When I was a young lecturer at Birmingham in the 1970s each student had to write a review of a book chosen from a list of four or five possibilities during the summer vacation after completing the second year of biochemistry. At least half of them chose to write about the same book, always saying how clear and understandable it was. After 2 or 3 years of reading these essays I decided that I ought to read it myself, and found it to fall far short of what I expected. Still available more than 30 years later, it is not the worst book on biochemistry ever written, but it is cheap and short, and has sold many thousands of copies. I started asking students who had reviewed it favourably to check some factual information with me. It would have been too easy to choose a topic that I know well, such as enzyme kinetics, or one that everyone finds difficult, such as thermodynamics; however, I usually chose to look at the stereochemistry of simple sugars, a subject where I have no more knowledge than every teacher of biochemistry can be expected to have. With a little coaxing (or in some cases a lot) they were then able to find the mistakes in the use of the Fischer convention, in the meanings of the stereo chemical prefixes and their relationship (or lack of one) to the polarization of light, and so on, and I told them to reread the whole book in a proper critical spirit.

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