Primo Levi, the Italian chemist who was taken to Auschwitz at the age of 24, presents a kind of literary autobiography of a chemist. Each chapter is named for a chemical element -- from Nickel to Titanium; from Hydrogen, Gold, and Sulfur to Vanadium and Arsenic. Sometimes the chapter involves an incident with that particular element at its center, sometimes the element serves more as a metaphor for the action. We learn about detective hunts in the lab, and eccentric characters who were obsessed with a particular metal or gas, and there are even a couple of fables Levi obviously made up. There is very little of the war or the Holocaust in this book, which ranges throughout his professional life as a scientist and writer. It's a charming and thoughtful piece of work.
This report prepared by David Loftus