Although I still had a couple of years of study ahead, I felt I had really arrived as a chemist the day I got my 47th edition of the CRC Press Handbook of Chemistry and Physics in 1966.
Although it had gone through a phase of shortening and abridging a couple of years earlier, the Handbook was still an impressive 1800 page volume. It was leather bound to last a lifetime of thumbing through it. It even had a little piece of Gold foil you could write on to personalize the front cover. (Imagine that in this age of ebooks and online databases!)
Most of us in the know referred to it as “The Bible” or the “Rubber Bible.” You see CRC (the publisher) was originally called “The Chemical Rubber Company” (don’t ask.)
It contained pages and pages of data – properties of Organic and Inorganic compounds, data on the elements, all kinds of phyiscochemical and thermodynamic tables, mathematical and statistical information, conversion factors. I don’t think I ever looked in this book for something useful and came away disappointed.
And of course in the pre-Google phase of science I used it a lot. Today I can find that the melting point of naphthalene is 80.26 C with a Google search. Not so in 1966.
Its IUPAC name? Bicyclo[4.4.0]deca-2,4,6,8,10-pentaene. Again from Google – but in 1966 I needed the Rubber Bible or an organic chemistry text to tell me.
My copy of the 47th edition of the CRC Handbook served me for close to 40 years and when I retired I generously left it behind for my successor in the Unilever Bramalea library. I guess whoever replaced me didn’t feel the same attachment to it though. I heard a few years later that all my books left in Bramalea went for recycling. So The Bible is probably an egg carton or Newegg shipping box today.
The funny thing is I can go on Amazon and get the same gently used volume of the 47th edition shipped to me for less than $20. That is less than I paid in 1966 dollars to get it new.
And yes the CRC handbook is still in print. They are on their 97th edition now, and a new volume costs around $200 and now has 2700 pages. March of science you see, although the old book would still have lots of useful data in it. You can get an ebook version for around $120 and most universities have a subscription to the online database – any student with a library card can access it on a laptop or tablet.
Will I get that old used copy of the Rubber Bible? Not likely. Google can give me most of the technical stuff I need as an old broken down chemist. And besides, with both an 1906 and 1954 encyclopedia set on my shelf I don’t think there’s room for another huge volume. Rubber Bible – RIP.