Modern students of organic chemistry, used to the glossy presentations and CD-Roms of the current editions of first-year textbooks, might at first glance be reluctant to purchase these two books. But this would be a mistake.
Keynotes in Organic Chemistry describes itself as an overview, and this is exactly what it offers the reader. It opens with four chapters summarising structure, bonding, representations, nomenclature, stereochemistry and reactivity, before pursuing a traditional description of organic chemistry with seven chapters, each based on a functional group.
Despite the book's small size, each chapter is thorough, with coverage of all important reactions found at first-year level. Typically, each reaction type is illustrated by one generalised scheme, with the mechanism well explained in terms of the fundamental concepts introduced in the early part.
The use of electron-flow arrows, essential to rationalisation of so much in organic chemistry, is exemplary. Furthermore, the book even finds space to remind readers that some common mechanisms - for instance, that for borohydride reduction - are "simplified".
This textbook is not for the student seeking to be gently led through organic chemistry; it is ideal for the first-year student wishing to revise.
Organic Chemistry at a Glance also aims to provide a short textbook for the rapid assimilation of organic chemistry. It uses a different approach to Keynotes, despite dealing with underpinning concepts in the first chapters of the book and then organic reactions in a much longer chapter. In particular, organic reactions are dealt with according to reaction type, rather than the strict functional-group approach of Keynotes . Individual concepts or reaction types are covered in paragraph style throughout, accompanied by an illustration or scheme. With this approach in a small book it is not possible for any concept to be explained at length, but it does make for rapid, if superficial learning. This book is well suited to the student who wishes to dip into organic chemistry over the course of a degree.
With both books, chapters ought to be readable in 20 to 30 minutes and both are ideal for the target audiences and priced and designed appropriately. I would not hesitate to recommend them to either a masters or even a PhD student wanting to ensure no embarrassment at viva.
Ian Cunningham is senior lecturer in organic chemistry, University of Surrey.
Keynotes in Organic Chemistry. First edition
Author - Andrew F. Parsons
Publisher - Blackwell
Pages - 228
Price - £13.99
ISBN - 0 632 05816 1