In a startling move, Primo Levi’s 1975 book “The Periodic Table,” was named “best science book ever written” by the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The book — which unfolds in 21 autobiographical stories, each tied to an element of the periodic table — edged out works by DNA pioneer James Watson and even “The Voyage of the Beagle” by Charles Darwin.
Tim Radford, onetime science editor of the Guardian newspaper, served as the book’s champion in the contest. “The science book is the ultimate in nonfiction,” he said. “This book pinions my awareness to the solidity of the world around me.” A chemist by training, Levi continued to do scientific work until his death by suicide in 1987.