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The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments: How to Set up a Home Laboratory--Over 200 Simple Experiments Hardcover – 1963
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I wish I had had this book as a boy. It was available, but I did not know about it. Instead, I learned chemistry from my father's college textbooks, from a Chemcraft chemistry set, and by my own experimentation. This book, "The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments", is unique. There is nothing approaching it that is in print today. It can be used for many hours of experimentation by an amateur chemist, and if you research the various reactions described on the internet you will find many more interesting experiments you can do.
It is commonly reported that this book was banned by the US government, and pulled from all school library shelves. I have not yet seen any documentation of this report, so I suspect it is an urban legend. In any case, the book is now available for free download as a .pdf file (Google it), or you can order it on a CD or DVD. As you can see, Amazon links to sellers of used copies, but they are expensive. Perhaps this review will stay up long enough that cheaper copies will become available. If you get the .pdf file, I advise that you print it out double-sided, and place it in a notebook. A color print is best, as the drawings make effective use of color.
Safety is common concern, much more these days than when this book was produced. I am not one of those who thinks society is coming to an end because of excessive zeal over safety (and fear of litigation), but at the same time I think that it has often been taken too far. This book shows boys and girls doing chemistry experiments without eye or hand protection (safety goggles or rubber gloves), which are de rigeur today. So did my 1960's vintage chemistry set. In my opinion, the book by Robert Bruce Thompson, "Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments", gives a balanced and sensible view of laboratory safety, and if you are going to use "The Golden Book" I recommend that you also get Thompson's book and refer to it for supplementary information. Thompson's book also contains sensible advice about environmentally responsible disposal of chemicals (something else we didn't worry about in the 1960's). He also gives advice about where to buy chemicals (he does not mention United Nuclear, but I have found that a good source for both equipment and chemicals).
Having said that, I don't think you can do interesting experiments without working with some dangerous things. I don't think experiments with chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, strong acids and bases, etc, should be avoided because of safety concerns. If you do, you will not have very many interesting experiments left to do. These should be done under adult supervision, however, and you should research the hazards before doing anything. For example, hydrogen sulfide is very poisonous, and should be prepared only in small quantities, but at the same time it's worth knowing what the "rotten egg" smell is like (you won't be able to avoid it if you prepare some). You should work outside when making toxic gases (assuming you don't have a fume hood).
The Golden Book considers strong bases (sodium hydroxide, concentrated ammonia) and hydrochloric acid to be safe enough for the amateur chemist, but not sulfuric or nitric acids. I used both of the latter in my experiments when I was a boy, in concentrated form, without any trouble, but they do require knowledge and responsibility. Actually, sodium hydroxide poses a special hazard to the eyes, and in my opinion is just as dangerous as the acids. A basic rule is that nothing in the chemistry lab should be placed in the mouth (or obviously in the eyes), and eye protection is a must. This will go a long way toward eliminating the danger of a serious accident. See Robert Bruce Thompson for other safety rules. In any case, serious chemistry requires the use of strong acids and bases. The Golden Book makes do without sulfuric and nitric acids by using sodium bisulfate in place of sulfuric acid, and making small amounts of nitric acid on the fly by heating sodium bisulfate and potassium nitrate. It is a reasonable approach for amateur experiments.
Some chemicals mentioned in The Golden Book should be avoided, at least carbon tetrachloride, which is a carcinogen (this was not known back in the '60's).
If you buy chemicals, you will find the warning labels are all dreadful. My bottle of laboratory sodium chloride (table salt) says that on contact with skin you should immediately flush with water for 15 minutes and get medical attention, and that if you ingest any, you must be rushed to the hospital immediately. Obviously this is overdone, and the chemical companies are just sticking standard labels on all the chemicals in a room. Obviously in other cases the warning labels are relevant. The best advice is to research your chemicals (wikipedia is a good place to begin), and act knowledgeably. In any case, it is worth mentioning that even sodium chloride, prepared for the laboratory, is not authorized for human consumption, and it's good advice not to put anything in the laboratory in your mouth. (But in some cases chemistry crosses over into cooking, and you may want to taste the product. It all depends on what you are doing and how you are doing it.)
The experiments in "The Golden Book" are not a substitute for a regular high school or college chemistry course, mainly because most of them make no use of quantitative methods. But the final chapters of this book do get into quantitative methods. If you supplement "The Golden Book" with Thompson's "Illustrated Guide" you will have a solid introduction to chemistry.
Maybe some foreign publisher will create a new edition and sell it on Amazon. Worries about lawsuits will, unfortunately, insure that it is never published again in the USA.