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Summary

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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©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

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Delightful! Elements of a Life Well Lived.

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Returno to Torino

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.

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beautiful book

I loved everything about this book, from the beautiful diction and story telling, to the excellent narration. Perfect.

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  • Shawn
  • 20-04-16

Palatable Horror

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Lela Roby
  • 05-05-16

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!

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  • Daniel
  • 20-09-18

wonderful

Great piece of classic literature for history and science enthusiasts! I really enjoyed this book.

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  • Karissa Eckert
  • 28-07-18

Wonderful on audiobook, story wanders a bit

This was an intriguing book and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going in. It ended up being well-written (more of a high literature formal style of writing) and very interesting. It took some concentration to read but I ended up liking it. My only complaint is that the story wanders quite a bit.

I listened to this on audiobook and Jason did a perfect job in reading it. He sounded exactly like I though Levi would sound and did a great job with all the different languages and accents in here. I would definitely recommend listening to this on audiobook if you listen to audiobooks.

This book is a collection stories with each one being named after a chemical element. Some how the element name ties into the story named after it. The stories jump between renditions of Levi’s life and stories that he has written throughout his life. Because of that, things jump around a bit and it can be a bit hard to remember if you are reading about Levi’s life or if you are in the middle of a story that he created about fictional characters.

My other complaint is that the first 40 minutes were really a drag; in this portion of the story Levi introduced a whole bunch of Jewish terminology and characters that have nothing to do with anything. It was awful to get through but I am glad I stuck with it because the rest of the book was very good.

Levi writes in a very intelligent way and has a humorous tone. He weaves his experience as a chemist into the events of his lifetime and it ends up being an intriguing look at both science and life of that era. I really enjoyed it and it brought back excellent memories of my college chemistry work. I could also easily relate to some of his later product troubleshooting stories.

Overall this was an intriguing, entertaining, and accessible memoire on science in the WWII era and one man’s journey through that time. I would recommend to those interested in the 1940’s and chemistry and how the two collided during that time.

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  • Katie Sullivan
  • 24-03-16

inspiring and fascinating

the most amazing science book ever written- by one of the most amazing individuals to ever live