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The Periodic Table Hardcover – Oct 1 1996
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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.
“I immersed myself in The Periodic Table gladly and gratefully. There is nothing superfluous here, everything this book contains is essential. It is wonderful pure, and beautifully translated…I was deeply impressed.” –Saul Bellow
“The best introduction to the psychological world of one of the most important and gifted writers of our time.”–Italo Calvino
“A work of healing, of tranquil, even buoyant imagination.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Brilliant, grave and oddly sunny; certainly a masterpiece.” –Los Angeles Times
“Every chapter is full of surprises, insights, high humor, and language that often rises to poetry.” –The New Yorker
“One of the most important Italian writers.” –Umberto Eco
With a new Introduction by Neal Ascherson
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Top Customer Reviews
"The Periodic Table" cleverly takes the elements that are part of our everyday lives and uses each to illustrate a story, most of which are his view point of 1940s Italy, before or after he was sent to Auschwitz. (Very little of this book has to do with the actual death camp, though its impressions are evident.) Levi, a chemist, tells autobiographical tales of his desire to make people see in the logical way that chemists see the world.
The way that Levi weaves words might be more expected from a poet than from a scientist. Above all, however, Levi was an observer of both elements and of human nature. I'm only sorry that I discovered him after he died; I might have written to tell him how much I enjoyed his book. My mother, a scientist, is emotionally unable to read any more books about the Holocaust; but as this book doesn't talk about the horrors of the camps but about the era, why, I think I'll lend it to her.
(amazon.com wishlist purchase)
What I got was a tale of subtle defiance and quiet resiliency to the war that looms in the background of the book. The author hints at the drama and struggle of the war through his many short vignettes--each related to an element from the Periodic Table--but he is never overcome by it, remaining distant from the events, submitting helplessly to the way things were, but looking brightly toward the future.
This was altogether a very interesting book. Strangely inspiring, aloof but aware, it provided me a view of the second world war that I never would have imagined.
To many readers the career of a chemist might seem as exciting as the career of an accountant or a tax attorney, essential to society, but better left to someone else. It hardly seems the subject for a remarkable literary work.
Levi paints an intriguing portrait of a chemist, a detective unraveling the secrets of matter, a philosopher searching for meaning. We learn much about the kinds of problems that excite a chemist and how a chemist goes about searching for answers. But we learn more about Levi himself, about life in a Fascist state, and about human relationships in difficult situations.
Primo Levi titled each chapter with the name of an element that either plays a role in that particular chapter or exhibits characteristics that are metaphorically descriptive of human relationships portrayed in that chapter.
Most chapters revolve about an important biographical event. However, the first chapter, Argon, tells a rather quiet (inert) story of the unexciting Levi family history and it might be best to skip chapter one until later. Hydrogen, the second chapter, is more exciting, almost explosive. Zinc, Iron, Potassium, Nickel, and others follow.
Three chapters - Lead, Mercury, and Carbon - are fictional. I was absolutely fascinated by all three. Levi is a great story teller. Lead should be read by students of history and Mercury likewise.Read more ›
It is such a great book -- such a clear-eyed, deeply felt, wide-ranging look at the human cost of Fascism and the Holocaust -- that anything I could possibly say about it would be idiotically trite. All I can really say, in honesty, is that I think it is one of the greatest books ever written. In any language. In any century. On any topic.
Having never read it in translation, I have trouble imagining how a translator could capture the poetry and the rich literary resonances of Levi's deceptively simple writing style. It is the kind of writing where you read sentences over again, sometimes aloud, just for their rythm and sound. However, friends who have read it in English say the translation is excellent. Even if it weren't, it's a book no thinking person should go without reading. It has a beauty and a gripping quality that goes far, far beyond style.
Just read it. Unlike most books you hear this about, it REALLY WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
Most recent customer reviews
I enjoyed this book and learned a lot about what it's like to be a chemist - all of this was new to me. Read morePublished 2 days ago by PatriciaMarguerite
Got it for a class, didn't read the whole book but very interestingPublished 2 months ago by Liliania
I have really enjoyed this mans works. I look for anything and everything he does. The Periodic Table was a nice play on the experience of his life and its relative element.Published on May 8 2013 by Ina
I happened to read this book shortly after reading a book about a character struggling to come to terms with his wife's suicide (from depression) - 'The Dogs of Babel'. Read morePublished on May 25 2004 by A. G. Plumb
The Periodic Table by Primo Levi is quite a fascinating book. Although the first chapter is slow (as pointed out in other reviews) the other chapters are pretty interesting. Read morePublished on Dec 14 2003
I read this book for the first time about five years ago, but since then I've read it many times (and as a matter of fact, all Primo Levi's books). Read morePublished on Nov. 3 2003 by GNV
Levi is one of my heroes - a scientist who overcame a horrific life experience (the Holocaust camp experience), losing friends and relatives yet did not become bitter or carry his... Read morePublished on July 29 2003 by Avid Reader
Levi is one of my heroes - a scientist who overcame a horrific life experience (the Holocaust camp experience), losing friends and relatives yet did not become bitter or carry his... Read morePublished on July 6 2003 by Avid Reader
I bought and read this book some time ago but some passages were so good they are still fresh in my memory. This story is both unexpected and very engaging. Read morePublished on Dec 10 2002 by Jon S. Folkedahl