The Pauper Professor’s Orgo Library

December 11th, 2013

chembarkfc_kit_200Well, it looks like I’ve been ignoring the blog again. Sorry about that.

We are in finals week here at SLU, and the end-of-the-semester crunch has definitely crunched me (with a lot of help from lab stuff, two chemistry “business” trips within the last month, and the fact that I will be getting married in two weeks (!).

I’m teaching Organic 1 this semester, and it has consumed an inordinate amount of time. But the experience has also been a lot of fun and a good training ground for figuring out how to run a class efficiently.

Like many orgo teachers, I began the year by insisting to the students that the best way to do well in the class is to work practice problems (and lots of them). When I was a wee lad taking orgo at NYU, I walked uptown to the fantastic Barnes & Noble at 5th and 18th and bought copies of Vollhardt and Streitwieser to supplement the problems in Jones. My weekly routine was to read through the Jones chapter in two nights while also making index cards that cataloged each reaction along the way. The rest of my week would be spent doing all the problems in Jones, then as many in Streitwieser and Vollhardt as I could stomach.

But textbooks aren’t cheap, and I feel icky about asking students to shell out extra money for supplemental problems after they’ve already forked over $260 (!) for the class’s required textbook. Of course, the used-book market is flooded with cheap, old editions of organic textbooks.

Over the course of this semester, I undertook a mini-project that involved scouring for deals and assembling a small library of textbooks and solutions manuals as a resource for my sophomore organic students. The last volume arrived two weeks ago, and now my collection occupies almost an entire bookshelf in my office:


There are 16 books there: 8 sets of texts and solutions manuals. Here’s what I paid for each book + manual:

Bruice: $3.43 + $0.75
Carey: $3.26 + $0.75
Heathcock/Kosower/Streitwieser: $1.05 + $1.18
Jones: $0.75 + $0.75
Loudon: $4.07 +$4.12
Smith: $0.00 + $0.00 (this is the one SLU uses)
Vollhardt/Schore: $1.05 + $0.75
Wade: $2.22 + $0.75

Those costs are steals compared to the prices listed on Amazon. The shipping on each item ranged from $1.89 to $3.99 and was always more than the cost of each book. In total, my little collection set me back $74.14. The plan for next semester is to cart them over to the main library where they can be kept on short-circulation reserve. Students can check out the books for a day at a time—long enough to work or copy the problems in a chapter, but not long enough to hog the resource. Anyway, with eight texts as options, I’m hoping the market for orgo practice problems at SLU is now saturated. I should never again hear wailing about there not being enough practice problems available.

Anyway, the final exam for my class is this Friday—the 13th. I expect the only students who will encounter bad luck are those who haven’t been working enough practice problems.

37 Responses to “The Pauper Professor’s Orgo Library”

  1. J Key Says:

    Despite having several textbooks available in the library on reserve I still get the complaints of there not being enough practice problems. Then I get the complaint about not having a complete solutions manual whenever I refer a student to an outside text or problem set.

  2. Lila Says:

    Wow, that’s awesome of you, Paul. I was lucky as an undergrad to have an awesome science library at my disposal, where I spent many an hour doing problems in organic textbooks other than the one Dave Evans taught from.

  3. prunesmith Says:

    You overpaid for that Bruice textbook…just sayin’.

  4. Graet Chem Says:

    I’ve never understood why there are so many competing textbooks for organic chemistry when the other disciplines seem to have settled on one (or two) texts for the most part (e.g. Greenwood & Earnshaw, Atkins, etc.). It does seem quite unfair to students that they should have to purchase such a relatively large set of books for one part of their chemistry course.

  5. Hap Says:

    You forgot Kemp and Vellachio. For some reason, everyone seemed to hate that text (though they loved the professor), but it’s got scads of stuff, and I don’t think it was too bad. It seemed to be pretty mechanistically oriented, though not at the levele of Anslyn, et al.

  6. Chemjobber Says:

    Sorry to threadjack a little, but if you were going to recommend an alternative to Carey/Sundberg*, what would you recommend?

    *Which seems to be the standard grad school text for organic chemistry (maybe I’m wrong)

  7. Older and Wiser Chem Prof Says:

    The cost of college science textbooks makes me weep. While some high school texts are now in ebook formats (possibly since many school districts purchase the books rather than the students themselves), don’t expect textbook publishers to give up the large-enrollment college cash cows anytime soon.

    Seems like for-pay off-campus tutoring services are going through another wave. Another sad story – students duped into thinking they should pay another provider in addition of their college or university.

  8. a Says:

    a) congrats on being wedded to something other than your career!

    b)Good on you! I tried this once with our actual text and was told I was cutting into bookstore business!

    However, the wailing will never stop, merely change its dissonant melody.

  9. albert e Says:

    I actually really like the Kemp and Vellacio textbook as well as the classic Cram and Hammond text. Neither one is in print anymore, but you can find cheap used copies online. They don’t have solutions manuals, but I always liked using those questions on problem sets since it was hard for the students to easily look up the answer!

  10. NC Says:

    The price of textbooks in the USA is shocking. I thought one of my students was crazy when he told me what he paid, my having just come here from the UK. Turns out they all have to pay it. It’s insane – I got many of my textbooks for free from the uni library doing undergrad in the UK. IMO someone should do something about this insane monopoly.

  11. Son O' Gashira Says:

    Ugh, I had to use the obscure Brown LeMay and Bursten. Never heard of it? If you took organic at OSU in 2000 you did- Bursten was the department chair. Many of the books are written by the professors teaching them, so they get to dictate that students buy the texts they themselves are getting paid for. Newest editions only, of course – same content different order so you can’t cheat with an old one.

  12. DJL Says:

    I teach a graduate/advanced undergraduate chemical engineering course on Intermolecular Forces. I am using the classic book by Israelachvili (which is a resource I want my students to be intimately familiar with throughout their careers). My university has the ebook available from the library, a fact that I made known to the students at the beginning of the term. I wrote the final exam (which I am administering five hours from now) intending it to be open-book. I expected that most students would have the hard copy of the book, and that I would hand out extra “desk” copies to the few students who chose to use the ebook during the term. It turns out that 2/3rds of the students use the ebook (for obvious reasons: the paper book is too expensive, you cant ctrl+F for words in a paper book, a paper book is heavy, and it falls apart over time). So, I’m having to make the final an “open-laptop” exam, though I’m mandating that the wireless receiver be disabled. Incidentally, I always hated the idea of open-book exams, but I decided for the first time that having the book available might be a good way to reduce the anxiety of the students for this specific course. The upshot is that ebooks have forever changed the concept of “open-book” exams, for those who use that style occasionally.

  13. J Key Says:

    @ Chemjobber – March’s Advanced Organic seems to be another popular one

  14. Steve Chamberland Says:

    @ Chemjobber – I’m teaching a graduate mechanisms course this spring quarter and am pondering what book(s) to use. Carey and Sundberg A is a good choice. I’m also considering Anslyn/Dougherty’s recent Modern Physical Organic Chemistry, which seems to be a great text akin to the classic Lowry/Richardson Mechanism and Theory in Organic Chemistry (1984), which I used in grad school in 1999. I read it regularly when I teach sophomore o-chem for background and complete understanding. Fleming’s Frontier Orbitals and Organic Chemical Reactions has recently been revised in a wonderful, much anticipated edition. Of course, one cannot omit the backbreaking but comprehensive Clayden, Greeves, Warren, and Wothers Organic Chemistry text. I’d love to use that text for sophomore organic, but I anticipate our average student would struggle with its depth and level of detail. Lastly, the synthetic chemist in me wants to consider Strategic Applications of Named Reactions in Organic Synthesis by Kurti and Czako for the grad course. It’s organization, use of color, explanations, references, and overall approach are top notch; however, I feel it lacks adequate coverage of the fundamentals that one would get from a Carey and Sundberg or Anslyn/Dougherty. Hope this helps.

    @ Paul Bracher – this is a wonderful idea. I often pull problems from supplemental texts for in-class examples and exam problems. In addition to those books you have, I also love Jones/Fleming (is this much different than the Jones edition you have?) and the new David Klein book. You might know of David Klein. He translated the immense success of the Organic Chemistry as a Second Language series into a nice first-edition text. I always referred students to Klein’s books for extra help and for creative explanations, and I have always put copies of those books on reserve for my sophomore organic class. We currently use the McMurry text, which has a lot of practice problems.

  15. Steve Chamberland Says:

    sorry for the correction: I meant “its” instead of “it’s.” One should proofread more than once.

  16. R Mariano Says:

    Good stuff! As an undergrad, it’s rare to interface with orgo teachers in this manner– I wanted to ask you a particular question. From my experience the number (or lack thereof) of practice problems usually isn’t the problem, students simply do not do them. I feel that providing an extended library apart from your assigned textbooks aids only the students who did the assigned text problems in the first place. How do you address the sub-B level students and below?

    I really wish there was an online platform or application that could allow you to draw organic structures and check them (like Muchlearning for math.) That way organic homework could be a lot more manageable to incentivize students.

  17. anonymous Says:

    R Mariano-

    Cengage offers a product called OWL (online web-learning) that offers precisely what you are looking for. It is paired with specific textbooks, but provides an online platform for working organic problems, including drawing mechanisms, structures, etc. We use it extensively in our sophomore organic courses.

  18. Chemjobber Says:

    Thanks, Steve, much appreciated.

  19. J Key Says:

    @ R Mariano – “How do you address the sub-B level students and below?”

    That’s a great question. I can make practice problem sets, video tutorials, and provide clear concise lectures until I am blue in the face, but unless the students have the desire/motivation to put in effort to take advantage of the resources available they may never get beyond that C level.

    I’ve read a fair amount of the educational theory, and I try to motivate the students by showing enthusiasm and relating organic to their future disciplines/careers (eg. explain why stereochemistry is important for a biology major etc.). However, an instructor/professor can only do so much.

  20. R Mariano Says:

    Fair point but much of those are non-incentivized methods (I.e. ungraded.) While its true that many of them will never get past C level, I’d like to think that an online graded platform offering randomized ochem problems would encourage them to do more individually, especially if you make them a larger portion of the grade than traditional homework (~30% vs 10 or 15%.)

  21. Andrew Says:

    I got the opportunity, for some unknown reason, to write a half dozen or so text books reviews for the Times Higher Educational Supplement (THES) and therefore got several free books that way. I also used to regularly get publishers sending me free inspection copies of text books – as did all my colleagues – in the hope that we (my section) would adopt a certain text (we never did, and after Clayden et al came out the others slowly stopped coming; I reckon most of the UK Universities adopt Clayden). I used to have a dozen or so spares of the American o-chem texts which I all passed on to needy first year students.

    However the US market is much more competitive so, Paul, why dont you look out for some new editions of texts, and offer to write some reviews for a similar periodical as the THES? Or maybe even your blog? Send your local sales rep a link and then you may find other publishers sending you inspection copies as I had. (or just fill in eth cars to get inspection copies just in case you thinking of adopting a new text).

    I still have my old favourites on the shelf, but given that texts are so expensive I tend now to create / use my own teaching materials. They are just what I want, unlike books which never entirely suitable for what I want to teach, and I hold the copyright so can xerox copies for students or upload on the web.

  22. J Key Says:

    @ R Mariano 2:02pm:

    As anon 12:51 pointed out, there are online homework services that exist. However, they typically cost extra to the student. It is up to individual instructors how they weigh their assessments, and whether they choose to use such a system. Sounds like you may want to take this up with your own Organic instructor.

    My two-cents are that these systems may be helpful to some students, but not all. I also do not like putting further costs on the course, when students are already paying a small fortune in tuition and textbooks. Online quizzes and problems sets also pose increased risk of cheating/academic misconduct, and therefore making them worth a significant amount of the course can be risky.

  23. Paul Bracher Says:

    @Chemjobber: I’d say Carey & Sundberg is still the standard text for advanced organic (reactions/mechanisms). Lowry & Richardson used to be a popular alternative, but I haven’t see it in a while. I’d be very hesitant to teach advanced organic using March, which I regard as more of a desk reference. Anslyn & Dougherty is probably now the preferred text for physical organic.

    @Steve Chamberland: I haven’t looked at Jones/Fleming, but I think it is what Jones evolved into. I’ll have to check out Klein.

    @R Mariano: McGraw-Hill (publisher of the Smith and Carey texts) has an online system that you describe. It’s called “Connect”. You can assign homework and quizzes, and the students draw their answers in ChemDraw. I was very excited when I first became aware of the system, but there are some bugs that need to be worked out of it. I saw many students draw correct answers only to have them graded as incorrect. I eventually switched to having these assignments graded based on participation instead of correctness, because manual grading of these assignments would’ve been too much of a burden. But the system is promising. It’ll be interesting to see how it works in five years.

    As for addressing those students who have real struggles with organic chemistry, it is difficult. I know that there are a lot of students who try very hard but still have trouble in the class. I try to make myself available for office hours (and extra ones during exam weeks) where we can tackle what subjects, specifically, are troublesome.

  24. Ivy league prof Says:

    Great post, Paul. You d’man! We use Loudon – great book. Took 10 min phone call to get publisher to cut price in half (after threatening going with McMurry). With 800 organic students we saved them $60,000. Recommend all of you do the same.

  25. Chem prof Says:

    We have recommended the penultimate version of texts – much cheaper than the latest edition and for all practical purposes the same. Students are reticent to order an older version but when they see the price differential they get it.

  26. R Mariano Says:

    Thank you for your insightful discussions, Paul and J Key. I’m really excited for the next few years to see how software developers will take existing software systems for teaching and continue to touch them up to par, perhaps to match person-level grading. This already works reasonably well on some platforms for Physical Chemistry, and some aspects of General Chemistry.

    It would be a true boon to educators to be able to assign graded, randomized (i.e. varied in structure, testing key concepts) problems to students which could then be independently checked and feedback’d by software.

  27. orgoteacher Says:

    thanks paul, appreicate ur efforts. I use Mcmurry & also Brown as the reference book for the year-1 organic course, but found that david klein is a much more charming and lively book. do you have supplementary tutorial sessions for the students? if so, could you also comment on how you conduct them? thank you.

  28. Chemjobber Says:

    Thanks, Paul!

  29. Nikpack Says:

    I’ve been curious about doing something similar as Paul has done here for the General Chemistry and Analytical classes I teach. I’m curious, are all of the pictured textbooks current editions (or even some)?

    Similar to what Chem prof said, I have been thinking that this plan would require purchasing the next to last edition of a textbook, which is often absolutely fine. If you were able to get current editions at such low, low prices, why not go that route?

  30. R Mariano Says:


    Do you have any recommendations for analytical besides Harris and Skoog?

  31. Nicole Says:

    The textbook price—shocking. I know that tuition prices just keep rising, but didn’t realize that textbook prices were increasing so much as well.

  32. Alastair Says:

    Forget everything except Clayden, Greene, Warren and Wothers – it is the best text by a standout, all-singing, all-dancing mile. It is perhaps noticable that compared to your other choices on, the very cheapest available copy is over $22….obviously it is in demand!

  33. Alastair Says:

    doh….obviously i meant Greeves

  34. wolfie Says:

    For me, it was only “Carey Sundberg”, before I learned what practical organic chemistry was.

    But for you, as a teacher for blacks at a jesuit institution, what do you have to learn ?

    And what to teach ?

  35. MRW Says:

    Paul –
    You overpaid by $74.14. You’re a professor now, all you have to do is ask and the publishers will send you free books of the latest edition.

    Son O’ Gashira –
    “Ugh, I had to use the obscure Brown LeMay and Bursten” Is that an organic text? I knew those three wrote a general chemistry text (it’s actually the most commonly used one in the US), but I didn’t realize they wrote an organic one.

  36. Some Dude Says:

    I hope none of the ultra-cheap books you bought were “instructor editions.” I don’t think it’s ethical for faculty members to release those onto the market because they’re intended for review and course development purposes, and I don’t think it’s ethical to reward those who make their trade in such books by making purchases from them even if it’s only a few dollars. Yet three or four times a year I will get an email from someone saying they’ll be on campus purchasing textbooks from faculty members and they specifically request “instructor editions.”

  37. bad wolf Says:

    I wonder if any students ever showed up to use the library?

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