The Periodic Table

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An extraordinary work in which each of the 21 chapters takes its title and starting point from one of the elements in the periodic table. Mingling fact and fiction, history and anecdote, Levi uses his training as a chemist and his experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz to illuminate the human condition.

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An extraordinary work in which each of the 21 chapters takes its title and starting point from one of the elements in the periodic table. Mingling fact and fiction, history and anecdote, Levi uses his training as a chemist and his experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz to illuminate the human condition.

The Periodic Table is largely a memoir of the years before and after Primo Levi’s transportation from his native Italy to Auschwitz as an anti-Facist partisan and a Jew.

 

It recounts, in clear, precise, unfailingly beautiful prose, the story of the Piedmontese Jewish community from which Levi came, of his years as a student and young chemist at the inception of the Second World War, and of his investigations into the nature of the material world. As such, it provides crucial links and backgrounds, both personal and intellectual, in the tremendous project of remembrance that is Levi’s gift to posterity. But far from being a prologue to his experience of the Holocaust, Levi’s masterpiece represents his most impassioned response to the events that engulfed him.

 

The Periodic Table celebrates the pleasures of love and friendship and the search for meaning, and stands as a monument to those things in us that are capable of resisting and enduring in the face of tyranny.

Specifications

Series Title
Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics Series
Publisher
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Book Format
Paperback
Original Languages
English
Number of Pages
240
Author
Primo Levi
ISBN-13
9780805210415
Publication Date
April, 1995
Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)
7.91 x 5.16 x 0.62 Inches
ISBN-10
0805210415

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1 customers found this helpful
A magnificent book. I...
A magnificent book. I just re-read this while on the train back from New York with my wife. but On the very last page, I found the note "York & 60th, Hospital Building, 8th Floor." This was the address of my wife's (then my girlfriend's) lab in New York 13 years ago. Evidently I first read it on the bus down to New York to see her right after college. (7.3.07)
1-5 of 19 reviews

A magnificent book. I...

A magnificent book. I just re-read this while on the train back from New York with my wife. but On the very last page, I found the note "York & 60th, Hospital Building, 8th Floor." This was the address of my wife's (then my girlfriend's) lab in New York 13 years ago. Evidently I first read it on the bus down to New York to see her right after college. (7.3.07)

I read this book as an...

I read this book as an undergrad in Provo. I remember after reading Survival in Auschwitz wanting to read everything I could find by Levi. I read this and wasn't initially wowed by it, but as time passed and I revisited the stories, my appreciation really grew. The book is structurally very clever, with several chapters named after various elements, and in each of the chapters Levi tells a story that centers around or involves that element in some essential way. The most humane chemistry book I have ever read (not that there's really much competition, but all the same).

Only after I finished ...

Only after I finished the book have I learned that the Royal Institution of Great Britain named it the best science book ever in 2006. I, for one, have no objection! Reading this book in 2016 as a mathematician and a software engineer in my mid-career has an interesting appeal to me. Why? Because here is a great author, and a chemist by trade and formal education, writing in his 50s, telling not only fantastic personal stories, but also weaving a scientific / technical narrative that gets a life of its own, if I may say so. I'm so much used to reading and creating analogies between real life and computing technology that Levi's writing feels very fresh and enjoyable, only difference being the use of chemistry jargon, instead of computing. Of course, I don't know many great authors from the field of computing who survived the horrible Auschwitz concentration camp. The power of those stories are difficult to describe in a few sentences: Most of them start very ordinary and quickly develop and mysterious surprises that draw you quickly into mind of the author. Some of them read like detective stories, whereas some of them force you to face the tragedies that simple, ordinary people underwent. One of the aspects I've enjoyed most is how Levi view chemistry and its relation to life, as well as his relationship with the field, from his university freshman years when he was an idealist student, viewing chemistry as a source of truth and wisdom, to the times he worked as customer service consultant for a big company, visiting big customers to explain products and try to sell them. His description of himself as an old chemist entering the laboratory again after many years is unforgettable! A particular set of professionals will understand what I mean. I enjoyed the book a lot, not only during its fun, scientific, 'nerdy' and 'geek' parts, but also the difficult parts where Levi relates to his Auschwitz in the most surprising and agonizing ways. This book motivated me very much to read Levi's other works, and I can happily recommend it: You will witness the smart smile of a man who had more than his share of life and knew how to convey some of it using the chemistry of language, as well as the language of chemistry.

I read this book as an...

I read this book as an undergrad in Provo. I remember after reading Survival in Auschwitz wanting to read everything I could find by Levi. I read this and wasn't initially wowed by it, but as time passed and I revisited the stories, my appreciation really grew. The book is structurally very clever, with several chapters named after various elements, and in each of the chapters Levi tells a story that centers around or involves that element in some essential way. The most humane chemistry book I have ever read (not that there's really much competition, but all the same).

The elements of Levis...

The elements of Levi's stories are hardly the dignified and stodgy entities we know from chemistry class. They are more like temperamental children, exploding if mishandled or unexpectedly congealing into sulky solids if the presence of the merest whiff of impurity. In some of the stories, Levi is a detective searching for a contaminant which has spoiled a patch of paint or X-ray paper. In others, he is an alchemist intent on extracting riches from a pile of debris. We learn of his struggle to complete his degree and find work in Fascist Italy in the face of laws discriminating against Jews. Only one story refers directly to his time in Auschwitz when he is forced to assist a German chemist who has closed his eyes to the mass murder around him. These stories have the imaginative power of Borges, but remain rooted in the material world of a scientist who is at once a petty bureaucrat, a wizard of the elements and a man who must cope with the political turmoil around him.

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