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In these haunting reflections, Primo Levi, a chemist by training, takes the elements of the periodic table as his inspiration. He ranges from young love to political savagery; from the inert gas argon - and 'inert' relatives like the uncle who stayed in bed for twenty-two years - to life-giving car bon. 'Iron' honours the mountain-climbing resistance hero who put iron in Levi's student soul, 'Cerium' recalls the improvised cigarette lighters which saved his life in Auschwitz, while 'Vanadium' describes an eerie post-war correspondence with the man who had been his 'boss' there.