My goal in Hal's Picks is to expand the chemistry curriculum, embracing science that is not usually included in chemistry courses. This month is an exception. The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry is about exactly the topics that traditionally appear in Introductory Chemistry courses. However, the irreverent attitude that cartoonist Larry Gonick and chemist Craig Criddle bring to the subject is likely to be more appealing to most of our students than the textbook we force them to purchase. The Cartoon Guide is not a book of jokes; it deals semi-seriously with the subject, but the ideas are presented and discussed by cartoon characters, the most persistent of which is an unnamed alchemical wizard who seems to have most of the answers. It is hard for me to judge how effectively one could learn chemistry "from scratch" using this irreverent approach, but I enjoyed reading these authors' explanations. For the most part, they seemed pretty accurate. There are no example problems, exercises, or homework in the book, although there are some tables of data in places where they would be helpful. It is not a textbook, I think that my students would enjoy reading it, and I have recommended it to them. A slightly longer review of this book appears in the December 2005 issue of JCE.
Larry Gonick and Craig Criddle