The Periodic Table

by Primo Levi

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 188

The Periodic Table is a book by Primo Levi, who was a Jewish Italian chemist. It’s a collection of short stories that all share the theme of talking about the Holocaust and that are all named by one of the chemical elements. The reason for this approach is partly because Primo Levi was a chemist before the war.

The stories he chose to write about carefully avoid certain topics, such as anything to do with his children, for example. The chapters vary widely in their style and content. Some are anecdotes about his life, while others are stories about people that Levi knew. There are a few that even have fantasy elements.

Examples include “Hydrogen” and “Potassium” which share the subject of the experimentation Levi did when he was a student. A story set during the Holocaust directly is called “Cerium,” and this one is about how Levi stole Cerium while in a camp. He was selling it for others to use in cigarette lighters. An example of just how different the stories get would highlight “Carbon,” which is about the adventures of a single carbon atom.

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