explores the prefeminist spheres of science and television through the career and family experiences of Elizabeth Zott. Raison crisply voices Zott, a no-nonsense chemist who has been antagonized and victimized by men all her life. Portrayals of supporting characters, such as Zott's paramour, Calvin Evans; neighbor Harriet Sloane, and TV producer Walter Pine, are exquisite counterpoints to the headstrong chemist. When Zott becomes famous as the host of a cooking show for housewives, Raison's pinpoint narration places the listener in the front row of the studio audience. The production includes a delightful interview with the author by Pandora Sykes. E.S.B. © AudioFile 2022, Portland, Maine
  • Library Journal

    Starred review from August 1, 2022

    Miranda Raison delivers a spirited performance of Garmus's inventive debut novel. A copywriter and creative director by trade, Garmus has crafted an inspiring protagonist in the brilliant, uncompromising Elizabeth Zott, a chemist facing extreme misogyny in the 1950s and '60s. After surviving a harrowing sexual assault that ruined her chance at an organic chemistry PhD, Zott takes her UCLA master's degree and accepts a job at nearby Hastings Research Institute, where she falls in love with the equally driven Calvin Evans, a Nobel Prize--nominated scientist. After enduring another personal tragedy and more harassment, Zott leaves the Institute to host the local TV show Supper at Six in which she shows respect for her homemaker viewers by focusing on the chemistry behind cooking and nutrition. Absolutely fabulous as Chef Zott, Raison also wonderfully portrays Garmus's delightful cast of secondary characters, which include a budding feminist neighbor and an extremely intelligent dog. VERDICT Sparkling with humor and tragedy, sharp prose, underdog heroes, evil villains, and a mostly happy ending, this must-have title is a Good Morning America Book Club selection and forthcoming Apple TV series. Includes an author interview.--Beth Farrell

    Copyright 2022 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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