The Periodic Table Paperback – Apr 4 1995
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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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“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
From the Hardcover edition.
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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.
The idea of naming each chapter after an element then creating a life story around it is exactly the kind of writing to which I and apparently many others are drawn. Besides dispensing scientific facts along the way, Levi teaches us the meaning of life and living and even humor. One of the best and most approachable "science" books around.
The tale about the centuries long journey of a carbon atom from being part of limestone to being part of Primo's brain is pretty way out too.
Since I read this book in the original Italian, I cannot attest to the beauty of the translation. However, I would agree with Bellow that the book is wonderfully pure and lacking in the superfluous.
The Periodic Table, Primo Levi's fantasy regarding chemical elements and written in his elegant, spare style, is filled with images that animate the chemist's world. To a trained chemist, as Levi was, the molecular world is very real, and the its underlying events do not go unnoticed. This is the world that exists beneath the one we usually see; the world that gives matter its colors, tastes, smells, shapes and capacities. Levi's desire for a more complete understanding of the chemical world parallels his desire for a more complete understanding of the spiritual world of mankind.
In this book, Levi tells us, in part, of his years as a teenager and of his experiences with another young man named Enrico. Both boys wanted to become chemists, but for very different reasons. Enrico thought that chemistry would be the key to a more secure life. Levi, however, looked at chemistry as a way to understand and make sense of the universe. He says, "Chemistry represented an indefinite cloud of future potentialities which enveloped my life to come in black evolutes torn by fiery flashes." He goes on to describe his burning desire to find the truths hidden in chemistry by telling us that he would have grabbed Proteus, himself, by the throat and forced him to speak, so great was his hunger.
Levi's burning desire for a deeper understanding of the universe and all it contains is not new.Read more ›
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 5 months ago by PatriciaMarguerite
Got it for a class, didn't read the whole book but very interestingPublished 8 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
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 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
Primo Levi was a gifted writer that happened to practice chemistry. In these short memoirs he tells the story of a chemist, a chemist that is living in Mussolini's Italy, a chemist... Read morePublished on Sept. 6 2002 by Michael Wischmeyer