TL:DR conditions below

  • Highschool to first year undergraduate level
  • Theory based(Experimentation not wanted)
  • General - Giving a good introduction to all or most areas of Chemistry
  • Rigorous - Professional formatting - Not a casual textbook

I am looking for a textbook for someone(me) who has done no chemistry, but isn't too basic as it progresses. What are some of the better textbooks for starting to learn chemistry? I don't know any specific fields, so I would like to get some exposure to a number of different topics. I am a third year Mathematics student, so I am not worried about it being too concise, I am willing to reread areas one hundred times if need be.

One note: I am not interested in doing experimentation at all, and would just like to learn theory, as I have (sometimes) embarrassingly bad knowledge of the field as I didn't take chemistry in highschool(which I greatly regret).

Highschool through to the end of first year undergraduate level preferably, or alternatively multiple textbooks by the same author of successive difficulty.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is too broad. We accept book requests, but they must be highly specific (listing out concepts or particular topics that are of interest). $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ This is a decent book request, just so you can compare. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ @jonsca I think this isn't a fair comparison. I don't have any experience, I can't be specific, and I don't know what topics a good introductory Chemistry textbook would cover. That is exactly why I am asking on a website with plenty of more experienced people. Wouldn't it be reasonable to have a single page dedicated to such a question for users to find when they search google(which I had previously). $\endgroup$
    – Integral
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 23:33
  • $\begingroup$ I would even be happy if you looked on Amazon and were able to narrow it down to a few that you were interested in. You should be able to tell from the reviews which ones are at an introductory level. We don't do generic book recommendation questions because they are impossible to maintain and go stale after a while. Other sites may do them, but we are not other sites. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 23:47
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If I were still a student, the first thing I would do is go to the library and thumb through some of what they have, noting how well each meshes with your learning style and needs, honestly. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 0:04

4 Answers 4

  1. Chemistry by Zumdahl is very good. I teach General Chemistry I and this is the book we use. I still reference it frequently. You will want the instructor solutions to accompany it. I let students check this out for classroom use, but you should have it for yourself at least. (I saw for the first time this semester a version that is loose leaf; this is great since it is sort of big. We have a custom version that takes out parts not covered. There is also a nice ebook.) This book is lovely, except for electron affinity.
  2. For introductory chemistry, Zumdahl and DeCoste wrote Introductory Chemistry: A Foundation. We use this for Chem 101. Also very good, but a little too elementary for my taste and there is not as many topics discussed. But this may be what you want. You are probably somewhere between these two.

The next two are probably more rigorous than you would like, but worth mentioning.

  1. Principles of Instrumental Analysis by Douglas A. Skoog is outstanding, but probabbly more advanced than you would like.
  2. Physical Chemistry - Atkins. This book is very dense and is definitly rigorous. This will take an undergrad 2-3 semesters to get through. This may be a little overkill. You will actually see many general chemistry textbooks take exercises from this book. Really need the solutions bad for this book, it is that hard. A great place to find exam questions.
  • $\begingroup$ Just want to add my two cents about loose leaf: it's cheap and portable but does not take any abuse. If you want a book that you can continuously reference, I recommend hardcover. $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ This may be the difference between university and high school. I have trouble getting students to bring the book to class, so it is nice for that. But definitely I agree, hardcovers are much better quality. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 5:53
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    $\begingroup$ "People either like Atkins' Physical Chemistry or loathe it." (c) I am personally on the loathe side and not only with respect to his Physical Chemistry book. $\endgroup$
    – Wildcat
    Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 6:53
  • $\begingroup$ I guess the issue with Atkins is that because it tries to touch base on all topics in Physical Chemistry so it is rigorous to follow. As a physical chemist, I find Atkins way better than any other book including McQuarrie. I think McQuarrie has a great discussion of XRD, but that is about it. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 1:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PhysicalChemist, I must admit that there is no one good book on PChem. One can have 4 good books (one on classical thermodynamics, one on statistical thermodynamics, one on kinetics, and one on quantum chemistry), but not just one book. $\endgroup$
    – Wildcat
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 18:32

Silberberg or Zumdahl Chemistry are great introductory reference books in my opinion. They cover the topics in just the right amount of depth and explain concepts extremely well, I highly recommend it.

Inorganic Chemistry and Physical Chemistry by Peter Atkins also seem to be decent (though very dense) (I haven't used it much though).

I would also suggest Clayden et al.'s Organic Chemistry - it's a great textbook for organic chemistry though a bit intimidating at first- you should probably go through the organic chemistry section of Silberberg or Zumdahl first (nomenclature, functional groups and naming) before they use this.


I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Huheey yet. This text has less emphasis on descriptive chemistry but explains the underlying concepts extremely well. As an undergraduate reading it (it wasn't an assigned text) was quite an enlightenment.


It all depends on how much Math you want to do.

The standard "from zero" intro Chem book where I teach would be Hein/Arena's Foundations of College Chemistry. It covers the material just broadly enough, going over the basic beats for everything from gas laws to ochem. The math level is arithmetic/basic algebra.

The most thorough Algebra-based text I found has been McQuarrie's General Chemistry. It has loads of exercises and they purposely don't change editions very often so as to keep the book cheap. The concepts are presented and built on in a way that makes sense, and since it's written by a pchem guy it doesn't skimp on the rigor.

There are two standard Calculus-based Chem texts: Oxtoby's "Principles of Modern Chemistry" and Atkins' "Chemical Principles: The Quest for Insight." Both of these are written by physical chemists and will serve you well as future reference books (they are rather encyclopedic) if you're comfortable with a physical chemistry focus. I've also seen Siska's University Chemistry get good reviews. It's slimmer so there's a lot more required of you in terms of what you need to figure out vs what is explicitly explained.


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