Swimming pools and madness

Advanced Inorganic Chemistry. Sixth Edition - Descriptive Inorganic Chemistry. Second Edition

February 25, 2000

Inorganic chemistry is traditionally taught in three strands: background theory, the observed facts and the applications. The main domain of these two textbooks is factual inorganic chemistry, but both attempt to cover aspects of the other two areas.

Descriptive Inorganic Chemistry is an easily digested textbook of factual inorganic chemistry. This is very much the textbook of the lecture course, and will prove to be a most suitable text for students following a first or second-year undergraduate course, explaining the lecture material and providing additional resources but probably not introducing much new material.

The book begins with eight chapters of background on structure, bonding and thermodynamics, avoiding mathematics. There are attempts to raise the level of the material, although I doubt if most readers of this text will benefit from reading a discussion of the Dirac equation in an advanced physical-chemistry book. Confusingly, enthalpy and energy are used interchangeably. Subsequent chapters survey the s and p-blocks one period at a time, concluding with a brief coverage of the d and f-blocks and the zinc group.

Throughout, emphasis is on the lighter members of each group, as though these define group trends. Each chapter begins with an enjoyable and relevant historical anecdote. Asides discuss such human subjects as lithium and manic depression, the chemistry of swimming pools and the reaction of dimethyl zinc with ancient paper. Each chapter concludes with exercises for the student (a solutions manual is available) followed by further problems which go "beyond the basics", and some relevant literature, almost exclusively in the Journal of Chemical Education ; there are few references to the primary literature.

Advanced Inorganic Chemistry is the sixth edition of this classic text, and was in an advanced stage of preparation when Geoffrey Wilkinson died. Two additional authors have been included in the new edition, and clearly supplement the skills of their mentors. A fifth author is Russell Grimes, who wrote the chapter on boron chemistry.

A truly comprehensive coverage of contemporary inorganic chemistry is presented, and this is a reference source that every student and teacher of inorganic chemistry must have on their bookshelf. The stated aim is to "prepare the student to read the chemical literature". Footnotes provide references to primary literature between 1988 and 1996; reference to previous editions is needed for earlier literature. The reader is assumed to be familiar with the theoretical background: for example, the results of molecular-orbital theory for oxygen and its ions are discussed without the MO diagram itself.

The periodic table is covered group by group, discussing the chemistry of the light and heavy elements, and drawing examples from the current literature of coordination, organometallic and cluster chemistry, although older work is described when necessary. Subjects such as fluxionality survive from earlier editions, but much of the text has been completely rewritten with fresh examples. Element biochemistry is now presented in context, within each chapter, rather than in a separate chapter, and in fact this edition has only four chapters of what might be described as background material, allowing more pages on factual chemistry. There are few cross-references; chapter one discusses cluster shapes, but with no reference to any rationalisation of these. Sadly, the doubling of the number of authors has been accompanied by a doubling in price since the fifth edition.

Both of these books achieve what they set out to do, but they are aimed at different audiences, the first at students wanting to understand fundamental inorganic chemistry, the second at students who understand the fundamentals and want to push their knowledge further.

Andrew Hughes is lecturer in chemistry, University of Durham.

Advanced Inorganic Chemistry. Sixth Edition

Author - F. Albert Cotton, Geoffrey Wilkinson, Carlos A. Murillo and Manfred Bochmann
ISBN - 0 471 19957 5
Publisher - Wiley
Price - £58.50
Pages - 1,355

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