Primo Levi’s book The Periodic Table has come up on this program before. Levi’s autobiography with a distinctly chemical perspective has influenced generations of students, scientists, and writers. What might not be immediately evident, if you haven’t read it, is that Levi didn’t look at every element on the periodic table. He selected 21 elements, each related to a different short story. Argon, lead, arsenic, vanadium, and others are the stars of each, with carbon taking the spotlight for the final chapter.
Illustrator John Barnett has zoomed in even further, focusing only on this last element in his new book, Carbon: One Atom’s Odyssey. Taking inspiration from that last chapter of Levi’s book, Barnett follows one atom of element 6 across millions of years. While Levi did so in words, Barnett makes this trek a visual one, illustrating each step of the way, appropriately enough, with pencil-drawn illustrations.
Some of these pages will look familiar to listeners of this program; for instance, in the skeletons of coccolithophores or pouring forth from a smokestack. Narration accompanies a few of these illustrations, but just as often they speak for themselves. It lends to a meditative feel, encouraging the reader to take their time until the story winds up at a most appropriate ending.
Carbon: One Arom’s Odyssey will be available from No Starch Press starting Tuesday, May 18:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Hello, listeners! Just a quick note to say the next episode will post on Monday, May 17, rather than tomorrow. Things have been a little busy on my end, and our next element is a doozy: Lead. There’s a lot to say on the subject, so I’d also like to take a little additional time to make sure I cover everything.
You won’t be totally empty-handed, though. Return here tomorrow for a look at a beautiful new book that focuses on one of the stars of Primo Levi’s classic book about the elements.
I’ll be traveling a bit over the summer, mostly to visit family I haven’t seen in over a year(!), so the show might operate on a slightly slower schedule like this over the next few months. I’ll publish a post like this to let you know when that’s the case, though — I wouldn’t want anyone stuck with nothing to listen to on a Monday morning!
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