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Il sistema periodico

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4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  4,467 ratings  ·  338 reviews
Azoto, carbonio, idrogeno, oro, arsenico... Sono ventuno gli elementi chimici che dànno il titolo ai racconti di questo libro, e ventuno i capitoli di un'autobiografia che per affinità e accostamenti corre sul filo di una storia personale e collettiva, affondando le radici nell'oscura qualità della materia, raccontando le storie di un mestiere «che è poi un caso particolar ...more
Paperback, ET Scrittori, 266 pages
Published May 16th 2005 by Einaudi (first published 1975)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Rachel
You know how you read a sentence and copy it down because it's so good? In this book, I'd find a sentence, and go to copy it and realize it relied on the one before it, which relied on the one before that for its complete meaning. So I'd copy down whole paragraphs, whole pages, because Primo writes in integrated, seamless blocks of meaning. Which is enviable.

Other than that, I want to give Primo a big kiss, buy him a beer, and ride bikes with him in Italy.
Paul

Every suicide is like a nail bomb full of vicious questions and the questions don’t care where they land. Why didn’t somebody do something? – there’s one. Surely there must have been signs. Right there is a triple blow delivered to the bereaved partner and immediate family. They’re reeling from the event, then they have to conclude this depression, this malaise, was so acute it blotted out even thoughts of themselves in the suicide’s final minutes. And after that comes the unspoken accusations a
...more
Kinga
Chemistry as a metaphor for life. Blurb writers love phrases like that. They are short, succinct and intriguing. But how hard is it to write something that would deliver on such a promise?
I had never read anything quite like ‘The Periodic Table’. It more than delivered – it exceeded my expectations. The book is a beautiful marriage of life and science, perfectly accessible to a regular reader. The truth is that anything can be fascinating provided it’s explained by a person truly passionate abou
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Ian Heidin[+]Fisch
The Connotations of the Elements

All elements have been named in a more or less arbitrary manner: after people, places or mythological characters.

To those who named them, if not necessarily us, these names had metaphorical connotations. For non-scientists, this significance might be lost in the scientific haze that befuddles us.

One achievement of Primo Levi's novel is to revive the power of the metaphors.

Each element he has chosen represents a person, an experience or a story. Each chapter name
...more
Jessica
Finally, an argument in favor of being forced to read books! I hated the beginning of this and fell asleep twice during the first chapter, so I never would've kept on going if I hadn't had to for school. But The Periodic Table got progressively better then finally peaked at the end, as is my personal preference for books. I cried for like twenty minutes after I finished this, though I'm not sure if that had to do more with Primo Levi or with my own lady hormones.

In any case, though it took me aw
...more
Emanuela
La mia adolescenza è stata contrassegnata dallo studio della chimica. Ho avuto docenti bravi, precisi, innovativi, umani. Non posso dire altrettanto di quelli delle materie umanistiche che, ancora oggi a scuola, vedo così ottusi nei confronti delle scienze e della tecnologia.
Primo Levi è il "prof" che raccontandoci della materia le restituisce dimensione poetica in "UNA conoscenza" che non distingue tra classificazioni artificiose.
Tra tutti i brani spesso autobiografici che hanno come titolo un
...more
K.D. Absolutely
Nov 10, 2013 K.D. Absolutely rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books (Bloomsbury)
Shelves: 501, holocaust, drama, stylish
Primo Levi (1919-1987) was an Italian Jewish chemist who survived Hitler's Holocaust. This is my second time to read a book by him. I read his first novel Survival in Auschwitz (3 stars) last year and I feel in love with it so that I had to make sure that I have this book and If Not Now, When?. These seem to be his trilogy of memoirs directly recalling his experiences in the concentration camps.

This book is composed of short stories and annecdotes from before, during and after his life in Auschw
...more
Joshua
Primo Levy was a chemist, a poet, and a novelist--a man of luminous imagination and spirit, despite his forced descent into darkness as an Italian Jew during World War II. This book is a memoir, with each chapter named after an element culled from the periodic table.

In each chapter, Levy's awe for the alchemical power of the chemist shines through. But he has a poet's heart rather than a chemist's sterile exactitude. The opening chapter "Argon" describes how this element is much more common in
...more
Ginny_1807
Chimica e poesia
“[...] la nobiltà dell'uomo, acquisita in cento secoli di prove ed errori, era consistita nel farsi signore della materia ...mi ero iscritto a Chimica perché a questa nobiltà mi volevo mantenere fedele... vincere la materia è comprenderla, e comprendere la materia è necessario per comprendere noi stessi, e che quindi il Sistema Periodico di Mendeleev, che proprio in quelle settimane imparavamo laboriosamente a dipanare, era una poesia, più alta e più solenne di tutte le poesie di
...more
arcobaleno
Elogio della chimica...
...quella solitaria, inerme e appiedata, a misura d’uomo. Quella dei fondatori, che non lavoravano in équipe ma soli, in mezzo all’indifferenza del loro tempo, per lo più senza guadagno, e affrontavano la materia senza aiuti, col cervello e con le mani, con la ragione e la fantasia; quella che rappresenta il ponte fra il mondo delle carte e il mondo delle cose; col suo sapore forte ed amaro, che è poi quello della vita.
La tavola periodica consiste in una raccolta di ventu
...more
Jeremy
An odd-ball blend of autobiography and short fictions, organized around a motif that would be almost cute if Levi didn't approach everything in his life with somber, intelligent reflection. As odd as it sounds, this is exactly the sort of writing I would expect from a life-long chemist. Even when he waxes heavy on entomological minutia, (something which I think he gets from his fellow Italian, Vico), this is all clearly the product of a highly analytical mind. He barely touches on what happened ...more
Matt
Favorite passages:

It seemed to us an embarras de richesses, and it was instead a different embarrassment, deeper and more essential: an embarrassment tied to an atrophy of ours, of our family, or our caste. What were we able to do with our hands?… Our hands were at once coarse and weak, regressive insensitive: the least trained part of our bodies. Having gone through the first fundamental experiences of play, they had learned to write, and that was all… If man is a maker, we were not men: we kne
...more
Tim Pendry
Primo Levi may or may not have committed suicide in 1987 and it is all too convenient for myth-makers to say, as Elie Wiesel did, that Levi had died at Auschwitz forty years earlier.

However, there is one section of this book - Vanadium - where one understands the possibility of existential despair for Levi, his exchange with a German who was 'on the other side' at Auschwitz.

It is not that the German was wholly obtuse and certainly the man knows that bad things were done. By all 'conventional' st
...more
Ademption
INSTRUCTIONS (for making this one of the best books you've ever read):

1. Skip the first chapter. Read the rest in its entirety. The chapters aren't connected. Chapter One is didactic and uncharacteristic of the book.

2. Read Chapter One, a discourse on Piedmontese, which is probably only interesting to people of the Piedmont.


YIELD: One of the best books ever.
aPriL eVoLvEs (ex-Groot)
Through periodic memories, chapter by chapter, each titled by a periodic table element, we read of memories that tell of being a Jew in Italy before, during and after WWII. He worried about passing his exams, he thrilled at having the title Doctor, he wanted a wife, he survived the camps, he worried about earning enough to eat. Through it all, some philosophical insights produced by chemistry sustain him as much as actual lab work of producing chemical reactions. This is a beautifully written wo ...more
Andrew
The opening essay, "Argon," is such a poignant damn thing. It's a portal into a lost world and a lost language, and into human lives that were snuffed out on principle.

This sets the tone of The Periodic Table. Primo Levi comes off, ultimately, as a damaged person. Maybe that's all he went through, but he mostly recounts his professional and romantic failures, but rarely his successes. He doesn't come off as a whiner-- rather, I think, most of us can realize how we'd react in the same situations
...more
Katie
Jan 17, 2012 Katie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
The Periodic Table is Primo Levi's autobiography. Levi was an Italian chemist and engineer; he also happens to be a wonderful writer. He writes simply and powerfully, he isn't trying to prove anything, he's just trying to help you understand how it was.

The book is a group of stories from his life; all of them are related to an element (Periodic Table, get it?) In one of the most powerful stories, he is working as an engineer at a paint factory. Batches of paint are randomly congealing, and he tr
...more
umberto
Some years ago I read its hardcover (Everyman's Library) borrowed from the University Library and enjoyed reading it tremendously since I've never known or read his works before. I think his idea of writing about his life by means of presenting those 21-element narrations (Argon, Hydrogen, Zinc, ..., Silver, Vanadium and Carbon) is simply ground-breaking.

Would you please read and find his reasons yourself why he started with those particular elements? Why not, say, Oxygen since it's quite commo
...more
Arwen56
Primo Levi ha uno stile magnifico. L’ingannevole semplicità con cui sembra fluire la sua prosa è in realtà frutto di una profonda conoscenza e di un concreto amore per le parole, che mancano a molti cosiddetti “scrittori”, soprattutto a quelli contemporanei. E’ stupefacente come riesca a concatenare con grazia ed efficacia sostantivi, aggettivi, avverbi e congiunzioni per regalarci limpidissimi concetti, espressi con una chiarezza adamantina.

Ho letto questa raccolta di racconti su consiglio di a
...more
Ugh
I wish I hadn't taken so long to get around to reading The Periodic Table. Not only is it a great book on science, it's also brilliantly and wonderfully written. Levi has the intelligence of Borges, but deploys it more judiciously, to enliven his stories rather than as the basis of them. He also has the power to inspire wonder for our world and to make insightful observations about man and our relation to it.

I feel like this is a book that, if read early enough in one's life, could have the powe
...more
Jan
Although the ‘Periodic Table’ is recognized by the Royal Institute of Britain as ‘the best science book ever written,’ it really not a science book. It’s a memoir, it is philosophy, and it is written by gentle soul. The book arrived with high praise from Bellow, Roth, Calvino and Eco.

It came 30 years after Primo Levi’s famous ‘If This is Man’ (or 'Survival in Auschwitz’ in the US) which was written in 1946, almost immediately after his 11 months in Auschwitz. He said he wrote it because he had a
...more
Kim
I read the Periodic Table only knowing that Levi was a chemist and a Holocaust survivor. I had not read his autobiographical works about life in Auschwitz. I'm actually glad that I read this book first because it gives such great insight into Levi's personality, especially his intelligence, ability to observe the world around him, and great love of life. You can take this understanding of him into your reading of Life in Auschwitz (original title: If This Is a Man).

In the Periodic Table the Hol
...more
Matt
While I give this book 2 stars, it does have the potential for more. I must say the chapters were very cleverly written following the theme of the chapter title – an element from the periodic table. Everything just fit very well together (chapter titles, stories within the story, character personalities, etc.) – I give props to the author for being so clever in his writing. The author’s wittiness was also somewhat similar to my own, which I found welcoming (and funny). At the same time, though, ...more
Janet
Rock-splittingly profound and deceptively simple, this collection of short pieces, both fiction and non-fiction, by Italian-Jewish author Primo Levi, former chemist, holocaust survivor, and brilliant litterateur, is a tour de force. It centers around the chemist's alchemical art, a masterful amalgam of science memoir and metaphor, equal parts matter and meaning.
Erica
This book was not quite what I was expecting. It seems to be a mix of autobiographical commentary and fiction. I was expecting there to be more focus on the elements, but it was more that provided a theme (sometimes somewhat loose) for a story.

Argon: an unreactive gas that is only mentioned in the first few sentences, then a description on a variety of different characters.

Hydrogen: two teenage boys 'borrow' keys to a chem lab in a shed and have fun experimenting with glassblowing and electrolys
...more
Maurizio Codogno
Come sapete, Primo Levi era ebreo, deportato ad Auschwitz dai nazisti nella seconda guerra mondiale; ha scritto di quei terribili anni in Se questo è un uomo e La tregua. Ma Levi è stato anche un chimico; e mentre la sua appartenenza razziale non l'ha certo scelta lui, quella professionale sì. E in questo libro esce appunto fuori l'inimitabile stile dello scrittore. Tecnicamente Il sistema periodico è un'autobiografia sotto forma di vari flash – tranne la parte della prigionia, visto che come lu ...more
Tim
Primo Levi was a chemist. He was also a Jewish Italian from the Piedmont region near Turin. He was a Holocaust survior, one of the few to return from Auschwitz. Though he wrote much elsewhere of his experience in Auschwitz and of his journey home, 'The Periodic Table' takes a larger view of his life and the matter of life generally. To the extent it is self-referential, it is a work of autobiography in a narrow, conventional sense. But Levi's writing of his life exposes elements of our shared hu ...more
Steven
Wonderful. Each chapter stands by itself, often times told though distinct voices. I loved the two fictional chapters (Lead and Mercury). Also the adorable chapter on Titanium. Raymond Rosenthal deserves kudos on the translation too. He added some important footnotes about some untranslatable sentences that utilized wordplay in Italian. The prose was so beautiful. Some of the chapters played out like short detective stories with surprises throughout. Some played out like nostalgic Jean Shepherd ...more
itpdx
I was looking for books that would give me an idea of what WWII was like in Italy. This was highly recommended. I agree. But I have a difficult time explaining why I like this book. Each chapter is titled with the name of an element, which plays some part in the chapter. They are written almost as essays, but they do progress in time and follow the author's life from young chemistry student to middle aged (?) chemical philosopher. But the incidents that are included all have to do with chemistry ...more
T P Kennedy
I feel guilty for not liking this more. I was enthralled by the Drowned and the Saved but these stories let me down. The use of the elements as a framing device for a collection of stories, memories and more for a chemist is excellent. The early elements take the form of a memoir and are good. However, the stories, such as the aptly titled lead, don't seem to add anything and for me don't work either as fables or indeed stories. Some of the later entries, recounting his post war chemical chemica ...more
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Primo Michele Levi (Italian: [ˈpriːmo ˈlɛːvi]; 31 July 1919 – 11 April 1987) was an Italian chemist and writer. He was the author of several books, novels, collections of short stories, essays, and poems. His best-known works include If This Is a Man (1947), his account of the year he spent as a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland; and his unique work, The Periodic ...more
More about Primo Levi...
Survival in Auschwitz If This Is a Man / The Truce The Drowned and the Saved If Not Now, When? The Reawakening

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“This cell belongs to a brain, and it is my brain, the brain of me who is writing; and the cell in question, and within it the atom in question, is in charge of my writing, in a gigantic minuscule game which nobody has yet described. It is that which at this instant, issuing out of a labyrinthine tangle of yeses and nos, makes my hand run along a certain path on the paper, mark it with these volutes that are signs: a double snap, up and down, between two levels of energy, guides this hand of mine to impress on the paper this dot, here, this one.” 26 likes
“If it is true that there is no greater sorrow than to remember a
happy time in a state of misery, it is just as true that calling up a
moment of anguish in a tranquil mood, seated quietly at one's desk, is
a source of profound satisfaction.”
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