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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Banned Book - The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments

By August 5, 2008

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The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, written by Robert Brent and illustrated by Harry Lazarus, is a children's book published in the 1960s that was intended to explain to kids how they could set up a home chemistry lab and conduct simple experiments. Supposedly the US government had the book removed from libraries and banned for sale on the grounds that the projects were too dangerous for its intended audience. I would have to agree that you probably don't want your kids making and igniting hydrogen in the garage, but for the aspiring chemist who can adhere to the safety precautions, this remains one of the best do-it-yourself chemistry books around. You can download the pdf of The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments to save on your computer or print. It is sort of funny that a book that is banned from the public library is legal to download and read, but it's true.

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August 8, 2008 at 9:41 am
(1) William says:

This is a fantastic book! I remember borrowing this book from the school library when I was in 5th grade. This book not only inspired me to learn more about science in general, it also started me down a path which eventually led to the formal study of engineering in college.

June 25, 2011 at 11:59 am
(2) ABHISHEK GOYAL says:

hey plz send this book on my id plz

August 12, 2008 at 3:16 pm
(3) Joshua Hutchinson says:

Just curious, but what research did you do on the copyright in order to make the claim that it is legal to download? (Not that I doubt you, just wondered if you’ve done the necessary copyright research to say that with true confidence.)

August 12, 2008 at 4:33 pm
(4) ColbyCheese says:
August 12, 2008 at 5:15 pm
(5) Michael Chaney says:

Heh. I cracked water and ignited the resulting oxygen in my garage as a teenager. I used an old model train transformer, a couple of carbon rods that had been liberated from 6-volt batteries, and a green glass jar (probably realemon) to catch the hydrogen. I used a standard glass mason jar on the other electrode. I salted the water heavily to make it conductive, and as a result ended up with quite a bit of liberated chlorine in the garage. I remember my mother coming in and about falling over from the chlorine. What I was doing was a bit dangerous, but no more than climbing trees and about a million other things we did every day.

August 12, 2008 at 7:55 pm
(6) Joseph Edward says:

This is fantastic. This is the book, I had up in the attic when I did my experiments there. It was formative to me. Yes, I did extrapolate from there and experimented briefly with explosives in pursuit of a really authentic model volcano eruption. My father forgave me for ruining my work desk when an eruption covered it with droplets of molten aluminum. I think he was scared but he never discouraged my interest in science which eventually lead to a career in electronics engineering. Touched off memories of many hours spent investigating first hand.

August 13, 2008 at 7:52 am
(7) Brett says:

Decent chemistry sets are also in short supply.

August 13, 2008 at 8:57 am
(8) Kyle Bennett says:

Banned or not, it’s still available on Amazon… used, for upwards of $200.00. There’s no such thing as “banned” for something people want, there’s only an artificial increase in price. I wonder if we’ll start seeing gang bangers robbing and murdering people for money to feed their chemistry book habits.

August 13, 2008 at 9:21 am
(9) Me says:

quote:”Banned or not, it’s still available on Amazon… used, for upwards of $200.00. There’s no such thing as “banned” for something people want, there’s only an artificial increase in price. I wonder if we’ll start seeing gang bangers robbing and murdering people for money to feed their chemistry book habits.”

I’m generally opposed to gangbanger behavior but as long as they rob and murder the sort of people who ban books and otherwise promote censorship they’re fine with me.

August 13, 2008 at 11:20 am
(10) Kevin says:

I remember making and igniting hydrogen in my garage as a kid. Great fun. Not a lot of hydrogen, mind you, just what could be produced by my Sears-bought Testor chemistry set.

Most of the top science and engineering schools in my day were actually insisting on this kind of inquisitiveness in their applicants, BTW.

I guess the Muggles have to clamp down on this, too.

August 13, 2008 at 11:23 am
(11) Kent G. Budge says:

“I would have to agree that you probably don’t want your kids making and igniting hydrogen in the garage, …”

Why not? In the quantities a kid is likely to be able to generate, the danger is minimal. I generated, and ignited, a test tube full of hydrogen several times before I hit the teen years. It was a blast.

May 19, 2011 at 7:52 pm
(12) Robert says:

I agree, I used to produce and ignite hydrogen all the time in my home chem lab when I was a kid. It’s not that dangerous in small quantities. I’ve been reading the Golden Book, and I don’t think the experiments are that dangerous. They do require caution and responsibility, and adult supervision depending on the age of the child.

August 13, 2008 at 11:42 am
(13) Augustus says:

“Me”, you think “promoting” censorship should be a crime punishable by death? Guess what that makes you – a censor (and a psychotic one at that).

August 13, 2008 at 11:51 am
(14) Jim says:

This reminds me of the Harry Potter book/movie in which the sickly-sweet, politically correct, deeply evil Mrs. Umbridge forbids the students from learning about certain magic spells… information that might actually be useful to them in real life.

August 13, 2008 at 12:49 pm
(15) Tom says:

Could you publish the URL for the .pdf? I cannot access the .pdf due to a sceurity restriction (not identified). Would love to have a copy for my Grandsons.

August 13, 2008 at 4:11 pm
(16) Random Numbers says:

Tom: Here is the URL:

http://chemistry.about.com/library/goldenchem.pdf

Good luck!

August 13, 2008 at 5:35 pm
(17) Michael says:

-The copyright date on the title page is 1969 for what it’s worth.
-That’s about the same time the “Whole Earth Catalog” came out; I can’t remember when the “Anarchist’s Cookbook” hit the street.
-I’m very curious about the “Supposedly the US government had the book removed from libraries and banned for sale” comment. Is it true or not? If true under what authority was the book banned? If false why did the book disappear? Did libraries pull the book? Why?
-I remember newspaper articles that gave descriptions on how to build “zip guns” and manufacture LSD.

August 26, 2008 at 5:17 am
(18) sornord says:

I had this as a kid, though a pre-1969 version apparently. Very influencial on my love of the sciences…

SW

September 3, 2008 at 6:53 pm
(19) slg says:

IANAL, but I’ve dealt with them, and I suspect the “banned by the govt” is a hyperbolic urban legend. More likely the publisher pulled the book out of liability concerns, especially as litigation grew more prevalent after the (relatively) innocent 60s. (I had this book as a kid, too–dunno what became of my copy.)

September 20, 2008 at 6:46 pm
(20) SFK says:

This book was available in public libraries as of last spring. I requested a copy of it over ILL (inter-library loan) at my city library, and received it a couple of weeks later. The library I received it from had it filed in their children’s department.

November 19, 2008 at 11:12 am
(21) Richard says:

I’ve been looking for this book for a long time, and wow! someone shared it on the web. Makes my day! I used this book as a budding young scientist (around 1970-1972) and loved it. Borrowed it from the public library then.

Now I am looking to make a career switch into teaching math/science and always on the lookout for interesting things to inspire kids (have kids too, now, great in science, BTW).

Thanks to whomever scanned and shared the book with all of us!!

–Rich

December 10, 2008 at 12:35 am
(22) Steven of Simpsonville, SC says:

When I was in elementary school, I checked this book out so much they gave it to me when I moved on to middle school. I still have it today. The color illustrations are truly classic and the directions are easy to follow. You really learn a lot about science, chemistry and building your own equipment with this book. I’m now an Engineer with 16 years experience working with engines and fuel systems. This book and Star Wars are probably the two biggest influences in developing my interest in science and problem solving. Shame on anyone for banning it!

February 15, 2009 at 9:33 pm
(23) Scott says:

Safety, while important is not the *only* important thing people seem to make it.

But thanks to the people who “ban” things like this and the ones who make “no running on the playground” rules, we’ll all have nice safe children. Dumb, fat, safe children.

February 23, 2009 at 12:40 am
(24) Lisa says:

My copy was definitely pre-1969. I would have received it as a birthday or Christmas gift in 1964 or 1965. I thought the cover looked “not right” on the .pdf file, but I still remember some of those pages as if I’d only looked at them yesterday.

May 23, 2009 at 8:55 am
(25) Jerry Svoboda says:

My mother bought this book for me for $1.95 in Woolworths in Maple Heights, Ohio as we were walking out of the store. I loved the book and still have it, all tattered & used and loved. I did as many of the experiments as I could, including extracting elemental iodine from its salts over & over–it made purple fumes and smelled up the basement something terrible. It was my companion for years. I learned good lab practices from this book–it teaches many safety principles. You cannot protect children from everything. I cut and burned myself while working with glass tubing. Many times I split water into the 2 test tubes of hydrogen and oxygen. I learned to think for myself how to get things done. I spilled 45 cc of carbolic acid (phenol) on our basement asphalt tile–my dad did not get angry but made me flood the area into a nearby drain for 2 hrs. with a garden hose. The last 4 pages of the book taught me how to balance chemical equations and I was able to teach my mom how to do this to pass her nursing exam in chemistry later when I was in high school. This book, like the radio/electronic books of Alfred P. Morgan, are national treasures and taught a generation of people by fact and fascination instead of by glitz and spoon feeding and splashy computer graphics. I became a vascular surgeon and an extra class ham radio operator. My mom always taught me, “Books are your friends” and it was certainly true with this one. Someone please figure out how to go back in time.

June 2, 2009 at 1:11 pm
(26) Jake says:

Actually, our library system still has it (SILNET). I just checked it out via interlibrary loan. So it must be individual libraries or states that don’t allow it. Also, it’s listed in juvenile nonfiction.

June 24, 2009 at 1:21 pm
(27) Patrick Cassidy says:

im 16 and i have a recently discovered love for chemistry…i look at all these comments and the main theme is that you all developed an hunger for science and and a willingness to become independent. If this bok could really play such a fundamental role in the deveolpment of independent free thinking people then y would any one ban it?? i also see that most of the comments posted have pointed out that they have made successful carreers for themselves aswell…isnt this what we would want for the next generation of people??

October 15, 2009 at 6:10 pm
(28) bubba says:

Alfred P Morgan’s “Simple Chemical Experiments” was another great book. Particularly the chapter on “Safe Fireworks”. I had a lot of fun with that. That book now fetches big money on the used market. Hopefully someone will scan it and set it free.

January 26, 2010 at 6:56 pm
(29) me says:

I am sorry that I just read this article now and not on August 12th 2008 at 3:17 PM so I could promptly reply to post number 2 written by Joshua Hutchinson. Dear Josh if you read this you are a tool.

P.S. your mom still dresses you.

Thank you.

May 26, 2010 at 10:24 pm
(30) Varity Sinning says:

Thank you for the link. Under supervision, this would be an excellent tool to improve general chemistry understanding.

Best,
Varity

August 25, 2011 at 11:56 am
(31) anonymous says:

I got this book as a kid; I’m REALLY glad I stashed it away and saved it for my own kids. Who would have imagined that our society would have gone so crazy as to turn against basic science?

BTW, I grew up and got a PhD and a career in chemistry, so the book must have done some good.

September 6, 2011 at 9:53 pm
(32) Paul Legnetti says:

Priceless. I remember this book from 4th or 5th grade. I did quite a few of those experiments in my parent’s shed. I think this book, more than anything else, awakened my interest in chemistry and served as the initial step in my career as a chemist and businessman. I have to agree, after reading it today, that some of the experiements are rather dangerous.

October 14, 2011 at 10:59 am
(33) irshaad abdool says:

Very interesting book! Can something be banned if a copy of it has already been uploaded on the Internet? :P :P :P

regards

February 11, 2012 at 6:07 am
(34) Bill says:

Like many of the comments I read, I too received this book in the early 1960s and still have it. It, along with that one special teacher later on, inspired a career in chemistry, both industry and teaching.

I recall fondly conducting the experiments in the kitchen, then was remanded to the basement by my mother!

While cautions are appropriate in using the book, it inspired creative thinking and a love for the sciences.

Go check out an article that appeared in ISIS Chemical Business in May, 2010 (isis.com) and you will see a story similar to several posted here entitled Good Old Fashioned Chemistry.

March 2, 2012 at 12:36 am
(35) David says:

Thanks, cool book, just learned of it.

March 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm
(36) John B. says:

Dr. Helmenstine, thank you so much for posting this pdf. The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments was one of the formative books of my youth. It fell apart from use and I created a lab in the basement based on the instructions here. I am now a middle school science teacher partly because of the influence of this book on my life.

April 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm
(37) Cincinnati Coin Buying says:

Wonderful publish, very informative. I’m wondering why the opposite experts of this sector don’t notice this. You must proceed your writing. I am sure, you have a huge readers’ base already!|What’s Going down i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered It absolutely useful and it has helped me out loads. I hope to give a contribution & assist different customers like its aided me. Great job.

April 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm
(38) Ron says:

I coveted this book in my 7th grade homeroom in 1963. There were dozens of copies of the hardcover version behind me on the back shelves. I eased my suffering during homeroom by drooling over its pages, always dreaming of owning my own copy.

My interest in chemistry and science was sparked in third grade by an AC Gilbert chemistry set, a very well made Japanese microscope, and those most wonderful Remco science kits. I became a shop teacher/vocational instructor as an adult. Inspired by my childhood interests.

June 7, 2012 at 8:10 pm
(39) Hoboman2452 says:

I am also 16 i love this book sadly it was banned at my library because they said it was unsafe for children and could promote drug abuse…… The reason probable for this is that here in florida the area i live in even the glassware is illegal to own….. the great minds of the past are probable rolling over in there graves because of these bans…..

August 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm
(40) Woody says:

Thanks very much for the link to the soft copy. I received my well worn and chemical stained copy in 4th grade as a gift. It changed my life forever. My dad worked in the chemical industry and helped me setup a nice lab that I used through high school for hundreds of experiments. I have worked in the computer industry for the vast majority of my working life but this book catalyzed my lifelong love of natural science, especially chemistry and physics. Just browsing through it is like a time machine for the great memories of gathering the necessary chemicals and apparatus and then performing the wonderful experiments. How can gaming, smart phones, Facebook and other modern miracles top this for a child’s pure awe and inspiration?!

November 28, 2012 at 1:45 pm
(41) Kayla says:
January 13, 2013 at 11:28 am
(42) Michael Jones says:

Walter White owned this book.

January 27, 2013 at 9:52 pm
(43) leon says:

It is a shame that books like this are not available along with the chemicals to perform them. The only good chemistry set i am know of come from england and china. I think this has more to do with lawyer then government.
If you live close to K. C., MO a store called HMS Beagle sells scientific supplies and has classes for all ages.
i also used this book and many others as well as parents that bought chemicals for me. I earned a chemistry degree and taught HS chemistry.

March 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm
(44) Patrick says:

I remember my chemistry teacher in middle school in the 80s showing us this book. My Basic Chemistry set (Don’t remember the brand name) referenced the book too. Now, I can have a copy.

April 23, 2013 at 5:29 am
(45) kent R says:

I owned and used that book as a 10 year old had chemistry set back when you could go to the drugstore and buy 90% of the chemicals listed from sulphate flour to tincture of violet and some grain alcohol to make a weather indicator pink or blue by humidity still have my copy around somewhere in the library and refer to it when i need simple answers to college chem questions A former chem teacher said the kids dont even know how to light a bun-son burner much less do some of the things that got us in trouble (a still in the chem lab)

May 2, 2013 at 9:37 pm
(46) Mike says:

This is a really great book!
While it might be dangerous for little kids, it is still very well written and the pictures are lovely.
A shame to have it banned!

May 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm
(47) Pigeon says:

Many thanks for this post! I would like to add my name to the list of those for whom this book was significant in developing an early interest in scientific matters. I repeatedly borrowed it from the library when I was a kid.

Like Lisa (comment 24) I thought the cover looked wrong – I distinctly remember that the copy I used to borrow had a green cover, not red. But the pages inside are certainly those that I remember. The section on making models to illustrate valences by punching holes in discs of cardboard clinched it.

This book got me into trouble at school :) the reason being the style of the instructions for the experiments, with many of the articles omitted. When, some years after first reading this book, I had my first ever formal chemistry lesson and had to write up the experiment we did, I imitated that style in my writeup because I thought that was how you were supposed to do it. This caused the teacher to throw an absolute wobbly, writing “DO NOT MISS OUT WORDS” in big red letters on my submission and yelling at me when returning it. Having spent much time and effort trying to make sure I produced a good writeup I was extremely disappointed to just get yelled at for it, but fortunately I was already well accustomed to teachers throwing disproportionately massive wobblies over utterly trivial matters so the disappointment did not last :) – for the teacher as well as for me; when three years later the science department decided to produce its own guidebook to the course for pupils, the same teacher asked me to help proofread it :)

November 13, 2013 at 7:19 pm
(48) Tony says:

Best.Chemistry.Book.Ever.

I got the original version in 1960 when I was 6, and, like many here, it was instrumental in my later receiving a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics and following a career in science and engineering. When I was in grade school a second major source of inspiration was the regular column in Scientific American entitled “The Amateur Scientist”. These showed how to build real scientific apparatus, sometimes shorly after they had been discovered (eg multiple designs for building your own lasers from scratch). In the early 1970s Scientific American consciously decided to “dumb down” the magazine to attract readers. (They actually published an editorial stating that they were imposing editorial rules limiting the number of words in a sentence, particularly technical ones!) Needless to say, “The Amateur Scientist” soon disappeared, as well as Martin Gardiner’s wonderful column on mathematics. I haven’t read the magazine since.

About 10 years ago, my youngest son, age 10, got interested in electronics engineering. I bought him a professional soldering station. My sister-in-law, a lovely woman knowing nothing of science or engineering, was aghast. “You mean that’s a *real* soldering iron!! That’s terrible! He might burn himself!”

“Of course he will,” I replied; “once”.

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