Archive for the ‘science’ Tag

More than scientific inquiry   Leave a comment

The best books are those you don’t want to pick up because once you do, you don’t want to put them down. It’s a conundrum.  Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is one such book. It’s a love story (on many levels) wrapped in science, specifically chemistry.

Elizabeth Zott is not a woman to be dismissed. Even after her post-graduate education is derailed due to sexual assault, she’s relentless in her pursuit of science.

Well ahead of her time in the late 1950s early ‘60s, she refuses to let her gender restrict her dreams, nor does she allow her good looks to dictate how’s she’s perceived. She’s exceptionally intelligent with a strong sense of self and a desire to be a chemist in the male-dominated scientific community.

She’s hired at a research lab where she meets Calvin Evans, a socially-awkward but distinguished scientist.  A relationship based on mutual respect, desire and, ultimately, love flourishes despite the ill-will of their colleagues.

Garmus deftly illustrates the sexism and hypocrisy of the era.  Yet, this is not a male-bashing narrative. When circumstances change, Elizabeth finds another way – round-about though it is – to pursue a career in chemistry: she hosts a television cooking show where she takes an unusual approach. Instead of identifying ingredients by their common names, she uses scientific terminology (ie., sodium chloride vs salt). Surprisingly, the program is a hit.

Humor and tragedy are incorporated in equal measures with several endearing characters the reader would love to spend more time with.

Lessons in Chemistry

Five Bookmarks

Doubleday, 2022

390 pages (includes acknowledgements)

In Einstein’s Shadow   Leave a comment

Thanks to National Geographic’s limited TV series, “Genius,” several years ago, I knew of Albert and Mileva Einstein’s marriage and his dismissal of her. Marie Benedict’s fictionalized account of her life in The Other Einstein adds nothing new.

It does, however, reinforce my negative perception of Albert. More disappointing is the portrayal of Mileva. Although her brilliance is never underplayed, she’s rendered as a weak, indecisive woman where Albert is concerned.

The narrative focuses on their courtship, which begins at the Polytechnic Institute in Zurich where she and Albert are studying physics. It soon becomes evident that she is an excellent student, despite being scorned by her professor because she is a woman.

Her gender is a constant obstacle to her ability to make a name for herself as a scientist. Benedict gives credence to Mileva’s contributions to numerous theories, particularly that of relativity for which Albert is, perhaps, most well-known. Although. her name is never included in any of the studies.

In Benedict’s hands, Albert is a selfish, insensitive man. Mileva recognizes this, yet she still falls for him. The relationship distracts from her ability to obtain her degree. She becomes pregnant, something Albert comes to view as an impediment to his own future. When their daughter is born, he has nothing to do with her.

I have enjoyed Benedict’s other novels about interesting, strong women in men’s shadows. However, this is the most unsatisfying. Mileva is pathetic in her vulnerability to what she mistakenly sees as Albert’s charms.

The Other Einstein

Two Bookmarks

Sourcebooks Landmark, 2016

304 pages

Race has several meanings   Leave a comment

Horse by Geraldine Brooks is much more than about the equestrian world. Along with some history of horse racing, other topics include slavery, art history, modern science and even romance. However, racism is the primary underlying theme throughout.

The narrative incorporates several threads across different, non-chronological time periods: 1850-75; 1954; and 2019. Blending perspectives and experiences of several characters across time to create a complete picture is one of Brooks’ trademarks.

Although Theo, a Black art history graduate student in Washington, D.C., in 2019, is the first character introduced, readers spend the most time with a 13-year-old slave identified by his masters’ name as Warfield’s Jarret in 1850. As the story progresses and Jarret matures, his owners’ names change as do his situations. Jarret has inherited his father’s horse training skills making a name for himself as an exceptional trainer working with Lexington, a thoroughbred whose lineage now extends through generations.

Other major characters include Jess, an Australian scientist working at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History; Thomas J. Scott, a 19th century artist, whose paintings of Lexington are a significant part of the plot; several of Lexington’s owners; and a 20th century gallery owner.

A discarded painting of a horse leads Theo to learn more about the work, and Jess to discover more about its subject.

As the novel moves back and forth through time, the issue of race remains a constant. Brooks’ deft approach provides an engaging look into the past and an important reflection on our times.

Horse

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks

Viking, 2022

401 pages (including “Lexington’s Historical Connections”)

As the Crows Fly   Leave a comment

25810606

The Atomic Weight of Love begs the question: how heavy is love? Elizabeth J.Church’s novel has war as its bookends: World War II and Vietnam. The passage of time reflects changes in attitudes toward conflict and women.

Meridian Wallace is a brilliant, young student interested in pursuing not only a college education, but an advanced degree in ornithology. This is unusual in 1940s Chicago. While at university she meets and falls in love with professor Alden Whetstone, who is secretly involved with the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M. Although he can’t reveal his research, he convinces Meridian to postpone her studies, move across the country and marry him. There will be plenty of time later to pick up where she left off academically. Ha!

Alden’s commitment to his work and the slow disintegration of a loving relationship could seem a cliché. Yet, Meridian manages to flourish even when the attitudes of the day bear down on her. On her own, she continues to study birds without the benefit of academic resources, she makes a few friends despite being ostracized for not having a doctoral degree like most of the wives in her community. Although they are well-educated they do nothing with their education.

Meridian falls in love with a much younger man but maintains the façade of her marriage with Alden, who becomes increasingly narrow-minded and unlikable as the novel progresses.

The author is masterful in the transformation she ascribes to Meridian and the world around her.

The Atomic Weight of Love
Five Bookmarks
Algonquin Books, 2016
352 pages