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The Double Bond: The Life of Primo Levi Hardcover – May 22, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0374113155 ISBN-10: 0374113157 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 928 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (May 22, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374113157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374113155
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,122,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

History will remember Jewish-Italian writer and chemist Primo Levi (1919-1986) as a seminal chronicler of the Holocaust one of the first and certainly one of the most memorable. But in undertaking his biography, Angier (Jean Rhys: Life and Work) faced a host of obstacles: the tight-knit, impenetrable community of Turin, Levi's native city; a closemouthed family; inaccessible papers. There was also the hurdle of Levi's own fictionalized alter ego always true to character, but rarely an exact match with the facts. Angier deftly fills the lacunae with recollections and anecdotes drawn from her research. Her skillful narrative illuminates not only the painful, dramatic passages of her subject's life his work in the partisan resistance, his extraordinary survival in Auschwitz but also the decades after the war that Levi spent as a chemical specialist in varnishes and resins, quietly issuing works of literary genius (If This Is a Man, The Periodic Table, The Drowned and the Saved) every now and then. Always sensitive to the historical context of her subject, Angier provides a macroscopic view of the war from the perspective of Italian Jewry. But she also explicates some of the more difficult, ambiguous aspects of Levi's temperament: his fear of women, his tendency to see chemistry as a metaphor for life, the fierce determination to bear witness that underlay his gentle nature, and the inner torment that eventually drove him to suicide. Anyone moved by Levi's accounts of heroism and atrocity will learn much from this nuanced biography.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Angier's definitive biography of Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi (1919-87) will be superseded only if the immediate family speaks out and Levi's private papers are made public. An Italian Jew from Turin who was trained as a chemist, Levi led a life of personal anguish and historic catastrophe; he was arrested by Italian Fascists during World War II and deported to Auschwitz, where he was imprisoned in 1944-45. Angier (Jean Rhys) traces Levi's life and friendships with care and great respect, exploring the psychological aspects of his relationships with his wife and his mother and the composition of such works as Survival in Auschwitz and The Periodic Table. All the great names from Levi's writings on the camps are here Lorenzo, Pikolo, Alberto as Angier interviews the living, revisits the scenes, and reads Levi's work intensely. Ten years in the making, this book alternates between chapters of straightforward narration, with a close reading of Levi's works, and chapters of Angier's personal observations and thoughts about Levi. The passages on Auschwitz and Levi's suicide are invaluable additions to our understanding of this important author's work. Essential for Jewish studies and literature collections. Gene Shaw, NYPL
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By James Gash on September 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If I were to take you on a tour of my home town and tell you the life story of everyone we met (going back several hundred years in instances) you would quickly overload. "Now who is this again?" you would say. Or "why exactly does that matter?"

So will you find yourself in Ms. Angier's sprawling parade of peripheral characters, all dredged up, it seems, in apology for the blaring fact that all those whose testament would really matter here aren't talking, for whatever reason.

Imagine your own life story told from the fragments of those who really only knew you in passing - a girl you dated once, a bully, a high school teacher, a distant cousin. All called upon to comment on your reasoning, your justification in certain actions. All treated as expert witnesses. Some, you might be forced to admit, will come painfully close to the truth. Others way off the mark - only laughable speculations. But who, in your absence, could sort out the one from the other.

A good biographer, you would hope.

Ms. Angier is quite capable of writing beautifully, as witnessed in her preface to this book. She has a blazing passion for all things Levi. And she is obviously capable of extensive research. Which leaves us with mountains of detail, oh so much detail. And some convincing passages.

But actually, after several hundred dry, dry pages, I find myself looking, again and again, for Primo. That vitality of soul demonstrated in his own writings.

And that is, alas, where I am returning. The horses's mouth. With the wheat already separated from the chaff.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Judging from the wildly differing reviews that have appeared in newspapers in the past few weeks, this book seems to inspire either passionate admiration or something akin to personal rage. It isn't hard to understand why: Angier has written a highly unconventional, imaginative biography, in which she is herself a character at times, and tells us almost as much about what it's like to write a biography as about the life of Primo Levi. She has also dared to use her own intuition -coupled with, and informed by, her scrupulous research and reflection -- to deduce things that Levi, a very private man, did not himself talk about. Finally, she has clearly angered the people who do not want to believe that Levi killed himself; it is impossible to believe, after one has read her, that his fall from the landing of his apartment building in Turin was accidental. Perhaps even more disturbing to those who saw him as some kind of radiantly sane figure is her sorrowful conclusion that he did not do it because, or primarily because, of what he had suffered in Auschwitz.
The portrait of him that emerges is of a man who was not the secular saint, the avatar of reason, that his readers have supposed, but something greater: a tragically repressed man who struggled with overwhelming depression all his life (except, ironically, as Angier tells us, when he was in Auschwitz), triumphing not so much in his person as in the great books in which he refused to give way to it. It seems a more amazing accomplishment that a deeply troubled, self-doubting, conflicted man should have produced those masterful works of illumination and sanity than if he had simply been the serene figure of his readers' imaginings.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful By jeremy mack on June 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Carole Angier deserves the thanks of anyone seriously interested in the life of this strange and amazing man who helped and continues to help mankind to deal with the massive trauma of World War II and, further, with all attempts since then to kill the soul. She has spent years in attempting to discover him, in assessing what is factual, what can be conjectured, and what is unlikely about this man who was so reticent and whose family and friends are devoted to respecting his privacy and that of his family. However, it is true that a great man belongs to the world too.
Unfortunately the world will not tolerate the fact that he was human and seems not to want to forgive him for taking his own life, as appears likely, especially in view of his call for help to Rabbi Toaf shortly before his death. Myth does not grow well in the presence of fact, and the facts that Carole Angier has tirelessly gathered will enrich our understanding immeasurably but have disappointed some. This seems true too regarding her altogether modest and to my mind reasonable and well-founded speculations as to his motivations and of the emotional flow of his life. Levi himself saw this coming, said that he was not a "guru" and could not bear the weight of such a role.
She seems to me to have come to central and moving understandings of his surroundings. One can only stand in awe of the amount of information she has absorbed in her attempt to make the most accurate portrayal of the influences impinging upon him.
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