Recommended reading for AS/A2 Biology and Chemistry students

In addition to the Chemistry and Biology textbooks endorsed by the particular examination board(s) you are using, no harm can come from reading those of other boards. Beyond these, the following are highly recommended:

Advanced Chemistry for You (Lawrie Ryan) and Advanced Biology for You (Gareth Williams)
These two books (as well as the other one in the same series, Advanced Physics for You ) are not tied to any single examination board, so they provide a broader coverage of the material than you will find in those tied to particular boards. The chemistry book, in particular, gives far more examples of the chemistry being applied to different situations than you will find in the books endorsed by the boards. These books are also more enjoyable and interesting to read: none of those ‘learning objectives’, for example, but some very clever cartoons supporting the explanations given in the text. The ‘for You’ books must surely be the best books geared to study at AS/A2 level (there is also an excellent series for GCSE students). A must, I would say.

Four Laws That Drive the Universe (Peter Atkins)
Although those not studying physics may overlook this little book, to do so would be to miss out on what is a fascinating (and yet remarkably ‘accessible’) exposition of the fundamental laws of physics that underpin every aspect of the three main sciences. Biology, in particular, makes far more sense if you have an appreciation of the ‘big picture’ and can understand respiration and photosynthesis in terms of their energetics – the idea that life is all about pushing electrons ‘uphill’ (using energy from sunlight) and then harnessing this energy (in the form of ATP) as the electrons are allowed to trickle back down to earth in a series of small, controlled steps. The descriptions of entropy and free energy, explained using everyday analogies (such as the author’s now-famous sneeze analogy), are superb.

Quite simply, this book – which transcends the traditional subject boundaries – should be essential reading for all chemists and biologists, whatever the level of their studies. Peter Atkins, Professor of Chemistry at Oxford, has written many of the standard university-level textbooks on theoretical and physical chemistry, yet in this volume he has conveyed some of the most difficult (and yet fundamental) concepts of Nature, which we all need to master, with an elegance of language and simplicity that make it a sheer joy to read. Ideal for the school holidays, this is the kind of book you could read on Christmas day and still feel you were being indulgent!

Why Chemical Reactions Happen (James Keeler and Peter Wothers)
Although this book is probably best suited to those embarking on a chemistry course at university (perhaps read over the summer holidays), it will also be of interest to particularly keen students coming towards the end of their A2 studies, particularly if approached as extension material with the support of a teacher.

As suggested by the title, the authors address a series of questions that are of such fundamental importance to chemistry, and so obvious in retrospect, that many of us may not have even thought to ask them. Keeler and Wothers use these questions as a vehicle with which to guide the reader through areas of chemistry that, traditionally, are treated almost as being separate disciplines. I know of no other book in which the principles of quantum mechanics, chemical bonding, thermodynamics, kinetics, equilibria, organic reaction mechanisms and solution chemistry are drawn together and unified as elegantly as in Keeler and Wothers.

Although perhaps a little heavy going for many A2 students, the explanations are very clear and accessible – well worth persevering with.

Other Resources
Chemistry Review is a magazine for post-16 chemists. Each issue features a collection beautifully-illustrated articles, written by experts in their respective fields, which develop the core principles covered in the AS/A2 specifications. There are also separate articles giving tips on examination technique – not teaching-to-the-test, but showing you how to avoid common mistakes and develop your skills in producing first-rate answers.

The publishers, Philip Allan, also produce the equally excellent Biological Sciences Reviews and Physics Review. Many school libraries hold subscriptions to these and other magazines in the series. Physics Review. Many school libraries hold subscriptions to these and other magazines in the series.

The website of the Royal Society of Chemistry carries a whole range of educational resources including ChemSpider, a data base in which you can look up the NMR and other spectra of chemical compounds. The RSC also publishes Education in Chemistry. Although written primarily for teachers, the magazine carries excellent review articles which will enrich your learning and enjoyment of chemistry. Copies of the magazine may be available in the chemistry department at your school.

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