The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

(New York: Schocken, 1975), 233

  • I didn't realize that there's over 20x more Argon in Earth's atmosphere than $CO2$ (4, 228)
  • Work: "That is, he like men, and especially women, the meadows, the sky; but not hard work, the racket made by wagons, the intrigues for the sake of a career, the hustling for one's daily bread, commitments, schedules, and due dates; nothing in short of all that characterized the feverish life of the town of Casale Monferrato in 1890. He would have liked to escape, but was too lazy to do so." (13)
    • "To do Work in which one does not believe is a great affliction." (120)
    • "Each of us did his or her Work day by day, slackly, without believing in it, as happens to someone who knows he is not working for his own future." (128-9)
    • "I am not interested in getting rich, what counts for me is to live free." (137)
  • Some Reading Quotes
    • "My father was l'ingegné ('the engineer'), with his pockets always bulging with books" (19)
    • "I was fed up with books, which I still continued to gulp down with indiscreet voracity, and searched for another key to the highest truths." (23)
  • "For me, chemistry represented an indefinite cloud of future potentialities which enveloped my life to come in black volutes torn by fiery flashes, like those which had hidden Mount Sinai." (23)
    • "The nobility of Man lay in making himself the conqueror of matter." (41)
    • "We must never feel disarmed: nature is immense and complex, but it is not impermeable to the intelligence; we must circle around it, pierce and probe it, look for the opening or make it." (75)
    • "There is nothing more vivifying than a hypothesis." (79)
    • "But there is trouble in store for anyone who surrenders to the temptation of mistaking an elegant hypothesis for a certainty." (157)
  • Quote about working with your hands on 24, cf. 2018-09-01-Shop Class as Soulcraft
  • "Two conflicting philosophical conclusions: the praise of purity, which protects from evil like a coat of mail; the praise of impurity, which gives rise to changes, in other words, to life." (34)
  • Hope: "one must after all put one's hope in someone or something" (39)
  • "curious Mimetic talent" (41)
  • Antifragility: "the more storms and hunger he suffered the happier and healthier he was."
  • self-competence: "What mattered was to know his limitations, to test and improve himself; more obscurely, he felt the need to prepare himself for an iron future, drawing closer month by month." (45)
  • "I am one of those people to whom many things are told." (68)
  • "They knew (even too well) the value of Gold" (81, 85)
    • "There's no point in having Gold and carrying it on your back, with the continuous terror that at night or during a drinking bout someone will steal it from you." (88)
  • "In all rumors there may be some truth, perhaps a truth hidden beneath veils of words, like a riddle." (93)
  • "At that time I was so young as to think it might be possible to change a superior's ideas." (117)
  • "By Writing I found peace for a while and felt myself become a man of those people who form a family and look to the future rather than the past." (151)
    • "Paradoxically, my baggage of atrocious memories became a wealth, a seed; it seemed to me that, by Writing, I was growing like a plant." (153)
  • He shares my distaste for sales/salesmen (169)
  • World War II: "Throughout the world six years of war and destruction had brought about a regression in many civil habits and attenuated many needs, first of all the need for decorum." (172)
  • The beauty in structures, whether they be chemical, architectural, aeronautical, etc. (179)
  • Taking risks: "The license to make mistakes becomes more limited with the passing of the years, so he who wants to take advantage of it must not wait too long. On the other hand, one must not wait too long to realize that a mistake is a mistake." (188-9)
  • "By pretending to esteem and like your fellow men, after a few years in this trade you wind up really doing so, just as someone who feigns madness for a long time actually becomes crazy." (192, doesn't G.K. Chesterton have a quote like this?)
  • "A scanty desk inexorably proclaims a lowly occupant." (196)
  • Leadership: "The head of a department must answer for his department, and because where theyre's damage there's sin, and where there's sin there's a sinner. It's something exactly ike Original sin: you haven't done anything, but you're guilty and you must pay." (207)
  • The chapter on Vanadium about evil and forgiveness is beautiful:
    • History is more interesting than fiction (218)
  • "Carbon, in fact, is a singular element: it is the only element that can bind itself in long stable chains without a great expense of energy, and for life on earth precisely long chains are required. Therefore carbon is the key element of living substance" (226-227)
  • "Every two hundred years, every atom of carbon that is not congealed in materials by now stable enters and reenters the cycle of life, through the narrow door of photosythesis." (231)

Source: Kevin


  • Jb-01: "I alone have escaped to tell you the story." (51)
  • ~The Divine Comedy (64)
  • Moby Dick (111)
  • The Call of the Wild (140)

New Words

  • execration: The act of cursing (11)
  • atavistic/atavism (24, 170)
  • palingenesis: A new birth; a re-creation; a regeneration (30)
  • hirsute: Rough and coarse; boorish (31)
  • polemical: controversial; disputatious (32, 218)
  • dialectical: Pertaining to dialectics; logical; argumental (38)
  • crepuscular: Pertaining to twilight; glimmering; hence, imperfectly clear or luminous (128)
  • gangue: The mineral or earthy substance associated with metallic ore. (137)
  • crepitation: A grating or crackling sensation or sound (142)
  • symbiont: An organism in a symbiotic relationship (143)
  • locution: Speech or discourse; a phrase; a form or mode of expression (149)
  • coccyx: The end of the vertebral column beyond the sacrum in man and tailless monkeys. It is composed of several vertebræ more or less consolidated. (150)
  • chivvy/chivied: To vex or harass with petty attacks (155)
  • rubicund: Inclining to redness; ruddy; red (169)
  • abnegation: a denial; a renunciation. (178)
  • recondite: Hidden from the mental or intellectual view (184)
  • amanuensis: A person whose employment is to write what another dictates, or to copy what another has written. (200)
  • colloquy: Mutual discourse of two or more persons; conference; conversation (222)
  • proteic: protein (229)
  • fecundate: To impregnate; fertilize (230)

Created: 2022-02-16-Wed
Updated: 2023-01-07-Sat