|Vol.3 , No.2
The Chemical Educator
© 1998 Springer-Verlag New York, Inc.
Instant Notes in Biochemistry B. D. Hames, N. M. Hooper and J. D. Houghton, (1997). 374 pp plus 10 pp front matter, ISBN 0-387-91520-6 Price: $24.95. Publishers (copublishing arrangement): (1) In the United States and Canada: Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 175 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10010, USA. (2) In Europe: BIOS Scientific Publishers Ltd. 9 Newtec Place, Magdalen Road, Oxford OX4 1RE, England.
The authors of Instant Notes in Biochemistry have correctly identified a problem possessed by many of the first year biochemistry textbooks on the market. In the past two decades there has been an information explosion in the biomedical sciences. Many texts, in an attempt to remain at the forefront, have ballooned in content. The biggest problem with this approach is that while these texts accurately present the complexity of the material, they sometimes inadequately provide the foundation for understanding that complexity. This is especially true when you consider that most students studying biochemistry may have had organic chemistry more than one year earlier, if at all. One of the biggest strengths of this text is that it is extremely well organized. It is divided into 14 sections (A - N), and each section is further divided into 4-7 subsections; thus about 70 of the essential topics in biochemistry are addressed. Each of the 70 subsections commences with a Key Notes box that presents the main points to follow in about one page, as well as cross-references to other relevant areas of the book. Any student or professor who has spent several minutes thumbing through a previous chapter, looking for that one figure or paragraph of interest, will certainly appreciate this feature.
In fact, the excellent cross-referencing has the appearance of a hypertext document. The placement of Key Notes up front also addresses a common problem of many of the larger texts, which usually review the essential material in a summary page, if at all. It is nice to see the summary of important information up front where it belongs, since several studies on education have shown that students will have a greater comprehension if they have some understanding of what they are expected to acquire by reading the chapters.
This text is unlikely to replace the traditional textbooks (e.g., those from Lehninger, Stryer, or Voet) as detailed references for students pursuing a graduate education in the biomedical sciences. Nevertheless, it can be an excellent addition, especially for beginning students, nonbiochemists, and medical students who need to see the big picture in a concise format. The inclusion of a Further Reading section for each chapter at the end of the text, which references mostly reviews in journals such as Trends in... or Scientific American, indicates the level of material is correctly targeted to the undergraduate level. While the sequence of topics is not identical to most of the conventional first-year texts, it is close enough that it could complement any such text.
The book is designed with large margins to provide the student with a place to add notes of their own. This is really where I see the value of this work, though I wish the margins were wider still. The Notes could be an excellent place for the students to add class notes in order to create a very useful study tool for traditional exams, such as the ACS exam in biochemistry or the medical school admission exams. Instructors at undergraduate institutions might want to consider putting this text on future book lists as optional reading for most of their undergraduate students, but as suggested or required reading for those considering medical school.