Primo Levi
Translated from Italian by Raymond Rosenthal
Schocken Books, New York, 1995, 1984, English; originally published 1975 in Italian
Nonfiction, General
ISBN: 9780805210415

From the Publisher (Penguin). A chemist by training, Primo Levi became one of the supreme witnesses to 20th-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 22 years—to life-giving carbon. “Iron” honors the mountain-climbing resistance hero who put iron in Levi's student soul, “Cerium” recalls the improvised cigarette lighters that saved his life in Auschwitz, while “Vanadium” describes an eerie postwar correspondence with the man who had been his “boss” there. All are written with characteristically understated eloquence and shot through with deep humanity.

On 2 book lists
Jasper Morrison

A life told through the author’s involvement with the elements.

David Weeks

This was required reading for the classes I taught at Parsons, in 1999–2004. The final chapter on carbon is so insightful and makes our relationship with the planet captivating. I think it makes a better case for reincarnation then any religious text I have ever read. To me, it made faith in science much more compelling and beautiful then any belief systems rooted in fables.

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