Ellan Read

sometimes witty book reviews

The Periodic Table


I’ve never looked at the periodic table and seen stories. It’s straight, squared lines, seemingly endless numbers and relatively simple system of symbols just wouldn’t have inspired me before Primo Levi turned it all around.

Levi is best known perhaps for his autobiographical account of life in Auschwitz: If this is a Man (1947). Yet The Periodic Table (1975) continues to hold a unique place in both science and literary writing.

There is no plot except within each chapter itself. Most are autobiographical accounts, two are fiction, half are stories and the rest most likely true accounts. There are twenty one chapters, each named after an element.

The nuances of the naming are perhaps best understood by chemists, but it’s not hard to tell why Sulphur tells the tale of the caustic life of a smelter’s work; that Argon recounts the noble (as in Noble gas) lives of Levi’s village ancestors. My favourite chapter, Titanium, is about a little girl watching a man paint a door.

The creativity of chemical science is fully realised in Primo Levi’s prose. Read before chemistry classes of any nature.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on March 19, 2015 by in Bit of Both and tagged , , .

Currently Reading

Reading Wishlist

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 185 other followers

%d bloggers like this: