The Periodic Table

Ranked #6 in Chemistry, Ranked #17 in Italian Historysee more rankings.

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi is an impassioned response to the Holocaust: Consisting of 21 short stories, each possessing the name of a chemical element, the collection tells of the author's experiences as a Jewish-Italian chemist before, during, and after Auschwitz in luminous, clear, and unfailingly beautiful prose. It has been named the best science book ever by the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and is considered to be Levi's crowning achievement. less

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William Fiennes They’re a mixture of short stories and autobiographical essays, or essays in autobiography. Levi uses the elements from the periodic table as a way of organising memory. He uses 21 elements, each as a doorway or wormhole into a particular area of his experience, into a particular memory – but leaving out his time in Auschwitz, because he’d already written about that. You get his early interest in chemistry, his early experiments, the friends he studied with, the atmosphere of the laboratories and the characters of the professors who taught him. It’s about his interest in matter, the stuff the... (Source)

Tim Radford It’s a life story by a chemist seen through the prism of an elemental substance. Some of it doesn’t work very well and some of it works very well. There’s a lovely chapter on iron that refers to the arrival of the Fascist era. There’s a much more personal account involving mine tailings and the extraction of precious metals from mine tailing, which he was employed at. That gives him a chance to contemplate the nature of matter itself and why the stuff that’s in the ground is the same as the stuff that actually composes our bodies. And why things that happen in chemistry can be subtly... (Source)

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