Natural products and their conquerors celebrated together

Molecules that changed the world 

K C Nicolaou and Tamsyn Montagnon 

Weinheim, Germany: Wiley-VCH  2008 | 385 pp | ?27.50 (HB) ISBN 97833527309832 

Reviewed by Gordon Florence

In a truly unique and beautifully crafted text, K C Nicolaou and Tamsyn Montagnon chart the history of modern organic synthesis as we recognise it today from its origins in the 19th century up to the present day. 

Comparisons to Nicolaou’s acclaimed Classics in total synthesis  series could readily be drawn, but this would be na?ve. This new book sets out to provide the reader with enjoyable accounts of nature’s molecules and the development of synthetic and biological organic chemistry’s development as an art and a science. Importantly, the impact on modern society is also covered - from simple acetic acid, to the painkiller aspirin, to life saving antibiotics and anticancer agents including penicillin and Taxol, and modern pharmaceutical agents and monoclonal antibodies.  

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of general science texts is appealing to the wider public audience. Through the extensive use of photographs of the key players in each of the 34 chapters, alongside bold and colourful illustrations, the authors bring both the science and importantly the people behind the discoveries to life. The content is accessible to the undergraduate, the synthetic and biological chemist, and the non-scientist alike.  

Overall, I found this book a highly enjoyable read. This fresh approach should be applauded and will no doubt become a classic in its own right, serving as a key text in the teaching of organic synthesis and natural product chemistry across both the UK and worldwide, while appealing to a wider general audience too.