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BJS Bookshelf: Lessons in Chemistry

Authors: Recommendation and Article by Stephen J Wigmore; BJS Foundation Treasurer; Regius Professor of Clinical Surgery University of Edinburgh; Director Edinburgh Surgery online; Editor in Chief HPB; @ProfW_edinsurg

Lessons in Chemistry is a novel by Bonnie Garmus set in America in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s. It follows the extraordinary life and career of the heroine Elizabeth Zott and her dog Six-thirty. Zott is a scientist at heart, to be precise a chemist and is ruled by scientific principles and logic. The story follows the prejudices, misogynistic biases and innumerable obstacles that she faces as a talented woman scientist making life and career choices in what was an incredibly patriarchal society- scientific research. In spite of the serious subject matter and some sad elements to the story, the book is written with wonderful humour and there were some “laugh out loud” moments for me. Even when she becomes a TV celebrity hosting a cooking show Zott adamantly remains a scientist and refuses to compromise on her principles or to bend to the whims of the male TV producers. The character Zott has such a wonderful mind and the absurdity of the juxtaposition of her logic with the prevailing wisdom, patriarchal prejudice and culture is quite charming.

Why surgeons should read it:

This book has nothing to do, on the face of it, with the subject of surgery and yet I think all surgeons should read it. At the same time in history, surgery was almost exclusively a male preserve and the structure of training, service delivery and hospital culture excluded women. There have been changes and improvements in recent years which have made surgery more accessible to women but the playing field is probably still not as level as it should be. Lessons in Chemistry could equally be Lessons in Surgery.


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