Lessons In Chemistry’s 7 Biggest Book Changes

WARNING! This article contains SPOILERS for Lessons in Chemistry episode 3 and the book Lessons in Chemistry.


  • Elizabeth’s role as a chemist is changed to a lab tech in the miniseries, highlighting the challenges she faces in a male-dominated field.
  • The romantic relationship between Elizabeth and Calvin progresses at a slower pace in the miniseries, with both versions ultimately ending tragically.
  • The introduction of Harriet as a Black woman and the addition of the Little Miss Hastings Pageant shake up familiar elements of the book, promising interesting changes to the story.

Many changes were made in Lessons in Chemistry when bringing Elizabeth Zott’s story from book pages to the silver screen, as shown in the first three episodes. The Apple TV+ miniseries is adapted from the hit debut novel Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, who serves as a co-executive producer on the series but didn’t write any of the episodes. The Lessons in Chemistry cast is led by actress and co-executive producer Brie Larson, who puts her own spin on the zany, inspiring, and complex Zott, making and taking any changes to the book in stride.

The differences between the Lessons in Chemistry book and the miniseries it inspired are both minor and major all at once. The Lessons in Chemistry trailer suggests that, with 8 episodes in total, it will become clearer that seemingly trivial changes can have a big impact. Adapting books, especially beloved ones, can be a tricky business, as there’s always going to be something left on the cutting room floor that disappoints devoted readers. Fortunately, Lessons in Chemistry also has the opportunity to make changes that build upon and enhance the existing story.

1 Elizabeth Is A Lab Tech, Not A Chemist

Brie Larson As Elizabeth Zott Doing Work In The Chemistry Lab In Lessons In Chemistry.jpg

One of the most notable and curious changes made in Lessons in Chemistry’s first two episodes is the decision to have Elizabeth work as a lab tech. In the book, Elizabeth is a chemist who has her own lab techs and a team who hold varying degrees of respect towards her. Zott has a master’s in chemistry but not a PhD, which makes it easy for some of her sexist colleagues and superiors to dismiss her work as lesser. In the Lessons in Chemistry miniseries, Elizabeth still has a degree in chemistry, but she’s hired to be a lab tech, not a chemist, limiting her capacity to work.

Zott’s underemployment in the 1950s and her feelings about being perceived by her male colleagues as just another pretty face and a glorified secretary were exemplified in Lessons in Chemistry episode 1 through the Little Miss Hastings Pageant. This pageant didn’t exist in the book and was telling of the way Zott’s position as a lab tech complicates her dynamics with her coworkers and superiors. In particular, it makes her work and relationship with Calvin in Lessons in Chemistry appear extremely unbalanced from the outside despite her having the qualifications to be a chemist.

Related: What Time Period Is Lessons In Chemistry Set In?

2 How Elizabeth & Calvin Got Together

Brie Larson As Elizabeth Zott In Lessons In Chemistry Sitting In Lab With Calvin Evans & Six-Thirty

Calvin and Elizabeth’s romantic relationship progresses much quicker in the Lessons in Chemistry book despite having similar origins. In the book, Zott agrees to work with Calvin a week after meeting him under the agreement that they would never date, and it was just work. Three weeks after that, following one of their disagreements, they shared their first kiss in an explosive moment that, as the book says, cemented “a permanent bond that even chemistry could not explain.” They may have a much slower, more cinematic buildup in the Lessons in Chemistry miniseries, but both relationships tragically end the same way.

3 Harriet’s Introduction

Aja Naomi King As Harriet Sloane In Lessons In Chemistry.jpg

In the Lessons of Chemistry book, Calvin and Elizabeth’s neighbor, Harriet, is an older white woman and housewife whose kids have left the nest, leaving her lonely with a sexist husband she doesn’t love. In the Lessons in Chemistry show, Harriet is a Black woman who has two young children with her husband, who is serving overseas in the Korean War. She also works as a legal aide, environmentalist, and civil rights activist. In the book, Harriet isn’t even introduced until after Evans dies, though she’s a main character from the beginning of the Lessons in Chemistry miniseries. This promises some interesting shakeups to the world readers are familiar with.

Related: Lessons In Chemistry’s Harriet Book Changes Explained By Showrunner

4 Elizabeth Burning The Lasagna

Brie Larson in Lessons in Chemistry with a severe 1950s hairstyle and period clothes, on a colorful, fake-looking old TV set, talking directly to the camera

The Lessons in Chemistry book frequently weaves its way through different timelines and points of view in ways the miniseries can’t entirely imitate. Interestingly, cuts to flash-forwards of Zott hosting her cooking show, Supper at Six, are used to show parallels between herself at different stages in her life. In the Lessons in Chemistry book, Zott never burns her food because cooking is a precise chemistry, and she is a gifted chemist and perfectionist who is held to impossibly high standards as a woman. In the screen adaptation, she accidentally burns the lasagna she’s making at two different key moments.

The first time she does this is because she is distracted talking on the phone to Evans while she cooks. He tells her it’s okay, and she says it’s not because she’s never burnt anything, clearly suggesting that Evans is a distraction she cannot afford. In the future, she burns the lasagna in front of a live studio audience, shocking everyone but no more than herself. She is briefly emotional before she delivers a moving speech in Lessons in Chemistry episode 2 about the messiness and unpredictability of life and science, clearly inspired by one of her last conversations with Calvin before his untimely death.

5 Calvin Proposes To Elizabeth & She Says No

Brie Larson & Lewis Pullman in Lessons in Chemistry 101

Zott and Evans fall in love with each other deeply and quickly, and given the time period, it’s not exactly surprising that it doesn’t take long for Evans to propose marriage in the Lessons in Chemistry book. He begs her to say yes, even doing it in front of the entire cafeteria, taking out the ring box he said he’d been carrying around for months. In Lessons in Chemistry episode 2, Evans and Elizabeth simply have a calm conversation where she says she never wants to get married or have children, which he almost immediately accepts in turn, all in the comfort of their own bed.

When Zott rejects his proposal in the Lessons in Chemistry book because she wants her work to stand alone, he basically throws a tantrum. As Calvin often did in the book, he made assumptions and took actions blinded by love and his belief of what love should look like, not considering Elizabeth’s feelings as much as he should have. The Calvin of the Lessons in Chemistry book had a much harder time than the Calvin in the series when it came to letting go of the idea of having a traditional family with the love of his life.

In some ways, this could make the book more realistic, as Calvin’s love and respect for Zott consistently force him to unlearn what he hadn’t even begun to think of as sexist ideology. This takes time, but he is always striving to grow and follow Elizabeth’s example. Fortunately, they managed to resolve their argument in the Lessons in Chemistry book by the end of lunch.

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6 The Introduction of Six-Thirty

Brie Larson As Elizabeth Zott Sitting In Car With Six-Thirty The Dog In Lessons In Chemistry.jpg

After rejecting his marriage proposal in the Lessons in Chemistry book, Elizabeth agrees to get a dog with him to help Calvin build the family that he so longs for. About a month later, they still hadn’t found a dog, but Six-Thirty managed to find them. While walking back from the deli one day, a “mangy, smelly dog” saw her walk by and moved for the first time in five hours to follow her home. Evans, amused at seeing the odd couple together for the first time, asked, “Who’s your friend?” Elizabeth then replied, “It’s six thirty,” clearly mishearing him and giving their dog his unique name.

7 Calvin’s Accident

Calvin Evans & Six-Thirty The Dog On A Run In Lessons In Chemistry.jpg

In Lessons in Chemistry, both Zott and Calvin have peculiar habits, with jogging being one of Calvin’s. His death precluded the start of the jogging craze in the 1970s, meaning the fact that he would run and jog outside was seen as odd. In the book, Zott didn’t exactly approve of it, especially when it rained. Elizabeth didn’t get Six-Thirty a leash until the city passed its first leash law, and she became unexpectedly concerned with wanting him attached to her and keeping him safe. She then asked Calvin to use the leash when they went on runs together.

Calvin didn’t want to be tethered by a leash, but he saw a “mothering instinct” in Elizabeth when she talked about keeping Six-Thirty safe, so he obliged. In the Lessons in Chemistry television series, Elizabeth gifts Calvin a leash on Christmas, so he could have a running buddy in Six-Thirty. This removes the context of the time period for viewers and Calvin’s reticence. Instead, it’s the dog who doesn’t like the leash, and Six-Thirty’s stubborn behavior on a run is shown in Lessons in Chemistry episode 2’s ending when Calvin is suddenly hit by a huge bus rather than run over by a police car like in the book.

Though it might seem like a lot of minutiae being removed, this is what the Lessons in Chemistry book thrives on. Garmus is able to throw in little information to both foreshadow events and make them even more tragic. Zott feels an immense sense of guilt for Calvin’s death because of the role the leash played in it, which is still there in the miniseries, but Lessons in Chemistry naturally loses a certain degree of emotional and logical depth when adapted.

8 Calvin’s Funeral

Six-Thirty Sadly Holding His Leash In Lessons In Chemistry Episode 3.jpg

Calvin’s funeral in Lessons in Chemistry episode 3 featured just a few changes made from the book. Just like in the show, Elizabeth spoke to an interviewer from the LA Times, but in the book, he approached before she’d taken her seat. After seeing Six-Thirty with her, he assumed that Elizabeth was blind, which he then published in his article. Additionally, Elizabeth left his funeral mid-ceremony in both iterations of the story, but in the book, she told everyone she needed to go on a walk before leaving rather than just walking out silently. This drew further attention to her and highlighted just how disconnected Zott felt from her surroundings.

9 Frask’s Treatment Of Zott

Stephanie Koenig As Fran Frask In Lessons In Chemistry Episode 3.jpg

Fran Frask, head of Personnel at the Hastings Research Institute, is another character who underwent a great deal of change in adapting Lessons in Chemistry. She is much more sympathetic towards Zott in the miniseries, whereas in the book she is almost delighted in seeing Elizabeth so torn apart by grief. Frask, fueled by jealousy, had wrongly assumed in the book that Elizabeth was only with Calvin for his success and money and didn’t actually love him.

One of Frask’s cruelest moments is when she realizes Elizabeth is pregnant before Elizabeth is even aware of the fact. It is one of Lessons in Chemistry’s biggest book reveals, and she used it against Zott to get her fired. Frask has great character development in the book, but if she starts out already treating Zott with care and sympathy, it likely won’t be as big a part of the series.

10 How Elizabeth & Harriet Meet

Aja Naomi King As Harriet In Lessons In Chemistry Episode 3.jpg

With all the changes to Harriet’s character in Lessons in Chemistry, it’s unsurprising that Harriet and Elizabeth meet much earlier in the series than in the book. In the book, they meet when Harriet comes to Elizabeth’s house to help her with her crying newborn. In the show, Harriet comes over shortly after Calvin’s funeral to ask for help protesting the LA Times article.

Though Elizabeth wasn’t in the right emotional space to help Harriet at that moment, it did lead to the start of a friendship. As Calvin’s friend and now Elizabeth’s neighbor, when Harriet found out Elizabeth was pregnant, she promised to support her. They may have met in different ways in the Lessons in Chemistry book and miniseries, but their bond remains strong in both.

11 When Hastings Fired Zott

Elizabeth Zott Being Fired From Hastings In Lessons In Chemistry Episode 3.jpg

In both the Lessons in Chemistry book and miniseries, Elizabeth is fired for being unwed and pregnant. However, in the book, this happens almost immediately after Calvin’s funeral due to Frask’s discovery. This, in addition to her being a chemist in the book, meant she never had to do Mr. Astor’s correspondence in the months following Calvin’s passing. Just as she had in the miniseries, Zott initially protested the unjust, illegal termination, but Donatti wouldn’t let her walk out.

Donatti revealed that Evans had threatened to leave Hastings if he didn’t fund Zott’s research, which was independent of Calvin’s in the Lessons in Chemistry book. This shocked Elizabeth, who had believed that, despite the sexism she faced, she’d managed to find success on her own merit. Donatti then forced her to leave and sign a termination form that said she couldn’t discuss the reasons for her leaving with anyone and stripped her of her salary and healthcare. The scene was still harsh in the Lessons in Chemistry miniseries, but the book highlighted just how awful Donatti and Frask could be towards Elizabeth.

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