6 • Why This Chapter?
All chemical reactions, whether they take place in the laboratory or in living organisms, follow the same “rules.” Reactions in living organisms often look more complex than laboratory reactions because of the size of the biomolecules and the involvement of biological catalysts called enzymes, but the principles governing all chemical reactions are the same.
To understand both organic and biological chemistry, it’s necessary to know not just what occurs but also why and how chemical reactions take place. In this chapter, we’ll start with an overview of the fundamental kinds of organic reactions, we’ll see why reactions occur, and we’ll see how reactions can be described. Once this background is out of the way, we’ll then be ready to begin studying the details of organic chemistry in future chapters.
When first approached, organic chemistry might seem overwhelming. It’s not so much that any one part is difficult to understand, it’s that there are so many parts: tens of millions of compounds, dozens of functional groups, and an apparently endless number of reactions. With study, though, it becomes evident that there are only a few fundamental ideas that underlie all organic reactions. Far from being a collection of isolated facts, organic chemistry is a beautifully logical subject that is unified by a few broad themes. When these themes are understood, learning organic chemistry becomes much easier and memorization is minimized. The aim of this book is to describe the themes and clarify the patterns that unify organic chemistry in future chapters.