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Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Monkey's Wrench by Primo Levi

The Monkey's Wrench is a slim, wise novel. Primo Levi begins with the simplest of circumstances, two men in a remote location who pass the time by recounting tales of past jobs, and, in a totally appropriate, workman-like manner, constructs a tale made of tales, a meditation on the nature of work and the nature of man. Most of the stories are told by Libertine Faussone, a rigger who has build towers, derricks and bridges all over the world. Faussone's stories are fascinating, sometimes funny, and always worthwhile. They contain a weary wisdom, an appreciation for the many small things that ultimately make big things succeed or fail. The second man in this tale, the writer-chemist narrator who spends much of the novel listening, eventually tells his own tale, of how he rigs molecules and words.

This is a book for anyone who has ever taken pride in a job well done, marvelled at the work of a craftsman, or wondered about the ways of the world. This book contains cautions, tales of monkeys wrenching in imitation of men's expertise with disastrous results, but there are celebrations as well. Our understanding is seldom as great as we think but even when we fail to build the bridge we build something better from the twisted girders. We build the knowledge necessary to do better the next time. We become smarter monkeys with better wrenches. And our best wrenches are words, wise words told in fine tales, packaged expertly in fine books such as this one.

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