Pauling and Pritikin Duke It Out Over Vitamin C

Interview Letter

Letter to Pauling from Steve Hewitt, August 1979.

Dear Dr. Pauling. Several weeks ago, the Oregonian published an interview with Nathan Pritikin. In it, Mr. Pritikin referred to two studies purporting to show adverse effects from taking vitamin C…. 

In this letter from August 1979, a concerned follower of the nutrition advice given in Linus Pauling’s then recently published book, Vitamin C, the Common Cold, and the Flu­­, confesses that, while he is following the book’s advice and is megadosing on more than a gram of vitamin C supplements every day, he is concerned about adverse effects that might arise from the practice. What, he asks, does Dr. Pauling know of a collection of studies referenced by a Dr. Pritikin and reported on in the Oregonian? Has Dr. Pauling changed his mind about vitamin C?

Pauling replies to the man with his usual clarity:

…You ask about several statements made by Mr. Pritikin. I may say that these statements are just wrong. The reason probably is that Mr. Pritikin is ignorant about vitamins.


Nathan Pritikin

Nathan Pritikin

Nathan Pritikin was a dietician who, in the 1970s, found himself in competition with Linus Pauling for the health of America.  An inventor involved in various scientific fields including chemistry, Pritikin was 40 years old when, in 1955, he was diagnosed with cardiac disease. Though a slender and fit-looking man, Pritikin’s cholesterol and blood pressure were through the roof. His doctors prescribed a series of medications and told him to rest up so as not to strain his heart.

Rather than following this advice, Pritikin began to read. Studying cultures both past and present from around the world, he concluded that heart disease (along with a variety of other degenerative diseases prevalent in the U.S.) could be fought, so long as one was armed with a proper diet and exercise program. Pritikin’s concept of a proper diet was one still followed by many today: low fat, low cholesterol, low sugar, plenty of complex carbohydrates and all the leafy greens and fresh fruit you could eat. The exercise regimen is also familiar: a moderate plan of preferably at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity per day.

For Pritikin, the diet and exercise worked. Within months his cholesterol was lower and he felt better; within a few years, his cardiac disease was a thing of the past. Equipped with the drive and instincts of a veteran inventor, Pritikin next did what came naturally – he invented a new diet and exercise plan for America and he took it to market. Starting with his “Pritikin Longevity Centers,” meant for those who suffered from degenerative diseases, and later moving to the written word, Pritikin became one of the health gurus of the 1970s and 80s, establishing himself alongside such names as Robert Atkins and Herman Tarnower, creators of the Atkins Diet and the Scarsdale Diet, respectively.

This was a space also occupied, of course, by Dr. Linus Pauling.


Pauling note to self, June 22, 1978.

Pauling note to self, June 22, 1978.

Pauling had noticed Pritikin well before he received the letter detailing the Oregonian interview. In a letter from 1977 to Dr. Miles Robinson, a mutual friend of both Pauling and Pritikin, Pauling noted his awareness of Pritikin, his only criticism of the man and his health advice being that Pritikin “neglects his vitamins.” This is about as kind as Pauling would ever treat Pritikin in his correspondence.

The following year, it became apparent to Pauling that Pritikin was not only neglecting supplemental vitamins, but had begun to speak out against them, in particular vitamin C. During a lecture given in early 1978, Pritikin implied that high doses of vitamin C could inhibit certain actions of the body’s immune system, potentially making a person more ill. After composing a memo to himself on the subject, Pauling wrote to Pritikin, telling him that several people had been made upset by his attack on supplementary vitamin C and had written to Pauling about the lecture. Pauling had just completed a paper claiming the exact opposite, complete with 386 references, and he pointed out in no uncertain terms that Pritikin was obviously incorrect in his statements.

In his reply to Pauling’s letter, Pritikin did not bow to the pressure. Rather, he went on the offensive, accusing Pauling of promoting a diet high in fat and cholesterol, ignoring any connections that these habits might have to the development of atherosclerosis. “The public,” he said in his letter, “is led to believe that this type of diet is perfectly acceptable as long as high doses of vitamin C are ingested.”

In the letter, Pritikin also included a statement and a quote that he would repeat over and over in his books, interviews, lectures and letters.  First, that humans had no need of supplements so long as they ate a diet that included vegetables and fruit. And second, according to D.L. Cooper, a doctor cited as serving on the 1972 Olympics medical board, “Americans excrete the most expensive urine in the world because it is loaded with so many vitamins,” a result of all the supplements that they ingest. Pauling answered the attack, naturally, writing that Pritikin’s referenced studies were wrong, and that the quote about excreted vitamins, specifically vitamin C, was also fictitious.

Letter from Pauling to Pritikin, August 1, 1978.

Letter from Pauling to Pritikin, August 1, 1978.


From his correspondence, we can ascertain that Pauling’s next interaction with Pritikin concerned the interview mentioned above in Northwest magazine, a Sunday insert in Portland’s Oregonian newspaper. In the interview, Pritikin was extremely derisive in his comments on vitamin C, even more so than at the lecture from the year prior. A few highlights:

Well, it’s completely wrong to take [vitamins]…For example, the most vitamin C you can hold in your body is about 20 or 25 milligrams a day. Anything over that just goes out through your urine….

If a woman is pregnant and is ready to deliver a child and she is on high vitamin C, both the mother and the child are set up to destroy vitamin C because the body can’t stand it. Now the child is born, but is not taking any new vitamin C, but the mechanism for destroying it continues for probably 10 to 15 days after you stop taking it, so on the fourth day the child goes into scurvy because its body is destroying vitamin C, but no new vitamins are coming in. Many cases are reported like that.

And, the most inflammatory, at least in the eyes of Pauling:

The bacteria count rises 100 times higher when you are on high vitamin C doses.

Thus, the more vitamin C you take, “the longer you’re going to be sick.” Reminded by the interviewer that this view was in direct opposition to Pauling’s stance, Pritikin retorted, “Well, he can make a statement, but this is what the study shows.”

Excerpt from Pritikin's interview in Northwest magazine.

Excerpt from Pritikin’s interview in Northwest magazine, 1979.

Though Pritikin called Pauling out by name in the interview, Pauling didn’t reply to the salvo, at least not directly. In addition to calling Pritikin ignorant of vitamins in his reply to his follower, he ended his letter with, “I think it is quite wrong for Mr. Pritikin to talk about vitamins when he knows so little about the matter.” He also sent a copy of his response to Nathan Pritikin.

More exchanges occurred from there, including an one in which Pritikin, as reported to Pauling by a correspondent, quoted Art Robinson – who was suing the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine at the time – in saying that Pauling was sitting on evidence that vitamin C had the potential to cause and aggravate cancer. To that concerned reader, Pauling sent a copy of a letter that he had written to the editor of The Stanford Daily that listed all his reasons why Art Robinson was wrong.

Pritikin’s final attack on Pauling’s position came during a radio interview conducted on KGO-San Francisco’s Owen Spann talk show in October 1983. Pritikin appeared on the show to promote his newest book, The Pritikin Promise: 28 Days to a Longer, Healthier Life, and to clarify some of the diet advice presented within.

After asking his guest a few questions about the recent history of American heart disease, Spann launched into a discussion on vitamin C. And Pritikin, once again, turned to a study, saying “[Stanford University] got so sick of hearing Dr. Pauling say that vitamin C cleans out your arteries that they decided to see if it even does.” From there he described the study, stating that Stanford found that vitamin C raised LDL (bad cholesterol), while lowering HDL (good cholesterol). He finished with this bold statement: “If you want heart disease, take vitamin C.”

Upon hearing a recording of the interview, Pauling went in search of the Stanford study. Pauling’s notes documenting his search suggest that Pritikin was lying.

I telephoned Dr. Donald C. Harrison, professor of medicine and head of the cardiology department at Stanford. He says that he knows nothing about the study Mr. Pritiken [sic] said was made at Stanford, and so far as he knows Stanford has made no study of vitamin C in relation to heart disease.

Pauling note to self, October 31, 1983.

Pauling note to self, October 31, 1983.

The disagreement between Pauling and Pritikin ended with the Spann interview. Though no longer suffering from cardiac disease, Nathan Pritkin had battled leukemia for most of the 1980s. In February 1985, he took his own life. He was 70 years old.

A Theory of the Color of Dyes

Image credit: Kanwal Jahan.

Image credit: Kanwal Jahan.

Colors convey ideas and emotions in such fundamental ways that being able to capture and use them has been an important component of both cultural and scientific development. The colors of the natural world have fascinated people throughout human history and unending attempts have been made to manipulate and apply color to the items that we use on a daily basis.

Linus Pauling was not immune to humankind’s curiosity for color and as a chemist he was intrigued by dye molecules. Seventy five years ago, in 1939, he attempted to deepen the scientific understanding of how these molecules reflect color.

By the late 1930s, chemists had become comfortable with the concept of electronic resonance – the ability of electrons in a molecule to change orbitals – and were using it to describe a molecule’s capacity to absorb and emit radiation in the reflection of color. Atoms and molecules possess electromagnetic radiation due to the charge of their electrons, and as light hits an atom or a molecule its radiation determines which wavelengths of light are absorbed and which are emitted. When a molecule resonates, the movement of electrons causes a shift in the charges within the molecule which affects its radiation and the distribution of its atoms. All of these processes impact the molecule’s absorption-emission spectra.

By the time that Linus Pauling began working with dyes he had already contributed greatly to the theory of resonance. In 1928, while looking at a series of proposed forms for resonating molecules, he realized that the likelihood that these molecules would resonate directly from one form to another was very low. While many of the resonance forms that had been proposed explained the chemical behavior of molecules, Pauling felt that something was missing in the contemporary understanding of resonance. In his 1928 paper, “The shared-electron chemical bond,” he proposed that the shifts in charge observed in larger molecules required intermediate resonance forms. Pauling then described how these shifts in charge occured from one atom to the next, in the process altering the molecule’s geometry. This idea ran contrary to the notion that electrons shifted directly from one side of the molecule to its opposite.

In 1939 Pauling applied these ideas to the molecules that make up dyes. Dye molecules are often large organic compounds highly affected by resonance. This fact was known to chemists at the time, yet Pauling disagreed with accepted ideas on how these compounds resonate and reflect color. To Pauling, it seemed unlikely that molecules the size and structure of, for example, benzaurin and indigo would resonate in such direct ways as was being proposed by his colleagues.

Although the dramatic changes in charge and structure that had been proposed did account for the colors reflected by dye molecules, Pauling had developed a different understanding of how they came about. Instead of electrons resonating and causing a shift in charge directly from one side of the molecule to the other, Pauling suggested that the shift occurred from atom to atom, giving rise to intermediate forms. Pauling believed that it was necessary to take into account all possible resonance forms in order to fully understand a dye’s emission spectrum.

Some of the multiple resonance forms proposed by Pauling for Döbner's violet. 1939.

Some of the multiple resonance forms proposed by Pauling for Döbner’s violet. 1939.

Pauling’s thinking was published in a 1939 article, “A theory of the color of dyes,” which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The article verifies the notion that color depends on the frequencies of radiation generated by the electrons in a molecule. But it also suggests that in order to understand their molecular structure and explain the colors that these molecules reflect, it is necessary to consider all possible distributions of a molecule’s charges, a combination of which would more accurately describe the observed reflection of color. Scientists now agree that understanding absorption-emission spectra is key in describing molecules because they offer valuable information about a molecule’s components and charges; Pauling’s dye work was a contribution to the development of this understanding.

At the time that Pauling’s theory of dyes paper was published, there were chemists across the country simultaneously trying to understand the color phenomenon. Dr. A. Burawoy’s 1940 article “Light Absorption, Resonance, and Isomerism” (Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry) used Pauling’s 1928 shared electron bond paper in developing his own study of dyes. Not surprisingly, Pauling and Burawoy reached similar conclusions about color.

Crellin Pauling and a friend peer out from a railroad car in an early color image from the Pauling Papers. Image digitized from a Kodachrome slide original.

Crellin Pauling and a friend peer out from a railroad car in an early color image from the Pauling Papers. Image digitized from a Kodachrome slide original.

Other chemists, including L.G.S. Brooker, would contribute to Pauling’s theory of dyes by questioning and expanding upon his work. Brooker was a chemist working for the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York. The company was naturally interested in producing higher-quality photographic film and, as such, was keen to investigate and understand the chemistry of dyes. Brooker and Pauling exchanged ideas as they studied dyes, and correspondence from December 1937 suggests that the two met in Rochester the following month to discuss their results. When Pauling’s theory of color was published in September 1939, Brooker wrote to issue a disagreement with Pauling’s treatment of carbon molecules. Specifically, Brooker believed that Pauling was overlooking the possible effects of carbon on a molecule’s behavior, though he otherwise agreed with Pauling’s conclusions on radiation and charge migration.

Observations like Brooker’s encouraged Pauling to continue his study of dyes by testing his theory on different molecules, including synthetic dyes like cyanine, which he investigated in 1940. The application of Pauling’s findings on carotenoids, one of the pigments found in tomatoes, was further expanded in a 1941 article published by Laszlo Zechmeister, Pauling and two other Caltech colleagues and titled, “Prolycopene, a naturally occurring stereoisomer of lycopene.” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science)  Two years later, Zechmeister, Pauling and three others authored “Spectral characteristics and configuration of some stereoisomeric carotenoids including prolycopene and pro-gamma-carotene.” (Journal of the American Chemical Society)  Both publications explored the role of molecular structure in determining the emission spectra of naturally occurring pigments.

The contemporary understanding of how dye molecules reflect color has changed little since Pauling’s 1939 findings. His work, and that of many others scientists, confirms that something as simple as the color of a tomato is the result of a continuing cycle of complex interactions between atoms and their electrons.

Mary Mitchell, Resident Scholar

mary-mitchell

Mary Mitchell

Mary Mitchell, a doctoral candidate in the history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania, recently completed her term as Resident Scholar in the OSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives Center.  Mitchell is the first of the 2014-15 class of Resident Scholars to complete her work here in Corvallis.

Mitchell’s research subject was the Fallout Suits, a topic that has been examined by two previous resident scholars, Toshihiro Higuchi (2009) and Linda Richards (2011).  However, where Higuchi examined this chapter of Pauling’s activism through the lense of environmental impact and Richards viewed the case as an instance of early human rights intervention, Mitchell, who has a background in law, is interested in the broader socio-legal milieu that surrounded the Paulings and their allies as they pursued their objectives.

The Fallout Suits can trace their origin to March 1st, 1954, when the United States tested the most powerful bomb ever to be exploded. The site for test Castle Bravo was Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, then a U.S. territory. The blast came from a hydrogen bomb and was seen over 100 miles away. Radioactive debris from the test exploded high into the atmosphere and spread across the Pacific Ocean, carried by wind and water and causing damage to fisheries and ecosystems across the region.

"Castle Bravo," the first hydrogen bomb test, March 1, 1954. (U. S. Dept. of Energy photograph)

“Castle Bravo,” the first hydrogen bomb test, March 1, 1954. (U. S. Dept. of Energy photograph)

The strength and destructive power of the blast far exceeded the expectations of the scientists who developed the bomb and quickly became an issue of international attention, mainly due to concerns over the spread of radioactive debris – fallout – which resulted from the test. Activists who saw radioactive fallout as a threat to the health and well-being of the public began to protest the continuation of these tests, leading at one point to a series of lawsuits filed against the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain.

This bundle of litigation, which sought to obtain judicial restraint to end nuclear weapons tests, quickly became known as the Fallout Suits.  The American plaintiffs were Linus Pauling, Karl Paul Link, Leslie C. Dunn, Norman Thomas, Stephanie May and William Bross Lloyd Jr.  This group was joined by several additional plaintiffs from Japan and Great Britain.

Mitchell’s research indicates that, during this chapter of the Cold War, Pauling was able to voice his opinions in a more successful way than was the case for lower-profile scientists of the time. While Pauling was indeed tracked by the FBI, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and other U.S. government entities hellbent on sussing out communist activities, Mitchell suggests that Pauling’s celebrity was both “his sword and shield” throughout the struggle. Pauling’s receipt of the Nobel Prize for chemistry and the fame that came with it protected him, at least to a degree, from being quieted as easily as was the case for other citizens at the time. Yet Pauling could not argue alone; in his fight against government policy he would need the support of other scientists to provide not only their opinion, but also their research, showing that nuclear testing is a threat to the public.

According to Mitchell, this strategy in Pauling’s fight against nuclear testing stemmed from his belief that democracy was only complete when citizens are given complete information in order to participate in the politics of their nation. As a scientist, Pauling knew that while nuclear testing could strengthen the military power of the United States, there were much broader consequences to this practice. He believed that the public should be informed about the dangers of nuclear testing and that the citizens of the United States should have a voice in determining whether or not these tests should continue. Pauling was especially firm in his belief that, as citizens, scientists should participate in public affairs by providing the public with information that would help individuals to make informed decisions when exercising their democratic rights.

Fallout Suits brochure, 1958.

Fallout Suits brochure, 1958.

Though they gained the support of other scientists, the plaintiffs behind the Fallout Suits lost without even getting a trial; the courts took a stance on issues of justiciability (limitations on issues over which a court can exercise its authority) and standing (appropriateness of a party initiating a legal action) in dismissing the lawsuits. Additional Marshallese lawsuits were dismissed on the grounds that the plaintiffs were not U.S. nationals, even though the Marshall Islands were a territory of the United States.

Mitchell concluded her Resident Scholar talk by noting that, despite their ineffectiveness in compelling immediate government action to reduce nuclear testing, the Fallout Suits led to “new forms of participatory democracy, stretching trans-nationally across the Pacific Ocean,” forms of democracy which “had risen from the ashes of America’s testing program.”  Moving forward, Mitchell will continue to dig into the research that she conducted at OSU as she develops her dissertation on legal challenges to atmospheric testing.

For more on the Resident Scholar Program, now in its seventh year, please see the program homepage and our continuing series of posts on this blog.

scarc logo - horizontal

The Discovery of Human Plastin at the Pauling Institute

Milestones in Plastin Research

[Guest post written by John Leavitt, Ph.D., Nerac, Inc., Tolland, CT.]

In 1985 my lab at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine (LPISM) in Palo Alto, California started to work on an abundant protein of white blood cells (lymphocytes, macrophages, etc.) that mysteriously appeared in human tumor-derived cells of solid tissues (carcinomas, fibrosarcomas, melanomas, etc). I had noticed this phenomenon a few years earlier while at the National Institutes of Health. I also noticed that this protein appeared in oncogenic virus-transformed (SV40 virus) human fibroblasts, but the protein was not expressed in the normal fibrolasts.

I was intrigued by the fact that a major protein of circulating blood cells would be induced during solid tumor cell development because it is well known that solid tumor cells become more anchorage-independent and can circulate like white blood cells to metastasize to other organs. My colleague, David Goldstein, took the lead in examining the expression of this mysterious protein in different cell types of fractionated white blood cells. At the time this protein was assigned only a number (p219/p220) corresponding to its position in two-dimensional protein profiles. We found that this protein was abundantly expressed in all normal white blood cell types that we examined but it was not expressed in normal cells of solid tissues (Goldstein et al, 1985).

When David’s paper was submitted to Cancer Research, the reviews came back positive and the paper was accepted for publication, but one reviewer asked that we give the protein a name. I was thrilled by the thought of naming a protein and its gene which would immortalize our work, so I took on the serious task of coming up with a name that had lasting meaning. My theory was that this cancer marker contributed in some then-unknown way to the plasticity of the cytoplasm in solid tumor cells because of its normal presence in circulating white blood cells. Also, I had seen the great movie, The Graduate, with Dustin Hoffman and recalled that amusing scene depicted in the picture included below. So I named the protein “plastin” – the greatest new thing since sliced bread. :)

The Graduate

That same year, I met Steve Kent from Caltech at a meeting in Heidelberg, Germany. After hearing my talk, Steve suggested that we collaborate. He mentioned that a postdoctoral fellow in Leroy Hood’s lab, Dr. Ruedi Aebersold, was trying to develop a more sensitive protein sequencing method for purposes of determining snippets of amino acid sequences from small amounts of unknown proteins eluted from two-dimensional gels (protein profiles) like the gels that we used to characterize plastin in David’s paper. If we could get an accurate partial sequence of plastin, we could devise a nucleic acid probe based on the genetic code that could be used to clone a plastin “copy DNA” from a cDNA library. If the plastin cDNA was cloned, we could then define the protein and perhaps its function by determining the nucleic acid coding sequence in the clone.

Madhu Varma.

Madhu Varma.

I gave Dr. Madhu Varma at LPISM the arduous task of isolating the plastin polypeptide “spot” for sequencing. Madhu cut out the stained spot from 140 two-dimensional gels, in effect purifying enough protein for sequencing by Ruedi at Caltech. Madhu succeeded and Ruedi produced eight short peptide sequences that could be used to develop short nucleic acid probes that would hybridize to the plastin cDNA clone isolated from a tumorigenic human fibroblast cDNA library.

Ching Lin.

Ching Lin.

Dr. Ching Lin at LPISM took one of the nucleic acid probes and immediately attempted to screen a tumorigenic fibroblast cDNA library. If we identified any clones that bound this probe, then we would perform a quick test to determine that we had cloned the plastin coding sequence. But science is full of surprises and we found that the first clone he isolated detected a gene product that was not in lymphocytes but only in normal human fibroblasts – in other words, it failed the test. This is where Ching’s brilliance took over. He was convinced that this first clone he had isolated was indeed a plastin coding sequence so he used this clonal DNA as a new probe against the tumorigenic fibroblast cDNA library. He isolated a new clone that passed the test and detected a gene that was expressed in lymphocytes and tumorigenic fibroblasts but not in normal human fibroblasts.

We performed other experiments that proved that we had cloned two different isoforms of plastin: L-plastin, expressed in lymphocytes and solid tumor-derived cells, and T-plastin that was expressed in normal solid tissues and co-expressed with L-plastin in tumor cells from solid tissues (Lin et al, 1988; Lin et al, 1990). Ultimately this work led to the complete characterization of the human plastin multigene family and verification that both isoforms were aberrantly expressed in various types of human tumors.

The figure at the top of this post maps the progression of discovery that followed our research, which began at the Pauling Institute in 1985. Our publications are shown in red in the graph and research published by other labs is shown in the blue bars.

Here are several plastin milestones discovered by other researchers:

  • T-plastin is abundantly induced in Sezary lymphomas, a lethal T-lymphocyte cancer (Su et al, 2003);
  • L-plastin induction in solid tumors contributes to invasive cancer growth and metastasis (Klemke et al, 2007);
  • Mutations in T-plastin play a role in the genetic disease Spinal Muscular Atrophy (Oprea et al, 2008); and
  • Most recently mutations in both L- and T-plastin promote re-growth of colon carcinomas following surgical resection of these tumors and chemotherapy (Ning et al, 2014).

These developments are more or less typical of the way science works. Progress in understanding complex phenomena like human cancer is the work of many scientists that builds on the observations of other scientists. This is just one example of the productive contributions in biomedical research that came about through early discovery research at LPISM in the 1980s.

The Public Response to The Nature of the Chemical Bond

Pauling lecturing on valence and molecular structure, 1957.

[Celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Nature of the Chemical Bond. Part 6 of 6.]

Not all of the responses to The Nature of the Chemical Bond that Linus Pauling received were from academics; some came from students.  Lois Joyce was one such respondent.  Working her way through graduate school at the University of Illinois, she began contacting Pauling in May 1939 in hopes that she could study with him at Caltech.  She told Pauling how she was much more interested in his focus on molecular structure than on the analytical chemistry that she was studying at Illinois.  By July, after bringing her case before the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech, Pauling was compelled to tell Joyce that he could not bring her aboard due to Caltech’s restriction on women without Ph.Ds working in their labs.  Pauling encouraged Joyce to continue on and get her doctorate at the University of Chicago, after which point she might be able to join him.

A month later, Pauling received a letter from Joyce’s mother asking for an autographed copy of what she could only remember as “The Strength of the Chemical Bond” for her daughter’s birthday.  She told Pauling how Joyce thought Pauling to be “one of the greatest men in the world” and that even though “it’s a strange career for a girl” her daughter was “deeply interested in X-ray research and willing to give up all pleasure in life to succeed,” often studying “until two and three in the morning.” Pauling obliged by signing and sending a copy of his book through special delivery, as Joyce’s birthday was only days away.  Joyce was overjoyed when she received the gift, telling Pauling that she was glad her mother “bothered” him to send a copy and that she was “never so thrilled.” Joyce still regretted that she was unable to work with Pauling however, telling him again that the only topic she wanted to study was molecular structure.


ncb-cover

Scholarly reviews of The Nature of the Chemical Bond did not start appearing until 1940, the year following its publication.  Many of the reviews offered soaring praise not only for the book, but for Pauling as well.  They also included more technical criticism than had been contained in the letters that Pauling had received earlier from his colleagues.

The Transactions of the Faraday Society published a review, identifying the author as L. E. S., which played off the assumption that Pauling was already so well-known as to need little in the way of an introduction.  L. E. S. noted, “All who have researched in the field of molecular structure have long awaited this book.” According to the review, Pauling’s account mostly focused on “the structure of individual molecules…with problems centering around relatively normal covalent bonds.”  It also included a “delightful chapter” on the hydrogen bond and two “succinctly but excellently discussed” chapters on the structure of crystals.

Similar praise came from John E. Vance in the American Journal of Science and George B. Kistiakowsky in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, who both lauded Pauling’s non-mathematical style.  Kistiakowsky added that Pauling’s presentation was “by and large…lucid, and a student with little more preparation than the four basic courses in chemistry should be able to digest most of the contents.” Indeed, even novices might be interested and find the text “stimulating.” The reviews from Germany echoed these sentiments, though one author in the Zeitschrift des Vereins Deutscher Chemiker was disappointed that Pauling, like most English chemists, ignored the German literature on the subject.

As the reviewers continued, they brought in a handful of criticisms of Pauling’s work.  L. E. S. found that Pauling had oversimplified his discussion and gave it a “premature happy ending.” According to L. E. S., these flaws emerged from Pauling having written such a broad survey and resulted in assumptions along the lines of “the electric dipole moment of a purely covalent link is small or is zero,” a suggestion presented without any proof.  L. E. S. wrote that Pauling’s certainty in his own understanding came “partly from this simplification and partly from tricks of style.”

Kistiakowsky made a similar observation, calling attention to Pauling’s “pontifical style” and “his advocacy of the doctrine of infallibility of Pasadenean research,” before concluding that this was “understandable and should not be taken amiss.”

A more serious criticism came from Vance, writing in December 1939,  who complained that Pauling ignored a large stream of the chemical discourse then current, and in particular found it “remarkable that no mention of the Hund-Mulliken treatment of chemical bonds,” based on molecular orbitals, appeared in the text.  Such an inclusion, Vance thought, surely would have increased the “usefulness of the book.” He was not the only person who felt this way.


Robert Mullikan, 1929.

In June 1940, Robert S. Mulliken – himself a rising scientific star and future Nobel Prize winner whose atomic structure work was sometimes at odds with Pauling’s theories – published his own review in the Journal of Physical Chemistry.  Mulliken initially took a generous tone, calling Pauling’s book a “clearly written survey of the nature of the chemical bond,” before adding the critical clause, “from the viewpoint of the atomic orbital method.”  This viewpoint, Mulliken ceded, was most suited to combining wave mechanics with the “traditional ideas” of chemical bonds and therefore had “wide appeal and usefulness among chemists,” but it was not the only perspective in play: Mulliken’s molecular orbital model, developed with Friedrich Hund, was a competing body of work that Pauling largely ignored.

Mulliken suggested that Pauling’s failure to include a molecular orbital perspective, except for a brief “aside,” was misleading, especially for the “unfamiliar reader.”  “Most authorities,” according to Mulliken, “would feel that for a deeper understanding of the electronic structures of molecules a knowledge of both methods is necessary, and that for many problems the MO [molecular orbital] method is the simpler and more intelligible.” Despite this criticism, which became more common over the years, Mulliken ended on an upbeat note, echoing his earlier comment on the volume’s usefulness and recognizing that “the book is a landmark in the history of valence theory.”


While criticism, like Mulliken’s, urging Pauling to add another theoretical perspective to The Nature of the Chemical Bond may not have been exactly what Pauling was looking for from the public response to his book, he would not be able to incorporate any of this new feedback into the next edition anyway.  After he had received his requested interleaved copy from W. S. Schaefer of Cornell University Press back in October 1939, Pauling quickly got to work on making revisions.  By December he was already sending in the first three chapters to Schaefer and by May 1940 the second edition was out, published one year after the first edition and one month prior to Mulliken’s review, also of the first edition.  The opportunity to incorporate new suggestions was not completely lost, however, as Pauling began working on yet another version of his landmark text just one year later, in 1941.

Pauling's interleaved copy, full of notes for future revisions.

Pauling’s interleaved copy, full of notes for future revisions.

Promoting and Reacting to The Nature of the Chemical Bond

ncb-promo1

[Celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Nature of the Chemical Bond. Part 5 of 6.]

Once all of the hindrances to getting The Nature of the Chemical Bond printed had finally been overcome, Linus Pauling looked to the next phase – promoting his book.  He started by compiling a list of people to whom he wanted to send the text, a list that included those who had helped him along way,  journals that would review it, previous Baker Lecturers, and chemistry professors who, Pauling thought, would be interested in using it in their courses.  Pauling ultimately came up with a list of sixty-one people, not counting journals.

Cornell University Press chief W. S. Schaefer responded that the press’s policy was to allow for only six free copies, but he could send the book to those on Pauling’s list at a thirty-three percent discount.  Pauling explained that he had drafted the list based on previous experiences with McGraw-Hill, which was much looser in doling out free copies. He had Schaeffer remove sixteen individuals from the list, paid for four copies, and claimed that the remaining individuals would most likely use the book in their courses and so should get a copy as a promotional offer.  Schaefer agreed to this arrangement, charging the bulk of the books to the advertising budget.

Once The Nature of the Chemical Bond was officially released in May 1939, Cornell did its part in getting the word out.  The press sent out an order form addressed to “Students of Chemistry and Molecular Structure” in chemistry departments across the country, alerting them to the opportunity for a ten percent educational discount.  The form summarized the material found in The Nature of the Chemical Bond as including “the structure of molecules and crystals, and the nature of the chemical bond,” and emphasized the book’s grounding in quantum mechanics without relying on “mathematical argument in demonstrating the conclusions reached.”  It went on to describe how

Early chapters discuss the theoretical basis and the nature and properties of isolated bonds between pairs of atoms.  Then complex ions, molecules, and crystals are considered; the extensive illustrative material is drawn about equally from organic and inorganic chemistry.  There are complete chapters on such important subjects as the hydrogen bond, ionic crystals, and metals.

The methods used by the author in exploring the nature of the chemical bond include the resonance concept and the techniques of diffraction of electrons by gases and vapors and of X-rays by crystals, the determination of electric and magnetic moments, and various kinds of thermal measurements.

The Press also produced an advertising brochure that expanded upon the information contained in the order form.  In addition to noting the book’s basis in quantum mechanics, the brochure promised an “especial emphasis on the resonance phenomenon, including the new concept of resonance of molecules among alternative electronic structures.”  It also suggested that The Nature of the Chemical Bond was “of unusual importance for chemists and mineralogists,” quoting from a glowing write-up in the August 1939 Scientific Book Club Review, which declared that “the publication of this book is literally epoch making.” The journal also described how Pauling’s final chapter, which he added at the very last minute, dealt “with the future development and application of the concept of resonance” and “will probably prove to have been truly prophetic.”

ncb-promo2


By June and July, readers began corresponding with Pauling about the book.  The initial responses, mostly from academics, thanked Pauling for sending a complimentary copy and were generally positive in their evaluation.  Many mentioned how they, or someone in their department, planned to use Pauling’s book in an upcoming course.   Earl C. Gilbert of Oregon State College, for example, told Pauling that the text would “be very successful and fill quite a need” and found Pauling’s account of hydrogen bond properties in particular to be a “convincing treatment” in comparison to Jack Sherman and J. A. A. Ketelaar’s application of quantum mechanics to the carbon-chlorine bond.

Joseph E. Mayer of Columbia University was more effusive in his praise, writing, “It’s the first book that I’ve read through for years!” C. P. Smyth issued a similar response, telling Pauling in mid-October

As evidence of my interest in it I can cite the fact that it is the first scientific book which I can remember reading during the course of a fishing trip, although I have carried many with me in the past.

G.N. Lewis, ca. 1930.

Pauling also received encouragement from a former mentor, Gilbert N. Lewis at Berkeley, who wrote in August,

I have returned from a short vacation for which the only books I took were a half a dozen detective stories and your ‘Chemical Bond’.  I found yours the most exciting of the lot.

Pauling appreciated the responses and was particularly glad that Lewis was happy. He had dedicated the book to Lewis and explained “that I had you in mind continually while it was being written, and I have been hoping that my treatment would prove acceptable to you.”

Along with the praise, Pauling also received constructive advice, which he was eager to incorporate into a second edition.  Joseph Mayer mentioned that the book needed some work regarding its discussion of metals.  Gerold Schwarzenbach of the University of Zurich was also appreciative, but Pauling responded to his note by saying that he “hoped to give proper discussion of” Schwarzenbach’s findings on acid strengths “in a revised edition of my book.” Pauling likewise pressed others for deeper input. He asked Oliver Wulf, who earned his Ph.D. from Caltech in 1926 and would return to Pasadena in 1945, for suggestions on the hydrogen bond spectra, Wulf’s area of interest.

By mid-October, buoyed by all of the responses he was receiving, Pauling began to suspect that he might have a hit on his hands. Curious about sales numbers, he wrote to Schaefer at Cornell University Press for an update and also asked for an interleaved copy which he could use to plan out the next edition.

The Nature of the Chemical Bond Goes to Press

cornell-press

[Celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Nature of the Chemical Bond. Part 4 of 6.]

Once Linus Pauling began to send in the manuscript chapters of The Nature of the Chemical Bond to the Cornell University Press, the next step was to get the text formally approved by the Press’s board of directors and to find a printer. As it turned out, these tasks were not simple ones to achieve.  First Pauling needed to deliver a complete manuscript that could be approved by the board.  Pauling’s Caltech colleague Eddie Hughes helped him by staying in Ithaca, serving as an intermediary with the Press and making last minute changes to the manuscript, as directed by Pauling from Pasadena.

Hughes was finally able to hand over a finished product to W. S. Schaefer at the Cornell Press on July 5th, 1938. A quick turnaround to print looked dicey however as, according to Hughes, “it was the seventh book they’ve had ready for press in the past three weeks.”   Schaefer promised Hughes that “the typescript would be in the printer’s hands at least before August 15,” but “it will be impossible to have the book before November 1 at the very earliest.”  This timeframe was further interrupted in late July when Schaefer broke his knee and needed to be hospitalized.  Hughes, for his part, had done all that he could and so made his way to Pasadena at the end of August.

It didn’t take long for Pauling to get anxious.  On September 9th he wrote to both Schaeffer and his other main Cornell contact, Jacob Papish, asking for any word on his book’s progress, as he wanted to use it for one of his courses in the upcoming academic year.  Schaefer responded apologetically, informing Pauling about his knee and how “the manuscript was received too late for publication this fall” because, over the summer when the book had arrived, “it was no longer possible to assemble our Committee on Publication.”  The committee was scheduled to meet within the next week, and Schaefer assured Pauling that he would “rush” publication as much as possible.

Pauling did not take this news well, and he immediately wrote back to Schaefer that he had only just heard of this delay due “to the failure of your Committee on Publication.” Pauling was even more forthright with Papish, blaming Schaefer for “still holding up the printing until this Committee meets” and calling the potential two and a half month delay “inexcusable.” Overlooking his own earlier delays in getting the manuscript compiled, Pauling wrote, “if I had known at the beginning of the summer that this delay was contemplated, I might have done something about it.”

Papish tried to direct Pauling’s ire away from Schaefer, telling him “the [delay] was not due to inefficiency or procrastination on the part of Mr. Schaefer but to the organization of the University Press” which, being composed of professors, “is not very active during the summer.”  With this, Pauling seems to have accepted the book’s fate, as he adjusted his own course schedule to incorporate the delayed publication. He also began explaining to others that his book might not be out until January, a date that, as it turned out, he would have to continually push back.


Eddie Hughes in 1957. Hughes played an important role in the publication of the Nature of the Chemical Bond and became a valued colleague of Pauling's in the years that followed.

Eddie Hughes in 1957. Hughes played an important role in the publication of the Nature of the Chemical Bond and became a valued colleague of Pauling’s in the years that followed.

With the book in press by the first half of November 1938, Pauling began to send in revisions to Schaefer since “the unexpected delay of three months has caused the book to be somewhat out of date in places.”  Schaefer was glad to include them, telling Pauling that doing so would delay the galley proofs somewhat, but that this loss “will be made up later.” Pauling started receiving, correcting, and returning the galleys to Schaefer by the end of December.  After getting through the first four chapters, Schaefer suggested that Pauling send the corrected galleys directly to the printer in Wisconsin, in order to speed things up.

In January 1939, with the process moving along, Pauling began receiving more and more inquiries on the whereabouts of his book.  Pauling had to tell sellers looking to stock his book and professors looking to use it in their courses that they would all have to wait – the initial word was that it would be ready in March, which quickly became April. During this time, Pauling also decided to add a twelfth chapter, (“A Summarizing Discussion of Resonance and its Significance for Chemistry”) suggesting to Schaefer that he prepare it for print without sending him the galleys to correct.  Pauling still hoped to have the book ready for at least part of his course.

Since all of the galleys had been returned by the end of January, Pauling was expecting the page proof to arrive by the end of February.  When this did not happen, Pauling began to get agitated again, reminding Schaefer that he was “being inconvenienced this year in teaching my class here because of lack of the book.”  The page proofs started to arrive at the end of March and order arrangements were made for the Caltech bookstore, but interferences kept arising – now an influenza epidemic had rendered the printer short-handed.  Schaefer told Pauling that “they are doing their utmost to complete your book,” but they did not want to “risk using inexperienced men for this difficult task.”  As Schaefer’s letter was en route, Pauling, responding to an earlier request to shorten his preface, had the Press add Eddie Hughes to the list of individuals thanked for helping him put the book together.  In this same letter, Pauling asked Schaefer to remove the printer from those so acknowledged.


The first edition office copy of The Nature of the Chemical Bond, containing Peter Pauling's (age 8) typed annotation.

The first edition office copy of The Nature of the Chemical Bond, containing Peter Pauling’s (age 8) typed annotation.

In mid-April, Pauling returned the final proofs, correcting any leftover spelling mistakes, and soon followed up with author and subject indices.  Pauling also wanted to negotiate the price of the book.  Forgetting that he had earlier expected it to sell for one cent per page, Pauling suggested that the 430-page book be priced at three dollars, but no more than three dollars and fifty cents.  Schaefer told Pauling that this price was not possible, partly due to the special mathematical and chemical notation required by the book.  Additionally, previous books in the Baker Lecture series had been published through the chemistry department at Cornell which had “rather lush” funding.  The series was now fully under purview of the University Press and, as such, the selling price needed to cover production costs.  Schaefer suggested four dollars and fifty cents, knowing that the Press would not garner the full price on most sales because of discounts afforded to educational organizations, booksellers, and foreign distributors.  Pauling accepted Schaefer’s suggestion of four dollars fifty cents; mostly he was anxious to get the book printed.

On May 8th, Schaefer wrote to Pauling that, at last, the day had come – The Nature of the Chemical Bond was finally being printed, nearly six months after the original date proposed. Nonetheless, the books that Pauling ordered for his students did not reach Caltech until May 29th.  Pauling told Schaefer this “was during the last of my lectures for the year, so that it turned out that the students were not able to use it very much in connection with my course.”

The same first printing containing Pauling's notes for revision.

The same first printing containing Pauling’s notes for revision.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 56 other followers