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The Periodic Table (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 7 Sep 2000

4.3 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (7 Sept. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141185147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141185149
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

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. Taking the knowledge he gained 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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"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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4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I want to defend this book from a couple of unfair reviews. Not that the great Primo Levi should need me, but The Periodic Table is one of the books I have most enjoyed reading in the past couple of years and so I don't want people to get the wrong impression of what it is.

For most of his working life, Levi was a professional chemist who also wrote on the side. Almost every chapter is a story from his remarkable life (two chapters are fiction). Each chapter has a chemical element for its title and that element appears somehow in the story, either literally or metaphorically. In the first chapter Primo Levi tells something of the history of his family: Jews in southern France, Venice and lastly in the city of Turin, where Levi grew up (except during the war he lived in the same apartment for his whole life). The first chapter is slightly harder going than the rest of the book (it has interesting information about some Hebrew names and how they were twisted via French into the local Piedmontese dialect), and I think that's where some readers got stuck -- too bad, because once you get further it's a nice balance to the rest. Then there are stories about his interest in chemistry as a child, mixing things up and causing explosions, his university education, how Fascism started to become a factor in his life as a young man, and then the story of how as a captured anti-fascist fighter he, amazingly, got himself sent to Auschwitz as a Jew in order to avoid being shot by the Fascists as a 'traitor'. There is one Auschwitz chapter; then stories of Levi's return after the war to Turin, where he became the head of the chemistry department at a paint factory. He became an expert in the chemistry of varnishes, though the book doesn't mention it.
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Format: Paperback
A beautiful book, filled with a real fascination and amused respect for the intricacies of creation and the vagaries of humanity. Levi survived Auschwitz because of his knowledge of industrial chemistry, and here he takes 21 elements from the Periodic Table as starting points for fragments of autobiography and fiction. Touching and funny, and sometimes unutterably sad. Far, far more than "a good read on a train"!
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Format: Paperback
In a largely autobiographical synthesis (fictional tales of mercury and lead are neatly slid into the melting-pot), Primo Levi assesses his life in terms of the chemical elements. And as Levi says, this story is not invented, and reality is always more complex than invention: less kempt, cruder, less rounded out.
Non-chemists have no fear. This is a wonderfully rich alloy of science and history, language and memory. Forget gold and iron: it was hard, grey, obscure vanadium that stood out like a thorn for the troubled, hopeful times in which we live. Vanadium’s is a story of the real world, where the armed exist and the honest and the unarmed clear the road for them, and where all men must later answer for mankind. Profound and life-affirming stuff indeed.
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A wonderful book, no qualms in recommending it whatsoever.

I wish I culd say the same about this horrible edition which shoves the text into a small format using a hard-to-read typeface. For the price charged, this is pretty poor by Penguin.

I'd buy the standard edition and get a book you can actually read without having to buy your first pair of glasses.
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This is the second book I read after 'If this is a man' and 'The Truce' (and I would recommend reading them in that order). I love Levi's writing style - detached but not unemotional. This book is a somewhat strange mix - mostly autobiographical but with some fictional short stories in the middle - but you can't help but feel involved. I even started getting interested in Levi's work, which, given that I know nothing about chemistry whatsoever, can only be put down to his fantastic writing! The penultimate chapter where he accidentally comes into contact with a former chemist from Auschwitz is incredibly gripping. I can't wait to read more.
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Format: Paperback
Italian writer Primo Levi (1919-1987) autobiographical story, told in 21 chapters, each named from a chemical element that plays some part in the story. This book has been named by the Royal Society as the best science book ever (probably an exaggeration, but it is a great book).

Levi was born into a Jewish Italian family. Despite his religion, he graduated with honors as chemist in 1941 at the time Italy was an ally of Nazi Germany in the Axis. Soon, though, he decided to join the partisans, was arrested, send to Auschwitz...Well, you learn more about what happened to him reading the book, but he did survive the war against many odds. Levi was obviously a very intelligent man, but after the war his career as a chemist (always in industry, never in academe) was far from stellar. After the war he started as a down market consultant in chemistry to small Italian firms, and would later languish many years in a mid size varnish factory before he retire to dedicate himself full time to writing. As much as he obviously liked chemistry, his true talent was in writing.

Some people find his writing style pretentious. I disagree, but I admit the first chapter, Argon (in which his Jewish ancestors who set themselves apart from the rest of the surrounding gentile community in Northern Italy are compared with the noble gas that does not interact with other elements), is a bit of a struggle. In that case, I suggest you start from later chapters that are more easy to read (you really don't need to follow the book chronologically). Except with Mercury, Lead, (the wonderful) Carbon and (the strange) Titanium, which are fantastical, the rest of the book is autobiographical, though I suspect that on some occasions he did embellish some details.
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