The Periodic Table

The Periodic Table

4.19 (6,795 ratings by Goodreads)
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Primo Levi's The Periodic Table is a collection of short stories that elegantly interlace the author's experiences in Fascist Italy, and later in Auschwitz, with his passion for scientific knowledge and discovery. This Penguin Modern Classics edition of is translated by Raymond Rosenthal with an essay on Primo Levi by Philip Roth. A chemist by training, Primo Levi became one of the supreme witnesses to twentieth-century atrocity. In these haunting reflections inspired by the elements of the periodic table, he ranges from young love to political savagery; from the inert gas argon - and 'inert' relatives like the uncle who stayed in bed for twenty-two years - to life-giving carbon. 'Iron' honours the mountain-climbing resistance hero who put iron in Levi's student soul, 'Cerium' recalls the improvised cigarette lighters which saved his life in Auschwitz, while 'Vanadium' describes an eerie post-war correspondence with the man who had been his 'boss' there. In his essay, Philip Roth reproduces a conversation with Primo Levi, delving into the process of Levi's authorial technique, his sense of identity and distinctiveness and the relationship between science, writing and survival.Primo Levi (1919-87), 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. Levi is the author of Moments of Reprieve and If Not Now, When?, also available in Penguin Modern Classics. Philip Roth is the author of Nemesis and The Plot Against America, and winner of the both the Pulitzer prize, and the Man Booker International prize. If you enjoyed The Periodic Table, you might like Levi's If Not Now, When?, also available in Penguin Modern Classics. 'A book it is necessary to read' Saul Bellow, author of Herzog 'One of the finest writers in post-war Italy' The Timesshow more

Product details

  • Paperback | 224 pages
  • 128 x 194 x 18mm | 158.76g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0141185147
  • 9780141185149
  • 96,812

Review quote

"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 Aschersonshow more

Review Text

It's good to find this most original book in print again this year. Levi, a young Italian, academically a chemist, could not, as a Jew in Fascist Italy, use his degree, though summa cum laude, for work. He joined the Resistance, was betrayed, and spent from 1943 to the war's end in Auschwitz. The full account, which must be read, is in his If This Is A Man, one of the great works of the twentieth century. Levi had found that writing had something in common with chemistry - the need for exactness, daring and discovery, the creating of something new and alive out of sullen, even noxious material. But The Periodic Table, with its deceptive lightness, gives little of the camp. Each of the 21 elements prompts an episode, usually in Levi's life. Never mind the order - I recommend starting with Iron. It gives not only the young Levi's passion for chemistry, but one of the most brilliant of his verbal portraits, here of Sandro, a fellow student. Read it, pass onwards, or take in Cerium, a rare camp piece. Tormented by hunger, Levi and his close friend Alberto devise a means of briefly securing a daily piece of bread. Will it keep them alive until the Russians come? Stranger still is 'Vanadium'. Some 20 years later, in business letters from a German firm, Levi recognizes the name and writing of his one-time Nazi camp overseer. Should he (outside business) make contact? He does - letters are exchanged. Then... Read one work by Levi and you will search for more. Add to your list Moments of Reprieve as well as If This is a Man Review by Naomi Lewis (Kirkus UK)show more

About Primo Levi

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. Levi is also the author of the forthcoming Modern Classics: MOMENTS OF REPRIEVE and IF NOT NOW, WHEN?show more

Rating details

6,795 ratings
4.19 out of 5 stars
5 43% (2,909)
4 38% (2,591)
3 15% (1,042)
2 3% (197)
1 1% (56)

Our customer reviews

Primo Levi's writing generally is harrowing and - as strange as it sounds - hauntingly beautiful. This is especially true of his masterpieces, "If This Were a Man" and "The Truce". It will be very hard to read Levi's books without being left moved by his life experiences and marvel at the same time at the positive courage he showed and the almost surreal sunny disposition he maintained while incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp. "The Periodic Table", in which Levi takes the chemical elements as the inspiration for recounting people and incidents from his life, is also as exquisitely written as his other books. While it is a little less disturbing compared to some of his other works, it is nevertheless not short of some eloquent passages. For instance, while describing how he stole cerium rods from the Lager laboratory, he discusses such a seemingly mundane issue as packaging and observes that "God.. solved [the problem of packaging] brilliantly... with cellular membranes, eggshells, the multiple peel of oranges, and our own skins..." However, while lamenting the then non-availability of polyethylene, Levi adds, "God... although he is a master of polymerization, abstained from patenting it: He does not like incorruptible things."show more
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