This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Textbooks Are Becoming Old School

Question. How many of you still have your old chemistry (or physics or whatever) textbooks from your undergraduate years? I think I still have nearly all of mine. And although I'm sure this is at least partly due to my being a packrat who can't throw anything away, it's also due to the fact that I like books. I may still go to the web first if I need some piece of information, but sometimes it's easier to go back to your textbooks for more detailed explanations. Besides, there is just an intrinsically good feeling when holding a book in your hands. But after reading this article, I'm beginning to wonder how much longer this trend will continue. Apparently, it's becoming just as easy to download textbooks illegally as it is to download ripped music and warez. And publishers are beginning to react in various ways. Unfortunately, one of their strategies is to offer the texts in ebook format, with subscriptions that run out at the end of the semester. So much for using that text as a reference a year from now.

Publishers, please let us keep our paper-based books!

BTW, this only applies to real textbooks. Textbooks for classes like psychology or sociology can be burned or thrown into an acid bath for all I care.


Anonymous said...

I sometimes think that when I get to make such decisions, I'll use the previous edition of whatever calculus or linear algebra book we're using. These frequently cost about 5 bucks plus shipping, and they haven't changed in the past decade.

Then again, by the time I can make such decisions, I'll probably no longer care.

Jons said...

I don't really have a problem with the subscription model per se, but if the price of the book is still going to be >$100 it seems a little gouge-and-screw to me.

I still have many of my old undergrad books, at least for chemistry and math. Nothing from the first year though, I figure I should *know* all that by now.

Chemgeek said...

I agree. There is great value in having a physical version of a text in hand. It is too difficult to "leaf" through an electronic text to find something.

On my shelf I have two analytical texts from the 1930's and 1940's. During the past year I have referenced them on more than a half dozen times. Modern instrumentation is great, but in the absence of that, some good ol' fashioned chemistry is needed.

I, for a long time, have been of the opinion that text books for General and Organic chemistry classes do not need to be updated more than once every 10 years. While a lot changes in chemistry, the basic principles being taught in these classes do not.

Gerhard said...

Hey i just started reading your blog and it's awesome!

I am going to take Biochem 1 this fall and my professor is using the old edition of the textbook (which our bookstore does not sell, you can only buy it used online) and i found it for about $15 plus shipping. The new edition is about $115 at the bookstore. I was extremely happy because i paid $250 for the Carey Organic book last year.

I keep all my chemistry books because yes, they are the only important ones. I found myself referencing my Gen Chem book a lot in my Analytical class.

Liberal Arts Chemist said...

Another dinosaur checking in to say "Amen". I have my highschool chemistry, physics and biology textbooks on my desk shelf (I won a math tournament in grade 12 and I asked for copies of my science textbooks rather than accept the $100 first prize). They are on my desk for more than symbolic purposes I do refer to them as well.

I think this is an important issue and it will be decided by the big market Universities that sell 1000's of textbooks. Using used textbooks like the prof said to gerhard above only works if the big universities are generating lots of used texts. As soon as the e-text revolution occurs that source will dry up.

What I am thinking of doing is waiting for a good text to roll out of print and then purchase a class set for our small school on the used market (I would only need 30-40a) and then lease the copies to the students.

I still use an old 35 mm film camera and I have the same feeling about textbooks. Soon everything will be digital, you will be assimilated, embrace our new robot masters.

Chemgeek said...

Since I have such small classes, I purchased textbooks for my Organic lab. I bought about 2 dozen copies of an old edition. I spent about $3 on each (+S/H). They work great.

I give the students the option of buying these books. Many do.

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