The Chemical Educator, Vol. 5, No. 4, S1430-4171(00)04406-3, 10.1007/s008970406a, © 2000 Springer-Verlag New York, Inc.

The Systematic Identification of Organic Compounds, 7th edition. By R. L. Shriner, C. K. F. Hermann, T. C. Morrill, D. Y. Curtin, and R. C. Fuson. John Wiley & Sons: New York, 1997. £36.50. ISBN 0-471-59478-1.

Reviewed by Andy Whiting, University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology,

Not so long ago, when undergraduates were asked to identify an organic unknown, they would be facing elemental tests using sodium fusion, solubility tests for acids and bases, and a variety of other functional group and colorimetric tests. Many university courses have tended to move away from these classical tests in their undergraduate laboratories, but such tests can still play a useful role in teaching undergraduates about functional group chemistry. Indeed, these types of experiments readily combine with the teaching of practical techniques.

Most undergraduates are brought up on a diet of general practical methods, such as melting- and boiling-point determinations, organic functional group chemistry, chromatography, and modern spectroscopic interpretation. Whatever type of course you are involved with, classical or more modern, and wherever you study, you will find what you need in this book!

Now in its seventh edition, this text has expanded and evolved with the years to include all the functional group tests you have heard of and probably many more you haven’t. The included tables of data cover nearly everything from melting points to chemical shifts in monosubstituted benzenes. There are experimental details for derivative preparation, chromatographic procedures, and for making up and running samples for most spectroscopic techniques. There are even flow charts to explain how to go about identifying an unknown compound, and sample report forms to help you summarize your information.

This is a truly comprehensive textbook and reference source. If you are an undergraduate and need a book that covers spectroscopic interpretation, this book has what you need and more. If you require a book about laboratory techniques and functional-group identification, again, this has what you need. Indeed, the combination of material means that this might be the only book needed for an undergraduate organic chemistry practical course.

Although some of the pictures of apparatus appear rather dated by contemporary standards and the book is totally black and white, the layout, presentation, and explanations are all excellent. The procedures are very clear and well thought out and reasonable notice is taken of safety matters and waste disposal. Some worked examples and problems are provided, including mixed problems which combine classical tests with spectroscopic methods, and some solely spectroscopic problems.

An increasing number of research and professional chemists would never use classical methods for structural identification because the amounts of material available are too small. In addition, most researchers would argue that any organic compound could be identified by spectroscopic methods alone. From this point of view, the exercises and spectroscopic data are a little limited and angled more to undergraduate teaching. For example there is a lack of information about more advanced NMR techniques, little information about coupling constants in different systems, but more detail than you might expect on aromatic systems.

Spectroscopy forms a relatively small part of this text in comparison to the sections on classical tests, though its contemporary importance suggests that it may need to occupy more space in future. There are also still some odd anomalies which are probably leftovers from previous editions; for example, space is given in the report forms for “odor,” yet the authors remark “we cannot in good conscience recommend that you examine the odor of an organic compound,” though notably this caution occurs after the report form itself!

However, the small amount of outdated material can not detract from the fact this is a truly excellent textbook. Considerable care has been taken to put such a comprehensive and well laid out text together. There is something for everyone who practices organic chemistry. Although the undergraduate may not use all the material provided, everything they might wish for is here, ready if needed. For more advanced practitioners and teachers of practical chemistry at all levels, this is also a great textbook to have around for planning laboratory classes, finding procedures, and for reference.

In the UK, the price of this book is £36.50. While this book costs more than most textbooks that cover only spectroscopic interpretation, it contains an abundance of information. As a laboratory manual for undergraduates, it is excellent; as a reference text for more advanced students, it is still very useful.