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Modern Theories of Organic Chemistry

Nature volume 142, pages 689690 (15 October 1938) | Download Citation



A BOOK such as that under review was certainly wanted in order to co-ordinate the various modern theories applied mainly to organic chemical reactions. Thus, after a general article on theories of chemical combination—a theme which has occupied the minds of chemists from the earliest days and will do so for many years to come—the author passes on to deal with the new physical methods of investigation, and devotes many pages thereafter to a general discussion of the subject, mainly of the electronic theory as applied to organic reactions. Although Robert Robinson gave a very concise and clear account of this theory in his lectures at the Institute of Chemistry in 1932, the work which has been done since needed the hand of a ready writer, in order to co-ordinate the details in a manner capable of being understood by those who are not physically minded. The desired co-ordination is provided in this book, and the author is to be congratulated on the way in which he has achieved a most necessary task. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that except in the instance which may be termed “The Royal Institution Case”, the theory has not yet proved sufficiently quantitative to enable it to predict. It still relies too much on what is known and on what, indeed, has been recognized and provided with other forms of nomenclature, in the past. The positive negative cause of all chemical reactions has been the basis of discussions of interacting molecules for generations past. What we require of the new theory, and what it has not yet developed to the full, is a quantitative aspect which will give direction and not merely offer an explanation of what is known. No doubt, however, this development is only a question of time, and the research worker will at some future date be able to tell with certainty whether an organic reaction will 'go' or not. Then, and then only, will the investigator save the time and expense caused by the 'cut and try' method of research, a method which is perhaps more common than many purists will admit. The chapter on “Free Radicals” is also one of considerable interest. That the combination of organic residues to form more complex molecules occurs is clear, but what is lacking in this method is direction. When the simplest cases are investigated, that is, for example, those cases in which only two free radicals are concerned, all is clear. It is only when several such free radicals are involved that the issue seems to be entirely adventitious and may be likened to a dog fight. It is foolish to dogmatize in these matters, but it seems unlikely that, except in specific cases, this method of research can lead to any form of prediction open to serve any useful purpose.

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