Classic Texts

It was September 1966. I was beginning my Chemistry major at Queen’s and I needed a textbook for my Organic Chemistry 280 course.

I was given a choice of three possible reference texts:

A classic volume which first came out in World War 2 – Fieser and Fieser.

A well respected and popular text of general utility – Morrison and Boyd.

A recently published work which featured the burgeoning topics of instrumental analysis and physical organic chemistry – Roberts and Caserio.

The safe choice would have been Morrison and Boyd. But I was a physical chemistry nerd so I took the road less traveled and selected R&C. To this day I have never regretted that decision.

Roberts and Caserio was a go-to book in my library for close to 40 years – as a food scientist, flavor laboratory manager, quality control analyst. When I retired I left it behind to serve future food technologists at Unilever. I suspect it has now vanished into the mists of time.

Imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that the Roberts and Caserio 2nd edition – 1977 – is now online at Libretexts. I suppose the copyright has been assigned there. Jack Roberts passed away in 2016 and Marjorie Caserio also passed away in 2021, so no new edition would be forthcoming.

For those who wish to have real bound textbooks, it’s possible to get copies of both Roberts and Caserio AND Morrison and Boyd from used booksellers like Alibris for as little as $5 plus shipping. So if you’re nostalgic for these classic texts feel free to check it out.

There is a significant difference between the older textbooks and more recent ones. Back in the 60s, organic chemistry had a long history of pot-boiling techniques that went back to the late 1800s. Textbooks concentrated on classical molecular structure, nomenclature, functional groups, wet chemistry and learning a lot of famous “name” reactions. Today we have much more emphasis on instrumentation for structure determination, kinetics and mechanism of reactions, biochemistry and biomedical applications. The old textbooks have their charms though – if only to look good on a bookshelf.

Published by Ray MacDonald

Ray MacDonald is a retired food scientist who lives in Almonte, ON.

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