Brief Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry–a novel by Bonnie Garmus

I can hardly keep up with the reading pace of some of my Occam’s Typewriter colleagues (looking at you, Dr. Gee—and I loved the Richard Osman recommendations!), but I have had the pleasure of reading a number of really good books over the last few months. One outstanding novel that may be of interest to the readers of Occam’s Typewriter is Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus.

In truth, it has been awhile since I read such a compelling and moving novel, and as an added boon, one about a scientist. Bonnie Garmus, who is not a scientist herself, really managed to create a laboratory atmosphere—and based in the late 1950s/early 1960s—not a very flattering one, especially for women.

I will avoid spoilers, but the novel really uses science and life as a scientist to highlight the rampant misogyny (that may not even be sufficient to describe the level of oppression and inequality of that era) that women were forced to suffer. Bonnie Garmus managed to create a “real-life super-hero,” one whose dedication to science, logic, and even atheism, is eons ahead of her time. Throwing a good deal of humor into her tale for good measure, Garmus comes up with an engrossing story of a female scientist and survivor, and one of the better books I’ve read in recent years.

One of the take-home messages—that is still very true today in many circumstances—is how women of that era had to be so much better than the men around them, just to be permitted to work as unequals in their presence. Whether you are primarily outraged by the situations encountered, delighted by the perseverance of the brilliant protagonist Elizabeth Zott, or both outraged and simultaneously delighted, you are likely to enjoy this novel.

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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One Response to Brief Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry–a novel by Bonnie Garmus

  1. Henry Gee says:

    I feel seen 🙂

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