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.
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©1898 1975, 1982, 1994 & 2014 Giulio Einaudi editore s.p.a., Torino; Translation © Schocken Books, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC (P)2015 Naxos AudioBooks
Classics,contemporary fiction, Politics, Philosophy, Economics - a weekly eye on The New Yorker & The Guardian and dense word style/play.
With a fifty minute bus journey each way and the prospect of a couple of hours to kill on Tuesdays and Thursdays between the end of Business Studies and the start of night school, the colourful cover of a 1977 paperback purchased from a now-gone bookshop on Nolton Street, Bridgend was my first encounter with this book. I’d forgotten what first fascinated me with Turin when I made a longed-for visit to that city, remembered some of the names and the streets and a general feeling.
Primo Levi’s writings are distinguishably Northern Italian, industrial, technical, chemical nuts and bolts - it is an Italy that makes things, that prides itself on calling itself an engineering nation and which looks for echoes of itself in the Works and workings of the Germany machine. The same as the South but different. Similar to the North, but again crucially different. Jewish, of course, and tragically and sickeningly apart from those Wartime neighbours - and there is no better or more arresting description of what it was to be alone as a group in a Europe that does not seem to want you and offers no respite. Poetical, by discovery, the exegesis of any atom of Carbon in Expressionist-standing for the whole of the living and dead world down to the final full stop.
Re-read forty years there is enough that is pedestrian in the prose to confirm that others, such as Eco and Tabucchi have surpassed in style - however, the ability to reach across the years with an undimmed bridge to the central humanity of this man. One of the essential writers of late twentieth century European literature, deserves always to be read.
For me this was an absolutely delightful book! In fact in 2006 the Royal Institution nominated this book "The Best Science Book Ever". Though I think their accolade is a little OTT, this whimsical, imaginative, autobiographical book is a little gem. I bought it after the BBC played extracts as their "Book of the Week". Don't be put off if you are not a huge fan of science! It is not a science book, but simply Levi's passion for chemistry expressed in the clever device of naming each chapter with one of the chemical elements which are sometimes central, sometimes incidental to the plot of the subsequent anecdote, imagining and/or autobiographical tale.
I initially struggled to get into the style of the book. The first chapter, "The Noble Gasses", relates the quirks & idiosyncrasies of Levi's forebears, and the casual anti-semitism by ignorant 'goyim' they routinely encountered. The range of uncles, aunts, cousins etc. is exhaustive, and the language is at times elaborate, but as the chapter progresses the charm and character of his affectionate observations on human nature shines through. The rest of the book is more earthy.
One of the most moving tales for me was "Vanadium", where he encounters once again the German SS head of the lab at Auschwitz where he was a prisoner, his skill as a chemist exploited as slave labour. This contrasts with an imaginative story like "Carbon", where he traces the multifarious existences of an individual atom of carbon as it passes from limestone to air, to leaf to grape to person to ground etc.
It is beautifully narrated by Neville Jason, who in my imagination became Levi himself as an older man looking back. There was never any pronunciation difficulty with the German, Italian or French phrases, nor with the technical or chemical names.
Overall, a very pleasing audiobook.
Levi survived Auschwitz, and yet this book is fun, showing an appreciation for life as a chemist. Yes, he is bitter, yes he is depressed, but he comes across as nice and interesting.
"VERY interesting format for stories"
The beginning was a little confusing, as I didn't know what to expect, but after powering through, was totally captivated by each element's "story". The narrator reminds me if David Attenborough; LOVED him. Tongue-in-cheek humkr is delightful!
"inspiring and fascinating"
the most amazing science book ever written- by one of the most amazing individuals to ever live
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