The life story of a gentle and intelligent man, missing out the most important part.
Voted the best science book ever written by the Royal Academy, this isn't a science book at all but an autobiography of Italian chemist and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi. Levi is completely defined by these two points in his life, he survived the camp because of his usefulness as a chemist and so he and his subject are bound together. It is fitting then that he chose to tell the story of his life by basing each chapter around one of the elements in the periodic table.
He is a lovely writer, gentle and yet penetrating, able to turn a good phrase and to find an arresting analogy. he is clever in the way he uses quite detailed descriptions of chemical problems and solutions to illustrate turning points in his life and uses both the metamorphosis inherent in chemistry and the reluctance of elements to change and combine to brilliant literary effect. His friendships and career and all neatly described in this way.
However, this is not the (first) volume of his work to read if you want to understand his life, since, with one exception, it misses out his experiences in Auschwitz, which are contained in his masterpiece 'If This is a Man'. There is a second flaw, I would say, in that it does not really lift the curtain on Levi's deepest thoughts and feelings - he is too self analytical and concerned with his theme. So at the end, I could not understand why a man who survived Auschwitz would later take his own life - although he was not the only survivor or surviving author to do so.