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The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

The Periodic Table (original 1975; edition 1996)

by Primo Levi

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2,429392,550 (4.15)105
Title:The Periodic Table
Authors:Primo Levi
Info:Everyman's Library (1996), Hardcover, 241 pages
Collections:Read but unowned, Read & released (inactive)
Tags:nonfiction, R04, released, memoir, translation, italy

Work details

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (1975)

  1. 10
    Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks (gust)
  2. 00
    Survival In Auschwitz by Primo Levi (William-90)
    William-90: This book, which preceded TPT, will illuminate the periods of Levi's life that he omitted - for the simple reason that he did not want to repeat himself - from the work under discussion.
  3. 00
    L'Ecroulement de la Baliverna by Dino Buzzati (Eustrabirbeonne)
  4. 00
    Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges (Eustrabirbeonne)

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» See also 105 mentions

English (33)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (39)
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
21 chapters, each with the title of an element of the periodic table. As he says in the final chapter, 'this is not a chemical treatise'. He tells us about his life using the element as a metaphor for that period. The early chapters when we learn how he became interested in chemistry are interesting. These chapters have the energy and optimism of youth, although they were written in his old age. I found the information and the stories in these early chapters engaging and interesting. The chapter Cerium is the only one from his time in Auschwitz, that is covered thoroughly in 'If I was a Man', although there is an unexpected encounter with this time again in Vanadium, when he comes across a German officer he met in Auschwitz. The Silver chapter had me enthralled, what could be causing the problem with the x-ray paper, he is an excellent story teller. In Phosphorus in 1942 we feel the war, we are also wrapped up in chemical analysis to find an injection to cure diabetes but we are also thinking about love and what might have been. The stories unfold chronologically but also stand alone and some I enjoyed more than others. ( )
  Tifi | Jul 11, 2014 |
In three haunting reflections, Primo Levi, a chemist by training, takes
the elements of the periodic table as his inspiration. He ranges from
young love to political savagery; from the inert gas argon - and 'inert' relatives
like the uncle who stayed in bed for twenty-two years- to life- giving carbon. 'Iron'
honours the mountain -climbing resistance hero who put iron in Levi's student soul,
'Cerium' recalls the improvised cigarette lighters which saved his life in Auschwitz, while
'Vanadium' describes an eerie post-war correspondence with the man who had been his
'boss' there.
All are written with characteristically understated eloquence and shot through with deep humanity.
  TIISHARED | Jun 23, 2014 |
An exceptionally wise and thoughtful book. Levi's stories, inspired by the elements, offer a mix of history, anecdote and autobiography. The walls of the concentration camp close in and the survival instinct kicks in - chemistry as tool for the hustle and scramble of survival. The stories come full circle with the tale of the most basic element of all, the essential for life, the element that lies within us and around us, that makes up the brain that thinks and the fingers that write. Essential humanity is, it appears, a matter of chemistry - no more, no less.
  otterley | Mar 24, 2014 |
This is a quirky book by an Italian survivor of Auschwitz. Rated as one of the best science books ever written, I found it worked better when viewed as a memoir. Levi had written elsewhere of his war experiences, and the awful events he faced during WW2 form more of a background here. He uses various elements from the periodic table to serve as triggers/themes for a collection of stories about his life as a chemistry student and professional. Wonderfully understated, the result works. I feel I now know a little bit of the man, and of his working life as an industrial chemist. The edition I read had an introductory chapter by Philip Roth which helped by giving me background I would have otherwise lacked. Read March 2014. ( )
  mbmackay | Mar 5, 2014 |
I'm really not sure what I expected from this, but it was enthralling, nonetheless. Primo Levi uses elements of the periodic table to tell autobiographical snippets of his life. some of them have a concrete relationship to the element of the title, like the Tin they were using to make mirror backs. Some are less obvious, iron is about a college (I think) colleague with whom he went mountaineering - maybe not always following the strictest protocol. this puts an iron in his soul (toughens him up, maybe) and so relates to the elements name in a more indirect manner.

They snippets play out is approximately chronological order, starting with his family, progressing through college and then it comes to his experiences during the war and his internment in Auschwitz. He writes of this with seemingly little bitterness, it is very factual and matter of fact - almost understated - and all in beautiful prose. It almost belies what you're reading to read it expressed in this way.

It's a really quite startling read in some respects, yet it is told from the comfort and security of old age such that you experience it at a distance. A really worthy book. ( )
1 vote Helenliz | Oct 30, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Primo Leviprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Riu, XavierTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenthal, RaymondTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Ibergekumene zoress is gut zu derzajln.
Überstandene Leiden lassen sich gut erzählen.
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There are the so-called inert gases in the air we breathe.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805210415, Paperback)

Writer Primo Levi (1919-1987), an Italian Jew, did not come to the wide attention of the English-reading audience until the last years of his life. A survivor of the Holocaust and imprisonment in Auschwitz, Levi is considered to be one of the century's most compelling voices, and The Periodic Table is his most famous book. Springboarding from his training as a chemist, Levi uses the elements as metaphors to create a cycle of linked, somewhat autobiographical tales, including stories of the Piedmontese Jewish community he came from, and of his response to the Holocaust.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:20 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

One of Italy's leading men of letters, a chemist by profession, writes about incidents in his life in which one or another of the elements figured in such a way as to become a personal preoccupation.

(summary from another edition)

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Penguin Australia

Three editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141185147, 0141399449, 0241956811

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