The Chemical Educator, Vol. 5, No. 3, S1430-4171(00)04405-4, 10.1007/s008970405a, © 2000 Springer-Verlag New York, Inc.

Interpreting Organic Spectra. By D. Whittaker. Royal Society of Chemistry: Cambridge, England, 2000. viii + 262 pages. ISBN 0-85404-601-1. £22.50.

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

Among the activities former chemistry undergraduates remember most clearly are the workshop-style exercises in the identification of organic compounds by spectroscopic methods. This style of teaching remains one of the best ways of helping students to grasp the basic ideas of structural identification, and also reinforces the principles of connectivity, vibrational motion in molecules, electronic structure, isotopes, and electronegativity.

With this in mind, David Whittaker has compiled the book Interpreting Organic Spectra based upon material used to teach undergraduates. The style, introductory discussions, and examples nicely capture and reflect the workshop-style organic structure identification course and could therefore be a valuable addition to the reading list of a typical chemistry undergraduate. It is the type of book that could be used as the primary text in this area for a first- or second-year undergraduate manual, reinforced by lectures and assisted problem solving. Alternatively, it would provide an excellent basis for individual study, to be worked through gradually with students reading each introductory section and following it up by trying all the problems. By the end of the book, any undergraduate should be able to rapidly extract the important structural information from IR, UV, MS, and 13C and 1H NMR spectra.

The book consists of five chapters that introduce the basic principles of infrared, ultraviolet, both 13C and 1H nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and mass spectrometry. The discussion is easy to read and understand, and contains most of the information that an undergraduate would require. Each chapter contains many examples that illustrate the important points of the method. The examples are followed by a series of unknowns, through which the student can work independently. These unknowns are well chosen and help to reinforce all the basic principles. In addition, the structures for each of the unknowns are provided at the back of the book.

Between the chapters that concentrate upon a single method, there are chapters of mixed examples, e.g., identifying unknowns using only IR and MS, or only IR and 13C NMR, spectra. In fact, the entire book really builds up stepwise and culminates with problems involving IR, MS, UV, and both 13C and 1H NMR, in a fashion that parallels the way that real problems are faced in the organic research laboratory. It is therefore an ideal book for self-teaching or for the basis of a workshop-style approach.

My only misgivings are that some of the figures lack some detail in reproduction, especially on the scales of the spectra. Very few combined examples use UV spectroscopy, which indicates that the importance of UV spectroscopy in general is downplayed in the text. In addition, because the style of the book is very much as one might wish to teach such material, it lacks some of the more detailed information one might need for more advanced interpretation. It could also benefit from more tables of data and diagrams to assist the reader.

However, this does not detract from the book’s primary purpose, but the price might. At £22.50 in the UK, though not particularly expensive, this softcover manual is priced at around the same level as major textbooks, but lacks the comparative polish and quality of coverage of such books.

Overall, despite the lack of detail, this book will really help students to digest, understand, and practice spectroscopic structure determination of organic compounds.