Sunday, February 11, 2024

Lessons In Chemistry

Last summer I read the book Lessons in Chemistry and a few weeks ago we finished watching the Apple TV+ series of the same name. Both were quite good but there were some differences between the book and TV show. Some random thoughts follow. 

In the book, the main character Elizabeth is a scientist working in a laboratory. She only has a masters in chemistry because she was unfairly forced to drop out of her Ph.D program after a professor who she was working with tried to rape her. Elizabeth, when struggling with the professor, stabbed him with a pencil. The school wanted her to publicly apologize in order to continue in the program. Elizabeth said she was sorry - sorry she did not have more pencils.  (what a great line!) In the TV show, Elizabeth was working as a lab assistant rather than a scientist. I presume Apple did this to make it seem even life was even more unfair to Elizabeth. I guess getting kicked out of school because you fought off an attempted rape was not bad enough. 

Elizabeth's research in the book is focused on abiogenesis (something I have an interest in as well) whereas her boyfriend Calvin, who is a world renowned scientist. works in a different area. In the TV series Calvin's research has stalled and he starts to work with Elizabeth on abiogenesis. This was a weird change and honestly I cannot figure out why it was made. Yes, it makes Calvin seem less capable, and maybe that was the reason, but it also makes Elizabeth seem less capable as it makes the research not entirely her own.  

The book is about many things, science, cooking, rowing, the relationship between Calvin and Elizabeth, discrimination against women, and the horrors of orphanages.  The book emphasized discrimination against women and added in discrimination against blacks. It was a bit over the top and distracted from the story. 

We seem as a society to have become polarized. You have the Trumpists on one end which, sorry to say, is more a religious movement based on intolerance for anything other than what their leader says. On the other end, you have people who who see everything through the light of discrimination against minorities or women.  There is a conservative joke which I like but feel slightly guilty about liking which goes:

World ends tomorrow. Women and minorities to be hit especially hard.  

I liked President Obama. He acknowledged the historic meaning of being the first black president but he never once said he should be elected because he was black. Compare this to Hillary Clinton whose main message was that it was time for a woman to be in the white house. That turned people off. The result -  many people who voted for Obama subsequently voted for Trump. The lesson - going overboard to make a point can turn people, at least some people off. Often, as with the 2016 election, with devastating results. 

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