All the right elements to succeed

d- and f- Block Chemistry. First edition - Stereochemistry. First edition - Structure and Bonding. First edition - Functional Group Chemistry. First edition - Reactions and Characterization of Solids. First edition - Main Group Chemistry. First edition
March 1, 2002

The six books under review all come from the same stable, the Royal Society of Chemistry, under the wise editorship of Edward Abel with the guidance of Alwyn Davies, David Phillips and Derek Woollins. Martyn Berry has appeared as educational consultant in all of them, and it would be appropriate for all these people to appear out of the engine room for a moment in this review as they seem to have contributed substantially to the series.

Tutorial Chemistry Texts is a series aimed squarely at the undergraduate market. Its goal is to provide a concise account of the basic principles underlying a given subject. About two dozen volumes are planned, with a dozen or so available now. As in part-works of cookery books, undergraduates who buy the lot will find that they have spent far more than they would have done if they had bought three single textbooks; the advantage, though, is flexibility. The disadvantage is a possible lack of coherence.

The layout of the books is similar. All are two-colour, with a pleasing, fresh and open design. The pages are welcoming and help to convey the sense of accessibility that marks the series. The artwork is uninspired but clear; most of the diagrams are structures and are nicely done. In the pedagogically correct manner of many modern texts, each chapter begins with a statement of aims and concludes with a summary of goals that it has hopes to have fulfilled. Some of the latter are vacuous, such as "any of a wide variety of ligands may be involved in forming coordination compounds with metals", but I know how difficult it is to summarise detailed discussions of facts rather than broad concepts.

Within each chapter there are worked problems, and each chapter ends with a number of problems, which are answered at the back of the book. The chapters typically have a number of boxes that contain material to enrich the text, but are of variable usefulness, and a number of sidebars in the wide margins to comment on particular points. There is further support for the texts on the RSC's website.

It could be argued that most of chemistry is stereochemistry in one form or another. Stereochemistry reasonably enough confines itself to the traditional use of the term, in organic chemistry. Even then, there is a huge amount of material to cover, largely because one could argue that so much of organic chemistry comes under stereochemical control in one form or other.

Much of the book is concerned with identifying stereochemical aspects of molecules and their nomenclature. This could be dry, but in fact the book treats it very well; the story line is maintained throughout the presentation and rarely flags. Stereochemistry as an end in itself is only marginally interesting: it comes into its own when we see how it controls the course of reactions, and we see a fair amount of this important relation. I was a little surprised to see how the second colour was used so sparsely, mostly decoratively, rather than pedagogically in the diagrams. That aside, the book is a valuable, succinct compendium of stereochemical concepts in organic chemistry.

Reactions and Characterization of Solids brings us into the world of modern inorganic materials, which are so important to current technology and are likely to become ever more so in future. The book deals with the description of the structures of crystalline materials and, most helpfully, with the practical aspects of promoting solid-state reactions and the determination of structure. Sandra Dann spends a lot of time on the electric, magnetic and mechanical properties of solids, and undergraduates should find the text a valuable and helpful introduction to this branch of inorganic chemistry. I noticed that this book uses a different (and in my view correct) sign convention for electron affinities from those in at least two other books in the series, which might be confusing to readers. As in some other volumes, definitions are often implicit rather than spelt out, which would have been helpful.

Main Group Chemistry could have stretched over 1,000 pages. I can sympathise with the torment the author must have experienced to restrict himself to under 200 pages. He has had to restrict his discussion of each group to about ten pages, and so has had to be highly selective. The periodic table is the natural framework for the discussion, and the text starts at hydrogen and steps systematically through the groups. Group 12 is appropriately regarded as an honorary member of the main groups. The natural place to start is yet another account of the periodic variation of properties through the periodic table, and the real business of the book begins with that most extraordinary element, hydrogen, in chapter two.

The presentation throughout is conventional, with an account of the extraction of the elements, their properties and their typical compounds. It is notoriously difficult to breathe life into the systematics of the main group elements, partly because there are so few systematic principles other than thermodynamics and a smattering of reaction mechanism. I think we have to regard this text as a necessary part of the series but not one that adds much insight. Undergraduates will find it a useful collection of significant properties but will come away wondering why the main group elements can be so fascinating.

d- and f-Block Chemistry provides a compact introduction to this branch of inorganic chemistry. There are two major aspects of transition-metal chemistry. One is the binary compounds they form, such as the oxides and halides. Then there is the overwhelming importance of the coordination compounds in all their manifestations. The book provides an accessible and thoughtful introduction to both branches, but draws the line at discussing organometallic compounds (which are treated in another volume). There is a lot of experimental information, but it is handled in an attractive way, and the reader never feels overwhelmed. As is appropriate in an introductory text, much more attention is given to the d-block than to the f-block but, once again, we are promised another volume to make up the difference.

The text assumes some familiarity with thermodynamic and electrochemical arguments, but their applications are treated in a straightforward way, and should give undergraduates little trouble. In short, this is a helpful, systematic introduction to this important field.

Structure and Bonding is yet another attempt to convey the structure of one of that most elusive and subtle of concepts, the covalent bond. After a quick survey of periodic properties, which later will turn out to underlie the subtleties of the variation of the distribution of electron density in bonds, the book lays down the foundations of all that is to come. That foundation is symmetry, and chapter two is a reasonably thorough but pragmatic account of the concepts of symmetry operation and character tables that will be used throughout the rest of the book. That is a perfectly sensible approach as so much of the properties of covalent bonds and their composition in terms of atomic orbitals is a manifestation of an aspect of the symmetry of molecules. One pleasing aspect of the text is the way in which experiment and theory are interwoven throughout. The text works up through molecules of increasing complexity and concludes with a chapter on metallic and ionic bonding that can act as a springboard to other books in the series dealing with the solid state. The text is refreshingly straightforward and covers all the material an undergraduate is likely to need in this area, acting as a bridge between physical and inorganic chemistry.

Functional Group Chemistry takes us into the heartland of organic chemistry and is organised around four themes. First, James Hanson deals with the various features of functional groups that contribute to their reactivities. Then he deals in succession with functional groups where the personality of the group is due largely to the properties of σ bonds and π bonds. Finally, he considers the role of aromatic rings attached to functional groups. In this way, he covers a wide range of basic organic chemistry, and undergraduates should find the presentation succinct and helpful. Once again, I think greater use of the second colour could have helped elucidate many of the reaction schemes. Another pedagogical quibble is that the use of coloured type in the text is not systematic as it is used both to refer to a topic and to introduce a term that is being defined. It would have been better to have followed every coloured term with an explicit definition of its meaning.

Taken together, this series of books is a helpful, well-planned contribution to undergraduate life, and will be welcomed by instructors who value the kind of flexibility these volumes permit.

Peter Atkins is professor of chemistry, University of Oxford.

d- and f- Block Chemistry. First edition

Author - Chris J. Jones
ISBN - 0 85404 637 2
Publisher - Royal Society of Chemistry
Price - £9.95
Pages - 176

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