The 7 Best Chemistry Textbooks

Updated May 27, 2018 by Daniel Imperiale

7 Best Chemistry Textbooks
An Introduction to General, Organic, And Biological Chemistry
Prentice Hall Student Edition
John T. Moore's "For Dummies"
We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Besides being the gateway to understanding the building blocks of life, chemistry is a prerequisite for all kinds of career paths, including that of the pharmacist, chemical engineer, doctor, clinical biochemist, forensic scientist, and toxicologist, to name a few. These helpful textbooks can set anyone on the road to a rewarding profession, or just answer some interesting questions. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best chemistry textbook on Amazon.

7. John T. Moore's "For Dummies"

While reading it won't make you ready to start a graduate level program, John T. Moore's "For Dummies" will give you a decent grounding in the basic concepts of the topic, such as the nature of atoms, acids, elements, and molecular structures.
  • makes periodic table approachable
  • includes basics of thermochemistry
  • not terribly well organized
Publisher For Dummies
Model n/a
Weight 1.1 pounds
Rating 3.6 / 5.0

6. The Science in Context

This fifth edition of The Science in Context introduces a new coauthor, Stacey Lowery Bretz, who adds a set of useful visualization tools to an already excellent text, making it even easier for students to grasp its concepts.
  • focuses on the nature of matter
  • chemtour animations
  • sometimes veers off topic
Publisher The Science in Context
Model n/a
Weight 5.6 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

5. An Introduction to General, Organic, And Biological Chemistry

An Introduction to General, Organic, And Biological Chemistry is a must-read volume for anyone interested in studying or practicing in the areas of healthcare, disease prevention, and other related fields. Also, it is paired with a great set of multimedia materials.
  • many helpful illustrations
  • author has 4 decades of experience
  • could use more answers in the back
Publisher An Introduction to Gene
Model n/a
Weight 3.6 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

4. Concepts and Problems: A Self-Teaching Guide

Houk and Post's Concepts and Problems: A Self-Teaching Guide is meant to be a supplemental volume read together with your regular assigned books and classroom work. Its contents are intended to broaden and deepen your mastery of the subject.
  • requires minimal prior knowledge
  • helpful chapter self-tests
  • very affordable price
Publisher imusti
Model n/a
Weight 1.2 pounds
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

3. The Central Science

Woodward, Murphy, and Stoltzfus' The Central Science is considered by many professors and students alike to be one of the best choices available, thanks to its ability to make the subject not just understandable, but practical and applicable to everyday life.
  • great example questions
  • detailed charts and tables
  • self-paced tutorials
Publisher The Central Science
Model n/a
Weight 6.4 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

2. Prentice Hall Student Edition

The Prentice Hall Student Edition is affordable enough for people on a tight budget, or even for someone not taking a class who is simply interested in this all-important field of science. Also, this text aligns very well with the common core curriculum.
  • good for high school use
  • mid-range length
  • incredibly easy read
Publisher PRENTICE HALL
Model n/a
Weight 5.2 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

1. A Molecular Approach

Written by Professor Nivaldo Tro, a Ph.D. chemist from Stanford University, A Molecular Approach is a lengthy volume that covers an extensive array of subjects. The engaging way it simplifies complex topics makes it well worth the investment.
  • layout is easy to navigate
  • great real-world examples
  • includes key learning objectives
Publisher A Molecular Approach
Model n/a
Weight 6.4 pounds
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

Understanding The Basic Unit Of Chemistry

Like in many other sciences, atoms are important in chemistry. Atoms are the basic units of matter, and they themselves consist of three things: protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons carry a positive charge, electrons carry a negative charge, and neutrons have no charge. In the center of an atom lies a collection of protons and neutrons.

Orbiting this nucleus you will find the electron cloud. This is the interesting field where the electrons of an atom exist. New discoveries about the electron cloud are still being made in the modern era. For example, CERN, which is the European Organization for Nuclear Research, recently studied the electron cloud for its implications in experiments using proton colliders. The electron cloud itself is comprised of a number of orbits. The electrons in orbit around the atom are what allow atoms to interact with each other, linking up to create new bonds. A well known example is H2O, which is one oxygen atom linked to two hydrogen atoms. When these atoms connect, water is created. The interaction between atoms is called a bond.

There are a few types of bonds atoms can make, and these have a large effect on the type of compound created. The bonds are either covalent, ionic, or hydrogen bonds. Covalent bonds are very strong and are created when two atoms share electrons. Ionic bonds occur when two oppositely charged ions attract one another, such as the bond between sodium and chloride to make salt. Hydrogen bonds are weak and created by oppositely charged portions of covalent atoms. The classic example is bonds between water molecules.

During these interactions, atoms sometimes gain or lose an electron. This causes the atom to then gain or lose its negative charge. The resulting atom is called an ion. Positive ions occur when an atom loses an electron. This means more protons than electrons exist, and the resulting charge will be positive. When an atom gains an electron, the balance will shift towards having a negative charge. As an interesting note, negative ions have been studied for years for their benefits to the human body. Introducing negative ions into the environment is even associated with lower depression ratings in some people.

The foundation of chemistry, and much of the known universe, is the interplay between these particles and bonds. Atoms form every element on the periodic table, and collections of these atoms create the world around us. As such, understanding the basic unit of chemistry leads to understanding the basic unit of life itself.

Are Chemistry Textbooks Only For The Classroom?

While most textbooks will most likely find their use on a classroom desk in a lecture hall, this is not the only use for them. As humankind's thirst for knowledge grows, more people turn towards textbooks to acquire a thorough understanding of interesting fields.

The most notable area of expansion is in the realm of self-taught individuals. Due in part to the openness of the internet, more knowledge is available now than ever before. This has sparked a generation of educated individuals who seek to educate themselves outside of the university setting. This may also be influenced by the rising opinion that student debt is seen as a major barrier to knowledge by a large number of the student body.

For these self-taught individuals, clarity of information is key. In the student-teacher setting in most lecture halls, the lesson covering each section of the textbook usually helps to clarify any especially confusing aspects of the text, and helps to break down larger concepts. This leads to higher marks and a better understanding of the material. As this option is not available to people who are studying independently, having easily understood text is a high priority.

Luckily, many publishers understand the connotation that reading from textbooks may induce drowsiness, and actively seek to change that with their work. Many modern textbooks are actually written to be enjoyed by both the casual reader and student alike.

What Will A Chemistry Textbook Cover?

Chemistry can be complicated, and any chemistry textbook of note will need to cover the basics in an easily understandable format. Introductory chapters will usually help familiarize readers with the full metric system. This enables a universal understanding of measurements of various solids, liquids, and gasses.

After that, the subject of chemistry is often studied using a logical approach. The most basic concepts need to be covered before moving into complex subjects. Atoms, molecules, and bonds are studied first, usually followed by the study of the pH scale. This forms a basis of information that is vitally important to understanding any other concept in a chemistry textbook.

From there, the difference between organic and inorganic compounds will be studied, along with their various components. It is here that readers begin to learn about DNA, the familiar helix which makes up our genes. Genetic study allows us to understand more about humans and has even led to the human genome project. This was a complete mapping of all the genes in a human being. When the research was completed it revealed that there are probably about 20,500 different human genes, though a chemistry textbook will not cover them all.

The periodic table of elements will also be discussed. While it may not seem like much, the periodic table of elements represents every element known to man. As new elements are discovered with time, the periodic table is itself changeable, which is why it is good to keep your chemistry textbook up to date.

It is important to understand that chemistry textbooks will usually not discuss concepts of chemical engineering. In general, chemistry is concerned with small scale organic and inorganic compounds, and physical versus bio-chemistry. The study of chemical engineering will take you into many other disciplines. For instance, chemical engineers need to also understand concepts of physics and math. Chemistry will focus on developing new materials, testing theories, and analyzing processes. Chemical engineering focuses on taking these discoveries and observations and turning them into useful products. Understanding the difference between the two topics can help ensure you are purchasing the correct textbook.


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Last updated on May 27, 2018 by Daniel Imperiale

Daniel is a writer, actor, and director living in Los Angeles, CA. He spent a large portion of his 20s roaming the country in search of new experiences, taking on odd jobs in the strangest places, studying at incredible schools, and making art with empathy and curiosity.


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