"The fact [is] that I, a chemist, engaged here in writing my stories about chemistry, have lived a different season." For Primo Levi that "different season" was a place called Auschwitz. An assimilated Italian Jew, Levi quit his job at a pharmaceutical factory, joined a band of anti-fascist partisans, was betrayed and captured. At Auschwitz, he was skilled prisoner 17451Z forced to work in a chemical lab adjacent to the Nazi death camp. In 1947 he began writing a series of autobiographical works, including If This Is a Man and The Truce (Penguin Modern Classics, 1979), which intermingled stories of his captivity with metaphysical reflections. His most recent work is The Periodic Table (Schocken Books, 1984), first published as II sistema periodico (Einaudi Editore SpA, 1975), in which Levi reflects on how 21 elements have figured in his life. In this excerpt from the book, Levi describes an early experiment...

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