Bob Gawley and Jeff Aubé


2012 | 568pp | £42.99

ISBN 9780080448602

For those of us who remember the first edition of this book in 1996, Principles of asymmetric synthesis by Bob Gawley and Jeff Aubé was one of the essential texts for chemists aspiring to understand the fundamentals of constructing stereochemically pure molecules. The book was also up to date with the latest developments in the field. 

Fast-forward an eventful 17 years, during which advances in this field have been considerable, and we have a wonderful second edition that not only retains the spirit of the original book, but is also comprehensive and comprehendible.

The first chapter elegantly outlines the general principles of asymmetric catalysis, along with an extremely useful glossary of terms. It is also in 

this chapter that we first see what makes this book so accessible in comparison to other texts in the field: the anecdotal and historical asides that appear throughout. These not only provide a comfortable ‘break’ from the intricacies of the science, but also an enjoyable and informative discussion about the discipline. They range from the origin of particular definitions, to a contribution on the debate about using the term ‘enantiomeric ratio’ instead of ‘enantiomeric excess’. 

The remaining chapters are divided into reaction types, such as alkylations, 1,2- and 1,4-additions, cycloadditions, reductions and oxidations. Most useful, however, is the amount of space dedicated to diagrams that beautifully explain the rationale for stereochemical outcomes. From the widely taught Cram model to complex rhodium-catalysed hydrogenations, colour schemes and illustrations add immeasurably to the reader’s understanding of these reactions and their mechanisms.

The book closes with another opinion piece, which states that one of the future challenges within asymmetric synthesis will be that of C–H bond activation. A prediction is made that in the third edition – 15 years hence – the maturation of this field will be covered. 

How sad then, that if this is to occur it will not take place with any further input from Gawley who passed away earlier this year. Gawley’s legacy, however, lives on, not just in his own independent research, but in the number of chemists that this book and its first edition have inspired and 

those it will no doubt continue to inspire.

Purchase Asymmetric synthesis from