Fundamentals of Environmental Chemistry

December 3, 2009

This is the third edition of a well-established textbook that presents the chemistry of the environment: the natural, unpolluted environment and the damaged environment, including what can be done to maintain the planet as a habitable platform. At more than 1,000 pages, it could be 400 pages shorter, for the first 366 pages are an introduction to elementary chemistry of the kind presented in most first-year undergraduate texts, but without the support of the pedagogical apparatus (worked examples, and so on) or colour that renders them attractive and helpful. They are intended to bring the general reader up to speed so that the meat of the presentation can be appreciated, but I suspect that the book would have greater impact without them. Although it could be used as an introduction to general chemistry from an environmental perspective, I suspect that the incompleteness of this section would not be satisfactory and the faintly old-fashioned air and cavalier use of units would work against it.

The meat of the book is its final two thirds. The presentation deals with the hydrosphere (three chapters), the atmosphere (three chapters), the geosphere (three chapters), the biosphere (two chapters), and that theatre of human meddling, the anthrosphere (a hefty but appropriate five). There are two concluding chapters on analytical techniques. The bulk of these chapters are qualitative and easy to read, with clear definitions and a well-developed story line. I suspect that, as my remarks suggest, this part of the book could stand alone, and serve as an attractive and informative account of environmental issues. The material added to create this edition includes a timely account of "green chemistry" (chemical procedures aimed at the reduction of their environmental impact) and the hugely important issue of sustainability. There are also expanded treatments of climate change and biomass energy.

A unique feature of the text is the do-it-yourself chapter summaries, where the reader is invited to complete a collection of sentences. Although it is a nice idea, I am not sure it works, as there are so many different valid ways of completing the sentences that it is essential to refer to the answers to identify what the author had in mind.

The design is extraordinarily primitive and idiosyncratic. Even an illiterate audience will wonder why it is necessary to draw a spoon full of sugar (with, incidentally, the sugar solid black). The authors and publishers should be encouraged in the next edition to reconsider this aspect of the book. Overall, though, the latter part of the text does its job admirably and informs an interested public in the issues, challenges and solutions that, if we are not already too late, may yet save the planet.

Who is it for? Generally articulate readers interested in environmental issues; environmental science students.

Presentation: Twenty-eight chapters; deep pages (to minimise length); awful illustrations. Would you recommend it? The first third: no; the final two thirds: yes.

Fundamentals of Environmental Chemistry

Author: Stanley E. Manahan

Edition: Third revised

Publisher: CRC Press

Pages: 1,048

Price: £57.99

ISBN: 9781420052671

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