New Chemistry Textbook Offers Instructor a Way to Reach New Audiences
September 4, 2008
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – For Illinois Wesleyan University’s James E. House, writing textbooks
is more than sharing information, it is the chance to teach students across the nation
and around the world. “Last year, I taught at several universities, and the students
have never heard my voice,” said House, speaking of chemistry textbooks. His latest
book, Inorganic Chemistry (Academic Press), was published in August and is slated to be used by universities
in the spring.
Inorganic Chemistry is House’s fourth textbook in seven years. A second edition of his Principles of Chemical Kinetics (Academic Press) came out last summer, another second edition, Fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics (Academic Press), was published in 2005, and Descriptive Inorganic Chemistry (Brooks Cole) was released in 2001. “People ask me why I am writing these books and
I tell them that I guess it’s because I can,” said House, who has been teaching chemistry
for more than 40 years, and joined the Illinois Wesleyan Chemistry Department as an
adjunct faculty member in 1997. “I’ve seen a lot of textbooks through my years, and
I thought maybe it was time to give my views on some topics.”
House admits there are many chemistry books from which professors can choose. “The
content of many chemistry textbooks reflects standards put in place by the American
Chemical Society,” said House. “But when it comes to textbooks, there is a lot of
flexibility in the choice of topics and how they are arranged.” His newest book includes
some unusual topics, such as a chapter on dynamic processes in solids. “That’s coming
from my interest in kinetics. I don’t know of any other inorganic textbook containing
a chapter on that area,” he said.
Material for his books come directly from his work in the classroom and as a kinetics
consultant. As a consultant, House has helped to model reactions important in the
sweetener industries. “I developed the kinetic model that made it possible to dry
dextrose sweetener to the right composition to keep pre-sweetened Kool-Aid from clumping
in the package,” he said. “It sounds like an odd solid state process, but it’s important
for the industry,” said House.
A love of chemistry has gripped House since his days of learning in a one-room schoolhouse
near Benton, Ill. “We didn’t have much of a library, only one bookshelf. But in third
or fourth grade I discovered an encyclopedia with graphics showing molecular structures,
and I was amazed,” said House.
After graduating from Southern Illinois University, House attended the University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which he calls a premier institution in inorganic
chemistry during the 1960s. “I did my Ph.D. work under John C. Bailar, who is sometimes
considered to be the father of modern inorganic chemistry in this country,” said House.
“He was a superb mentor in many areas.” House taught at the Western Kentucky University
before joining the faculty of Illinois State University, where he stayed for more
than 30 years until his retirement in 1997. He came to Illinois Wesleyan after retiring.
He teaches at the University along with his wife, Kathy House, a visiting assistant
professor of chemistry. The couple collaborated on the textbook, Descriptive Organic Chemistry. “It’s difficult to work with anyone on a book, but that was one of the easiest collaborations
I’ve ever had,” said House.
Chemistry is not the only area where House is a prolific writer. He has written four
books on the shooting sports, including a comprehensive work on the American air rifle.
He contributes to several Web sites and reviews new products for companies. He has
written nearly 150 articles on the sport. “Before I retired, I wrote approximately
150 articles on chemistry. Since I retired, I have written about that many on outdoor
activities and the shooting sports,” he said.
House remains active with students, continuing his tradition of hosting discussion
groups with Illinois Wesleyan students on topics that include many aspects of science.
“We have discussed Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island. Verne was one of the originators of science fiction and very knowledgeable about
several areas of science,” he said. “In the book, Verne writes, ‘So is man's heart.
The desire to perform a work which will endure, which will survive him is the origin
of his superiority over all other creatures here below.’ That is what it is to write
a textbook,” he said.
Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960