Each of the 21 chapters has the name of a chemical element and comprises a story linked to that element (no chemical knowledge is required). Mostly the chapters are autobiographical, although some are episodes from other peoples lives, and a few are short stories which Levi has written. We see Levi's early life followed by a struggle to find employment in Fascist Italy. There is just one chapter of his time in Auschwitz - Levi has written about this in other books. After the war he struggles with self-employed, but finds he is better suited to working in large companies. We get a unique insight into the mind of a scientist turned author, the chapters are very well written, and I think all readers will find this book highly enjoyable
My favourite chapter is 'Chromium' in which a group of colleagues are discussing unnecessary ingerdients in chemical procedures. One mentions an anti-rust paint to which ammonium chloride is added, of which Levi can say 'is completely useless as I can state from firsthand experience because it was I who introduced it to the formula'. Thus we are led into the problem which he had to solve, told in Levi's unique style - the struggle with 'the hyle, stupid matter, slothfully hostile' - we also hear about how falling in love affected his attitude to this work.