Fieser and Fieser - Cover PageThe 1960’s were a heady time.  The Varian A-60 made it’s debut early, marking the beginning of routine NMR analysis,  while research by Woodward and others demonstrated the power and adaptability of organic chemistry (for which he received the Nobel in 1965).  The literature was booming, and the fourth volume of Organic Syntheses was larger than the first three combined.

If structural complexity was limited only by one’s imagination, work in the lab was considerably more challenging.  Though founded in the mid-fifties, the rise of Aldrich was still well over a decade away, and fine chemical manufacturing was in it’s infancy [1].  Aside from the few hundred bulk chemicals used in industry, if a reagent was needed for a particular transformation the only recourse was to prepare it in the lab.

The Fiesers loved their cats.  And pyridine.

The Fiesers loved their cats. And pyridine.

Chemists of the period turned to Fieser and Fieser’s “Reagents for Organic Synthesis.”  Essentially a chemistry cookbook, the twenty-six volumes of Fieser2 explain the use and preparation of the sort of mid-level reagents we take for granted, like sodium borohydride and acetyl chloride.  Volume 1 in particular has a reputation for sound advice and useful tips, even now, and has been on my to-read list for quite a while.  Unfortunately there’s far too much information to list everything in a single blog post, so I’ve divided things up into broad categories.  Click through for the first post in the series;

Fieser and Fieser: The Toxic and Terrifying.

[1] J. T. Baker, Eastman (Kodak), and Fisher were the big three, but crowd favourite Columbia Organic Chemicals (pdf) had already recovered from their first fire by this point.