from The Textbook Letter, November-December 1997

Reviewing a high-school book in chemistry

Addison-Wesley Chemistry
1997. 882 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-201-46652-X.
Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 2725 Sand Hill Road,
Menlo Park, California 94025.

If You Adopt This Good Text,
Ignore Its Trendy Diversions

Max G. Rodel

Addison-Wesley Chemistry is one of the better choices for a basic high-school course in inorganic chemistry. It is well organized and well written, and its pages are copiously illustrated but not garish. Many of today's schoolbooks are loaded up with gaudy, flamboyant artwork that makes them look like on-line instruction manuals for video games, but Addison-Wesley Chemistry is not one of those.

Oddly, there is no foreword, preface or introduction in this book, nor is there any information that might identify the book's intended audience. But the book's style and scope (along with its list of high-school teachers who are shown as "Content Reviewers") make clear that this is a chemistry book for high-school students.

Most of Addison-Wesley Chemistry is devoted to inorganic chemistry, but some introductory organic chemistry appears in two chapters near the end. There are 26 chapters in all -- and while they are not grouped into units, they present the major topics of high-school chemistry in an acceptable sequence: matter and its properties, scientific measurement, problem-solving tactics, atomic structure, chemical formulas, molar quantification, reactions, stoichiometry, the states of matter, thermochemistry, the gas laws, electron states, the periodic table, ionic bonds, covalent bonds, aqueous systems, solutions, reaction rates, acids and bases, neutralization, redox reactions, electrochemistry, metals, hydrocarbons, organic functional groups, and nuclear chemistry. In many instances, a given chapter builds on material in the chapters that have preceded it, and every chapter includes a little experiment (labeled as an "Activity") that seems appropriate for a high-school class.

In compliance with some current fads, the opening spread of each chapter has a list of goals and one of those concept maps that now seem to be ubiquitous in schoolbooks. Within the chapter, each section has an "Objective" that is announced in a margin-note. In fact, virtually every page in the book has at least one item in the margin -- an "Objective" note, a problem-solving tip, a biographical sketch, a picture, a safety tip, or something else. As abundant as they are, however, these items generally do not disrupt lessons or impede the reader's effort to follow the main text.

Questions, problems and exercises are abundant too -- 70 to 90 of them in a typical chapter. Some are placed within or beside the main text, but most are presented in the end-of-chapter review. The review usually includes some "Connections Questions" and "Write About Chemistry" exercises which require the student to compose paragraphs, or even short essays, that involve some knowledge of chemistry.

Throughout the book, the illustrations are excellent. The charts and diagrams are clear and well captioned, chemical structures are depicted nicely, and the photographs are universally helpful and pertinent to the topics at hand. I couldn't find a dumb illustration in the entire book. (I wish, however, that the photo on page 372, showing two crystals of halite, had a better caption: The existing caption can lead the reader to think, at first, that the photo shows an aerial view of two salt domes near the Gulf of Mexico.)

Another of this book's strong points is the glossary. In examining it, I found only one important fault: Though the Brønsted-Lowry theory of acids is discussed on page 550 of the text, there is no mention of that theory (or of Brønsted or of Lowry) in the glossary.

There are many peripheral inserts that attempt to expand on lessons in the text or try to relate chemistry to other endeavors. Most of the inserts take the form of sidebars, placed under such headings as "Consumer Chemistry," "Environmental Awareness," "Historical Notebook," "Science, Technology, and Society," "Materials Science," "Integrating Other Fields" and "Chemistry in Careers." Some of them can contribute to a student's appreciation of chemistry, but others -- especially the "Environmental Awareness" items -- aren't helpful and may even spread misconceptions.

The Book's Major Failing

This brings me to the book's major failing. The writers, succumbing to popular culture and political correctness, assault the reader with contrived "environmental" items and "multicultural" claptrap.

Addison-Wesley's willingness to pander to the agents of political correctness is signaled at the very start of Addison-Wesley Chemistry, in the lists of people who allegedly put this book together. Only nine people are listed as "Content Reviewers," but eight others -- eight! -- are shown as "Multicultural Graphics Reviewers" and "Multicultural Content Reviewers."

Given a line-up like that, we perhaps should be thankful that the book doesn't have any tales about the Eskimos' contributions to the theory of orbitals, or the Kalahari Bushmen's discovery of the gas laws. But what the book does have is bad enough -- e.g., the "Historical Notebook" article on page 118, which supposedly tells about the development of pharmacology. Here the writers fail to provide any useful information about chemistry, but they produce distorted, misleading and potentially dangerous claims about "Chinese pharmacists." [See "Tigers, Toads and Tricks"]

For an example of how the writers brandish fashionable environmental topics, turn to the "Environmental Awareness" article on page 144. Here the writers say that lead in paint "continues to be a serious indoor environmental concern" -- and then, in an evasive and convoluted discussion that is devoid of chemistry, they imply (but never establish) that lead-bearing paints represent a danger to health. This variety of fear-mongering is common in the popular media, but we must demand much better in a science textbook. The writers of a science textbook should reject media-driven alarmism and should examine, through a presentation of evidence, the question of whether citizens really face some risk of harm from lead-based paints on the walls of their houses. If textbook-writers can't do this, and can't resist indulging in sensationalism, then they should write nothing at all.

The "Environmental Awareness" article on page 717, headlined "Transporting Chemicals," purports to tell about "hazardous materials." The term "hazardous" is never defined, however. If it were, students would learn that "hazard," unlike toxicity, isn't an inherent property of a material. Hazard depends entirely on how humans handle the material in question; some ways of handling or using a given material may be notably dangerous, while other ways may be quite innocuous. Students should also learn that a chemical is said to be "hazardous" only because some politicians or bureaucrats have decided that it should be so labeled. Here we have another example of how political fancies can make chemicals look sinister. Instead of explaining these points, Addison-Wesley's writers offer the meaningless statement that "In a recent survey of environmental policies, state legislators placed transportation of hazardous materials at the top of their list of concerns" -- as if the opinions of politicians had something to do with reality or could somehow promote an understanding of chemistry.

Having said all that, I have to tell that there isn't as much fashionable nonsense in Addison-Wesley Chemistry as in some other high-school books. Moreover, the Addison-Wesley writers have isolated their weird "issues" and their other trendy diversions and derangements in sidebars or separate articles, instead of working them into the main text. Teachers, therefore, can easily direct their students to skip over these extraneous items and stick to the book's good instruction in chemistry.


I recommend Addison-Wesley Chemistry for use in high schools, though I don't think that it ranks with McDougal Littell's Introductory Chemistry: A Foundation, the exceptional book that I reviewed in the September-October issue of The Textbook Letter. In my opinion, McDougal Littell's book remains the best and sets the standard that writers of other high-school chemistry books must try to match.

A Rather Conventional Book
with Room for Improvement

Rollie J. Myers

The last two chemistry books that I reviewed in these pages -- Holt's Chemistry: Visualizing Matter and Kendall/Hunt's ChemCom -- were trendy, unconventional books that devoted much space to subjects lying beyond the classical view of chemistry. That approach has been popular in recent years, but its days may be numbered because many states are now developing rigorous science-education standards that stress traditional chemistry -- not cultural anecdotes, entertaining stories, role-playing, societal problems or the three R's (reduce, reuse and recycle). I suspect that many educators will soon be leaning toward books which focus strongly on traditional chemistry while retaining some selective coverage of societal issues that involve chemical science or technology.

In the 1997 version of Addison-Wesley Chemistry (the "Expanded Fourth Edition"), chemistry is presented in a fairly conservative way that resonates with what we are seeing in the emerging state standards. I have found this book's conventional approach to be somewhat refreshing, after my efforts to follow the convoluted presentations in the Holt and the Kendall/Hunt texts.

This is not to say that Addison-Wesley Chemistry lacks attempts to make chemistry relevant by linking it to societal problems or to our daily lives. The 1997 version is some 100 pages longer than the 1990 version (on which I commented in The Textbook Letter for January-February 1995), and much of the added space is occupied by what Addison-Wesley calls "Special Features." These include full-page articles labeled "Consumer Chemistry," "Science, Technology, and Society," "Environmental Awareness" and so forth, as well as 50 shorter sidebars devoted to "integrating" chemistry with other fields. We will first examine some of the "Special Features," before we look at the main text:

Now let's turn to the main text.

Like the 1990 version, this 1997 version of Addison-Wesley Chemistry has good discussions of conversion factors and dimensional analysis, but the material about the Celsius and Kelvin scales is awfully outdated. The writers still seem to be unaware that the relation between those two scales was redefined in 1968. (See my review in The Textbook Letter, November-December 1996.)

The discussion of atomic structure is very similar to the corresponding part of the 1990 book. In the chapter "Reaction Rates and Equilibrium," the writers have deleted a misconception about standard entropy, but they are still talking naively about the concept that a system behaves in a way which causes entropy to be maximized. They don't explain that this applies only to an isolated system -- a system whose total energy remains constant. Their discussion of free energy is naive, too. They refuse to state that free energy dictates the direction of a chemical reaction only if the temperature and the pressure are constant. Errors like these are common when textbook-writers tackle a rigorous subject without really understanding all the rigor that is involved.

In the 1997 book, most chapters include problems which are said to require the use of a graphing calculators. These calculators, which allow students to generate visual representations of mathematical functions, are revolutionizing the teaching of calculus, and Addison-Wesley's writers seem to think that a similar revolution may be affecting the teaching of high-school chemistry. In Appendix D of the 1997 book there are eleven pages of instructions for operating the TI-82 calculator (sold by Texas Instruments), and Appendix E gives keystroke-by-keystroke solutions to some of the graphing-calculator problems in the book's early chapters.

All of that may seem impressive, but few of the graphing-calculator problems are worth taking seriously. The one that involves the kinetics of a decomposition (page 533) has merit, but most of the others do not. Typically, the student is just determining a slope that might better be found by simply dividing each y value by each x value. Sometimes it seems that the student is plotting something just for the fun of it, with no science involved. While graphing calculators can play a small role in high-school chemistry instruction, but most of the graphing problems in Addison-Wesley Chemistry are just needless button-pushing. If an instructor really wants to show students how science is done, the instructor should teach them do math in their heads, using approximations to find crude numerical answers. If approximations give a foolish answer, then the student has made a conceptual mistake. Using a calculator won't correct that.

There are some nice historical items in this book, even if the "Pharmacy" article isn't one of them. Unlike some other texts that I have seen recently, this one doesn't give the impression that science just came out of nowhere.

Looking through the book's index, we find some notable gaps. For example, there is an entry for lead poisoning but none for mercury poisoning; and although the book purports to promote "Environmental Awareness," the index doesn't mention dioxins or DDT or Chernobyl. Unfortunately it does mention "dessicants" -- but in the book's text, desiccants is spelled correctly.

If one is seeking a rather conventional text that may survive the introduction of new science-education standards, the 1997 version of Addison-Wesley Chemistry seems to be a reasonable choice. This book's greatest weakness lies in its inaccurate treatment of some basic physical principles, as illustrated by its faulty presentation of chemical thermodynamics.

Rollie J. Myers is a physical chemist, a specialist in spectroscopy, and a professor of chemistry, emeritus, at the University of California at Berkeley. He has taught introductory chemistry at that institution and has directed summer programs for high-school chemistry teachers.

Max Rodel is a consulting environmental chemist and a registered environmental assessor in state of California. His major professional interest is the chemistry of natural aquatic systems, including the fates of pollutants. He lives and works in Mill Valley, and he regularly reviews chemistry texts and environmental-science texts for The Textbook Letter.


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