The Periodic Table - by Primo Levi: an Inspirational Book
Review of The Periodic Table - a modern classic to delight anyone interested in Science, Philosophy and Human Nature
Did you know that Primo Levy's book The Periodic Table was shortlisted by The Royal Institution in London as the Best Science Book Ever Written?
I only found that out some time after I had read the book.
Imagine how exceptional this was, bearing in mind that it is not a scientific treatise - far from it - and that it depicts a few years in the life of Primo Levy, who was an industrial chemist, and who, as an Italian Jew in Mussolini's Italy during World II, was incarcerated for a year in Auschwitz..
In this autobiographical book, each chapter is a reflection on Primo Levi's life, and, by a clever device, also refers to one of the elements in the Periodic Table.
As an Italian Jew working throughout the War, mainly in Italy, Primo Levy's life was very difficult. Some Italians helped him to continue his analytical work, but eventually he ended up being deported to Auschwitz where he survived for a year. When you think that six million Jews and a horrific number of other people perished in the German concentration camps, this was an achievement in itself. The horrors he witnessed there shaped his writing and thoughts for the rest of his life.
Primo Levi was a poet and philosopher, as well as being an industrial chemist.
The Periodic Table by Primo Levi - The Periodic Table refers to various chemical elements and also points in Primo Levi's own life
This is a short book by today-standards, only 232 pages, but each page a gem of observation and wry comment by a man who suffered the hardships of being a Jew in Mussolini's Fascist Italy, suffering imprisonment in Auschwitz for a year, and emerging a changed man, with the wisdom of having seen so much suffering and being a survivor.
Primo Levi's Books Have Been Published in Many Languages
What is the Periodic Table?
I quote from Wikipedia: "The periodic table is a tabular display of the chemical elements, organized on the basis of their atomic numbers, electron configurations, and recurring chemical properties. Elements are presented in order of increasing atomic number (number of protons)."
The Periodic Table is a collection of short stories, mostly episodes from Primo Levy's life before and after his internment in Auschwitz, each tale connected to one of the chemical elements.
The date that Members of The Royal Institution in London shortlisted The Periodic Table for the best science book ever written was 19 October 2006.
There is nothing superfluous here, everything this book contains is essential
How Would You Rate The Periodic Table by Primo Levi? - Add your weight to this poll I'm very curious to know what other people thought about this book.
On a scale of 1-7, what did you REALLY think?
Here's an Excerpt from The Periodic Table
He makes ordinary things seem anything but ordinary
"...better not to do than to do, better to meditate than to act, better his astrophysics, the threshold of the Unknowable, than my chemistry, a mess compounded of stenches, explosions and small futile mysteries. I thought of another moral, more down to earth and concrete, and I believe that every militant chemist can confirm it: that one must distrust the almost-the-same (sodium is almost he same as potassium, but with sodium nothing would have happened), the practically identical, the approximate, the or-even, all surrogates, and all patchwork. The differences can be small, but they can lead to radically different consequences, like a railroad's switch points; the chemist's trade consists in good part in being aware of these differences, knowing them close up, and foreseeing their effects. And not only the chemist's trade."
- Primo Levi (The Periodic Table)
A Memorable quote by Primo Levi:
"... there is trouble in store for anyone who
surrenders to the temptation of mistaking
an elegant hypothesis for a certainty:
the readers of detective stories
know this quite well"
Web Site Comments About Primo Levi - Follow the Links Here
- Quotes by the author from Goodreads.com
There are some nice quotes here
- Article about Primo Levi by The Guardian in June 2008
A brief summary and a quote
Primo Levi was not only a Chemical Scientist, but a Philosopher and Writer too
Lest we forget his background -
Here is a sobering fact:
Primo Levi had a number tattooed
on his arm at Auschwitz
He never had the tattoo removed
and that number was engraved
on his headstone
You Can Buy a Periodic Table Poster on AllPosters - They have various Periodic Table designs, but I like this one best
Al Filreis talks about Primo Levi's The Periodic Table at KWH - he talks movingly about the Chapter called "Iron"
A Video about a chapter in The Periodic Table by Primo Levi on YouTube - Iron
This "Iron" refers to a man of iron, a Jewish man who is brave enough to resist the Italian fascists and loses his life because of his strength of character.
And at the same time it refers to the chemical element Iron.