Andrew Burrows, John Holman, Andrew Parsons, Gwen Pilling and Gareth Price

Chemistry3: introducing inorganic, organic and physical chemistry
Andrew Burrows, John Holman, Andrew Parsons, Gwen Pilling and Gareth Price
Oxford: OUP 2009 | Pp1395 | £42.99 | ISBN 978-019-9277-896
Reviewed by Matthew Almond

image - Reviews - chemistry3 cover

This comprehensive textbook covers all of the material normally included in the first year of BSc and MChem chemistry courses at UK universities. It provides breadth of coverage of the whole of chemistry and combines this with depth of information on individual topics. All of this is supplemented with interesting background information presented in separate boxes, though at times this does perhaps have the disadvantage of making the layout look rather hectic and disjointed. The appearance of the pages is more in the format of a website than of a traditional textbook. However, the overall presentation does work well and would appeal to first-year students.

I looked at particular sections describing topics that I know our first-year students find difficult. These are s-p mixing in molecular orbital theory, molecular spectroscopy and the chemistry of carbonyl compounds. The topic of s-p mixing is described with the aid of some useful diagrams. However, the section also includes a box explaining how the energies of orbitals are measured by photoelectron spectroscopy, which may be of use to the good, interested student. 

In contrast, the next box, which discusses the role of molecules and molecular ions in the colours of the polar lights, would help to attract students who perhaps see the topic as rather dry and would like to know something of the context. The section on molecular spectroscopy offers a clear discussion of the principles (and of the mathematics). From the outset the topic is put into an interesting context with a box which introduces NASA's attempts to search for water on the planet Mars. The chapter on aldehydes and ketones is again clearly described and includes many interesting contexts - chemical protection methods for millipedes, the use of a 'Mickey Finn' (a drink laced with a drug) in James Bond stories, the formation of nylon etc.  

The book has two other features I particularly liked. First, there is a good introduction to descriptive inorganic chemistry, an area often overlooked in introductory chemistry texts. There is also an excellent maths toolkit, which provides the essential material that a chemistry student needs. 

Overall, the authors have produced an attractive and informative first-year chemistry textbook, which would be of benefit to all students starting degrees in chemistry. However, there are perhaps two factors that may impede its widespread adoption as the standard text at this level. The first is the price (£42.99) which is a lot to pay for a paperback book; the binding is, in fact, poor for a book of this quality. The second is its weight (3.5 kg), which will make it difficult for students to carry to classes.