During the infancy of organic chemistry, the idea that carbon always combined with four partners crystallised into a certainty. Eventually this concept became a straitjacket that stifled progress. The aptly named Moses Gomberg led the exodus out of this thraldom into a new landscape of chemical ideas and invention. His discovery of the first free radical, trityl, in 1900, and his resolute defence of its unique structure, was a major event. It inspired a freedom of intellect that energised profound discoveries in areas as diverse as household polymers, ozone depletion, natural product synthesis and muscle relaxation. On the centenary of Gomberg's paradigm shift, several new textbooks set out to take stock.
Radical Chemistry is a carefully crafted exposition. The book is aimed at the scientifically curious and should appeal to undergraduate students and research practitioners. The text is eminently readable. The basic facts of free radical science are skilfully introduced in chapters about their historical evolution and on radical formation and transformation. Chapters on kinetics, mechanism and experimental methods advertise the synergy obtained by coupling these chemical tools to conventional synthetic planning. A strong feature of this book is the insightful explanations it provides into many facts usually taken for granted. The topics chosen as illustrations range from the really practical, such as why paints dry, through the industrially important, such as polymer preparation, to modern concepts such as polarity-reversal catalysis and stereocontrol. Final chapters on oxidation by molecular oxygen, and on more exotic species, round off a mini-classic.
An Introduction to Free Radical Chemistry is based on a course given to undergraduates at York University, but is also intended for postgraduates and industrialists. The heart of the book is an accomplished description of radical-mediated organic syntheses. The narrative moves far beyond the conventional tin hydride story, from functional group transformations, via cyclisations and translocations, to some exquisite natural product assembly methods. Fine insights into topics like chemo-selectivity and stereo-selectivity are given in terms of frontier orbitals and stereo-electronic effects.
In another context, Jacquetta Hawkes affirmed that "the discouragement of radical thought must lead to the closed society and the closed mind". These two books promote rational radical thought through reliance on good science.
John C. Walton is professor of reactive chemistry, St Andrews University.
An Introduction to Free Radical Chemistry. First edition
Author - Andrew F. Parsons
ISBN - 0 632 05292 9
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £.50
Pages - 238