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Why Lessons in Chemistry, a Fearless Novel, is Exciting Millions of Readers

Updated: Mar 31, 2023


Have you heard of Lessons in Chemistry?

If you're an avid reader who scans the bestseller lists and news in the publishing world, you have probably heard of Bonnie Garmus' novel, Lessons in Chemistry. You may even be one of the millions of people reading it and getting excited by the fictional story of Elizabeth Zott.


Bonnie Garmus' novel was published in the United States by Penguin-Random House in April of 2022. Doubleday published it in Britain. The book went immediately to various bestseller lists and stayed there for over six months and has since been sold to forty countries. Lessons in Chemistry was Amazon's best book of 2022, as well as the top book of the year by The Washington Post, The New York Times, and NPR, just to name a few.


Elizabeth Zott is a chemist starting her career in the early 1960s, battling the "old boys" mentality and fighting to prove herself when everyone dismisses her. One of her colleagues is the Nobel-prize-winning Calvin Evans, a revered but lonely man who recognizes Elizabeth's brilliance. Two great minds rubbing together ignite sparks.


Just when you think Elizabeth's life is going to get better, tragedy strikes, and her life is forever altered. When Elizabeth unexpectedly becomes the star of a small network television show called "Supper at Six," she refuses to bow to the producer's demands and proceeds on her own path teaching women "lessons in chemistry," but also inspiring them to follow their dreams.


What is it about this book that piqued the interest and enthusiasm of so many?


Timing is everything

The recent scandals and outcry against sexual harassment and discrimination against women have certainly made the world aware of the problem, making the timing of the publications of Lessons in Chemistry optimum.


Think, "Me, Too," but move it back sixty years and delete the ability to fight the problem publically. Add a character who isn't strident or whiny, simply rolling up her sleeves and moving forward. Throw in the fact that injustices are righted by one woman's unrelenting pursuit of her passion, and you've got a story that is perfectly timed to ignite the psyche of readers.


Believable character

Elisabeth Zott is the main character of Lessons in Chemistry. She's brilliant, beautiful, and brusque.


Like so many truly brilliant people, Elisabeth Zott is not warm or adept with social conventions. She's no-nonsense, intensely logical, and prickly.


While I didn't find her "likable," Elizabeth Zott was an infinitely believable character, a person who fought her battles in private and forged ahead on her own path. My respect for her and appreciation of her struggles grew with each unfortunate indignity she experiences.


One reason for the intense popularity of Lessons in Chemistry is that readers understand flawed and imperfect characters. Quirky people like Elizabeth Zott are so much like real humans than those irritating always perky, personable, perfect protagonists often portrayed in fiction.

Persistence

It's hard not to like someone who is repeatedly punched and gets back up. Then gets kicked and stands up again. Every time the reader sees Elizabeth Zott get knocked out, they see her rise and carry on.


Not only does she keep on going, but she is never deterred from following her passion. No matter what, she will be what she is meant to be: a chemist.


If she can't work in a lab and ends up in a kitchen, she will still focus on chemistry. If she's kicked out of the kitchen, she'll do chemistry from home.



Fight back with friendship

Elizabeth Zott has encountered awful encounters, including a sexual assault by her supervisor in her graduate studies, an incident which ruined her studies and forced her to daily arm herself with a number two pencil stashed in her chignon.


But it turns out that Elizabeth is not the only one who has faced sexual harassment, and in a turn of fate, two adversaries become friends, bonded together in mutual understanding of the harms done to women simply because of their sex.


Who doesn't love a dog?

I have to admit that my favorite character in the whole book is the dog, named Six-Thirty. (Who doesn't love a dog?) It didn't matter that my own dog's vocabulary of ten words (out, potty, bye-bye, sit, shake, kiss, down, around, toy, and ball) is a paltry few compared to Six-Thirty's massive understanding of human language. According to Elizabeth's meticulous records, Six-Thirty understands more than 400 words. What matters is that Six-Thirty is a beloved dog who brings warmth and humor to Elizabeth's household.


Since 48 million households in America own dogs, it's no surprise that many readers also love Six-Thirty and his integration into the plot of Lessons in Chemistry.


Book Cover Art and "judging a book on it..."

I would NOT have purchased this book if I were looking only at the cover.


I absolutely hate the cover for the American version. It's just like many of the books currently on the shelves in bookstores today. Bold graphics. Intense colors. A cookie-cutter cover of what's trendy, but not meaningful.


The book cover for Lessons in Chemistry makes the novel look like a candy-coated romance, not a valuable story about a heroine with a brain and a cause battling an entrenched establishment.


picture of four different countries' book cover
Covers for American, British, Estonian, and German editions. NYT

The Coming Adaptation

If you enjoyed the book, you'll be happy to know that Apple TV+ has purchased the rights. Lessons in Chemistry will be made into a series produced by and starring Brie Larson.


Read this book and you'll be enraged, enriched, and encouraged. See if you agree with the critics who say,


"Strikingly relevant...darkly funny and poignant..."Lessons in Chemistry's" excellent experiment is quirky and heartwarming." - The Atlantic
"Tackles feminism, resiliance, and rationalism in a fun and refreshing way." - Buzzfeed

and

"Full of hope, energy, and charm." - People
 

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