The Periodic Table

The Periodic Table 
-by Primo Levi
240 pages (1985)

"a poetic causal nexus known only to chemists"

Primo Levi, a chemist and a young Italian Jew, grew up during WWII in Mussolini's Italy. The Periodic Table relates his story. Part autobiography, part poetry, part history and science textbook, Levi fuses these together in a "life-thesis" filled by both comedy and drama. This unique and unforgettable memoir is organized by the periodic table of the elements. 

The chapter titles range from Argon to Zinc and, like the elements themselves, each with its own distinctive characteristics. The element denoted in each chapter heading is often literally represented in the particular chronicle. And yet, if the reader delves further in interpretation, the element often relates metaphorically to the human experience depicted within the text. While the majority of the novel's chapters orbit various important biographical events in Levi's intriguing existence, three of the book's chapters are fictional: Carbon, Lead and Mercury. 

Often deceptively simple, Periodic Table is hardly an elementary read — Levi's concepts, philosophies and frequent use of veiled symbolism, require and deserve lengthy deliberation to digest their hidden depths. Beautiful in its precision, it is the story of a life touched by the experience of science, war and love.

Curious, unconventional, poignant and memorable, The Periodic Table is the magnum opus of memoirs. Read it.

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