I figure that I had to work somewhere between 8 and 15 hours at the minimum wage to buy my organic chemistry textbook. The text was English and Cassidy “Principles of Organic Chemistry” 2nd Edition. The time was the summer of 1958 just before my junior year. I worked at a cash register checking out groceries in beautiful Acme Markets making the princely sum of $1.00 perhour (the minimum wage then). Social Security took .03 of the dollar, and there were union dues to pay (I don’t recall just how much, but it’s unlikely that I’ve have received even that without the union).
I’m not sure what English and Cassidy cost, but I did try to find out by calling McGraw Hill (the publisher) to see if they knew but they didn’t. Being a packrat I still have a few chemistry books from that era, also published by McGraw Hill — Eliel “Stereochemistry of Carbon Compounds” bought in ’62 price $15.00 and “Molecular Vibrations” by E. B. Wilson (of Pauling and Wilson) for $10.00. So the more mass market English and Cassidy probably cost less — I’m guessing $8.00.
I always like to see what books profs think are best for their students, and one elite woman’s college in the area is using “Organic Chemistry” by John McMurray. Students are asked to buy it along with a study guide for a total of $238 (at the college bookstore). Wow ! Currently the minimum wage is $7.25/hour with a social security and medicare cut out of 7.65% bringing the net down to 6.70. That’s about 36 hours of work.
It gets worse. There is a new edition of the work (the $238 book came out in ’07), which Amazon will sell you (along with study guide) for a mere $337.51 or just 50 hours work. This appeared 4 years after the $238 work. Has that much changed? Is it just another way to gouge the student?
Now to be fair, English and Cassidy had 442 pages of text and answers to about 25% of the exercises in another 12. The $238 version of McMurray is much larger so it has more information per page. In addition it has far more pages, 1376 in the text and 912 in the study guide. Pagewise that’s a ratio of (1376 + 912)/455 — about 5. This is about the ratio of the 36 hours of work required today to the 8 required in ’58.
More importantly, the graphics in English and Cassidy were essentially nonexistent, while those in today’s books are excellent, multiple and certainly make thinking about organic chemistry easier. My wife says that graphics are difficult to print, but it seems to me that they are now so universal, that there must be some economy of scale in producing them. Does anyone know?
A college football coach said that his job was to win just enough to make the alumni sullen but not mutinous. This may explain a lot of the hostility going both ways between the grad students acting as teaching assistants and lab instructors, and their impoverished charges.