Instant Notes in Chemistry for Biologists. (Instant Notes Series, B. D. Hames ed.) Fisher, J. & Arnold, J. R. P. 1999. ISBN 0-387-91563-X. (paper- US$24.95) Bios Scientific Publishers, Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 175 Fifth Ave, New York, NY, 10010-7858.—The stated purpose of this book is to provide a concise summary of key concepts in chemistry that will be relevant to biology students. Chemistry is certainly fundamental to biology but, as the authors note, the required chemical knowledge often dissipates soon after the last chemistry exam. This book is divided into 15 sections containing a total of 52 topics. Many sections deal with concepts derived from general and organic chemistry, some relate to inorganic or physical chemistry. Each topic is ~4-5 pages in length; it starts with ÔKey Notes' which serve to highlight the information to be presented, followed by an expanded treatment with examples and illustrations. A smattering of sections/topics will demonstrate the breadth of coverage: the elements, chemical bonding, properties of water, properties of carbon, metals in biology, hydrogen bonding, hydrophobic interactions, organic compounds by chemical class, acids and bases, the laws of thermodynamics, enzyme kinetics, nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectroscopy.
Much of the material presented and examples provided appear to be very strongly chemistry-oriented, as in the section on Ôcommon reaction types of carbon based compounds' highlighting oxidations of brominated or fluorinated hydrocarbons catalyzed by metal halides. To be more biologically relevant, examples based on natural substrates oxidized by an iron-containing cytochrome P-450 enzyme would have been more appropriate. The level of chemical knowledge considered fundamental is pretty extensive, subjects like thermodynamics, the distinctions between EI, CI and FAB mass spec, or the nuclear Overhauser effect are encountered (if at all) in the latter stages of a student career (in the US anyway). Other sections appear to be biochemistry oriented, as in the enzyme kinetics topic outlining Michaelis-Menton vs. Lineweaver-Burk plots. There are examples relevant to biology, but if the objective is to relate to (future) biologists there should be a greater emphasis on biology. For example, there is a topic devoted to aromatic compounds (which would appeal to chemists) but alkaloids would be a more appropriate choice of chemical class if the emphasis were truly biological Ð as alkaloids are hugely important as human drugs and in mediating the interactions of biological organisms. All in all, the topics are condensed enough that if I needed information I would still tend to look toward my general texts. This is a very attractive and well-written book but the treatment is so broad that, in a sense, the end product is a rather skeletonized version of chemistry. The authors lecture at the University of Leeds (UK) in the Schools of Chemistry and Biology where biology students are expected to start out with a much stronger background in chemistry than is typical of US students. I think it would be of marginal benefit to US students. I did, however, enjoy the book, it is well written and referenced and may be a useful resource in preparing fundamentals of biology lectures.—Timothy C. Morton, University of Chicago