Book Review: Basic Principles of Forensic Chemistry
Review by Zia Khan

In recent years we have been exposed to the subject of Forensic Science and Chemistry through the prism of TV programs such as CSI and CSI-NYI. No matter how difficult a case is, and how limited the evidence, somehow the genius of forensic scientists triumphs and lab technicians manage to solve the crime.

Having studied chemistry at college in Pakistan I always wondered at and could relate to the complexities of forensic science featuring in TV programs. My good friend Tabish Khanzada, whom I have known for many years as a poet and column writer, mentioned to me a few times that he teaches Forensic Science at a local community college in Southern California. He also mentioned that he was working on a book that would mark a pioneering effort in the field of Forensic Science/Chemistry.

I had read Tabish’s poetry book which was a tribute to women. To my surprise recently I found out that a comprehensive book on the subject of “Basic Principles of Forensic Chemistry” had been published by Humana Press in United States and was being prescribed as a text book to be taught in colleges and universities around the world. It is a book of some 375 pages and lucidly discusses the complexities of Forensic Chemistry and its principles with the help of illustrations, tables, examples and much more. What is most remarkable is that the author, Javed Iqbal Khan, was a Pakistani-American genius who had spent a lifetime (more than 22 years) studying, teaching and researching the subject. It turned out that Javed I. Khan was my good friend, who writes poetry and newspaper columns, under the name of Tabish Khanzada.

Before I write about the technicalities of the book let me say a few words about its author, Javed Khan. He was born and raised in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan. Getting education was his first priority and working as a telephone operator he obtained his Master’s degree in Bio-Chemistry and started his real career as a lecturer in Multan University. After migrating to the United States he continued his education and research.

Though hailing from a small town of Pakistan, Javed Khan has achieved his American dream through sheer hard work, firm resolve and determination, and unflinching pursuit of knowledge. He is the author of a monumental book, yet he remains a humble family man and a down-to-earth individual, traits that are a rich testament to his greatness. Besides the book Javed Khan is involved in charitable work through his “Help Foundation” which offers scholarships to needy and orphan children who are currently enrolled in Pakistani universities and professional colleges and are struggling to complete their studies in the face of overwhelming financial constraints.

 Now let us have a look at the book which has an attractive blue title cover with “Basic Principles of Forensic Chemistry” written in bold letters. It focuses on a novel approach that blends chemistry with forensic science. It covers the examination of controlled substances and clandestine operations. The book also includes a lab manual for practical hands-on exercises. The publishers have priced the book at $99.00.

In his preface Javed Khan writes, “I have not invented the wheel on forensic chemistry in this book. This book is merely an effort to consolidate previously developed, yet scattered, forensic chemistry-related information under one umbrella.”  A true statement, however, would be that this is the first time that someone has put all forensic pieces together and compiled them in the form of a book. It is a comprehensive textbook for teaching forensic chemistry at college and university level. In addition it includes laboratory exercises which could enable students to understand and practice forensic chemistry.  

The author has used actual court cases and testimony as examples at the end of each chapter to make it easier to understand the topics. Javed claims that he has tried to stay away from using copyrighted material in his book and has instead relied primarily on the public domain information of the US DOJ-DEA (United States Department of Justice –Drug Enforcement Agency) and other citizens websites.

The book provides a clear and concise understanding of forensic chemistry. It is divided into four sections with each part dealing with a number of specific topics. The introduction explains what forensic chemistry is, what scientific investigation means, and how it is different from forensic investigation. It also describes the properties of matter, physical and chemical properties, and at the end, a section listing appropriate questions for students to test their comprehension and understanding of the subject. Students of science and chemistry would recognize the basic building blocks in the form of the periodic table which includes symbols and atomic numbers of all known elements. The information presented in the periodic table has been organized very methodically by the author. The book defines and explains the fundamental building blocks of matter. It talks about atomic structure, sub-atomic particles, and arrangements of electrons in an atom, isotopes, radioactivity and focuses on elements of forensic interests. 

Reading through the first few chapters I got nostalgic and remembered my days at the Gordon College Rawalpindi where we learned about ionic bonds, covalent bonds and other types of bonds. I am sure Javed taught these topics extensively as a lecturer at the University of Multan and a community college in Southern California. He has very skillfully explained these complex topics in simple terminology; you don’t have to be a scientist to understand them.

Another chapter talks about principles of organic chemistry and explains the building blocks of organic chemistry.

A chapter on “Tools of Forensic Chemistry” defines forensic language, drugs, dependence and addiction, drug abuse, and its hazards. It even delves into the laws designed for controlled substances, charges and offenses. Javed has taken a comprehensive approach and explains the topics to the fullest. It has taken lot of effort and research on the part of the author to come up with such detailed and inclusive explanations.

 From the practical aspect of the subject matter the book contains methodology for measurements and calculations, examination of drugs and narcotics and includes some historical backgrounds.

The chapter on clandestine laboratory operations gets into cocaine, heroin and other narcotics that we hear about on our TV and radio news programs. Instead of the one liner or sound bites the book actually brings the topics into focus and explains the intricacies of all.

The primary purpose of the author is to educate students and general audience like you and me who have heard about forensic chemistry and science but don’t really understand what it is all about. The book and extracts are available on the Internet and I recommend them for reading and appreciating the work of a Pakistani author. For those who have deeper interest in the subject of forensic chemistry I suggest you buy a copy and have its author Javed Iqbal Khan autograph it for you. He can be contacted through his e-mail .

Title: Basic Principles of Forensic Chemistry

Publisher: Humana Press

233 Spring Street NY 10013 USA

375 Pages

2012 edition, first published on Nov 15 2011

Price $99.00



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