The great development of the theory of organic chemistry or more particularly of our understanding of the mechanism of the reactions overbore compounds, which?" occurred during the past thirty years or so has wrought a vast change in outlook over the whole of the science. At one time organic chemistry appeared to the student as a vast body of facts, often apparently unconnected, which simply had to be learnt, but the more recent developments in theory have changed all this so that organic chemistry is now a much more ordered body of knowledge in which a logical pattern can be clearly seen.
Naturally enough during the long period of development from the initial ideas of Lapworth and Robinson organic chemical theory has undergone continuous modification and it is only in comparatively recent times that it has become of such evident generality (although doubtless still far from finality) that its value and importance to the undergraduate student has become fully realized.
As a result, the teaching of organic chemistry has been, to some extent, in a state of flux and a variety of experiments have been made and a substantial number of Broks produced setting out different approaches to it. While it is the writer's opinion that it is unsatisfactory to teach first the main factual part of the subject and subsequently to introduce the theory of reaction mechanism, he is equally convinced that at the present time it is quite impracticable to concentrate almost entirely on theory and virtually to ignore the factual "part of the subject.
Organic chemical theory has not yet reached a level at which it permits prediction with any certainty of the precise behavior of many members of the more complex carbon compounds which are of everyday occurrence in the practice of the science. Sound theory is vital to the well-being of organic chemistry; but organic chemistry remains essentially an experimental science.
In Cambridge we are seeking the middle way, endeavoring to build up both aspects of the subject in concert so that there is a minimum of separation between fact and theory.
To achieve this the student is introduced at an early stage to the theoretical principles involved and to the essential reaction mechanisms illustrated by a modest number of representative examples. With this approach is coupled a more factual treatment covering the chemistry of the major groups of carbon compounds.
Dr. Sykes [who has been intimately associated with this approach} has now written this aptly named 'Guidebook' to reaction mechanism which sets out in an admirably lucid way what the student requires as a complement to his factual reading. I warmly commend it as a book which will enable students to rationalize many of the facts of organic chemistry, to appreciate the logic of the subject and in so doing to minimizes the memory work involved in mastering it.