Project Adrift: The Second Edition Fizzles Out

[Part 4 of 4]

The cordial disagreements over the shape of the second edition of Introduction to Quantum Mechanics began in August 1955 when Martin Karplus sent to Linus Pauling his first revision of the book. Many of the revisions that Karplus was making did not fall in line with those that Pauling and E. Bright Wilson, Jr. had in mind. Pauling and Wilson expressed their concerns to Karplus, Pauling writing that “I think that the revision that you propose is more extensive than we want” and Wilson suggesting that “I think in general I stand part way between the two of you with respect to the extent of revision necessary.”

Clearly there existed significant gaps in agreement; gaps which steadily grew into crevasses.

In October 1956, Pauling wrote to McGraw-Hill requesting that the previous agreement concerning royalties for the second edition be revised to that of an equal division among the three co-authors, as “circumstances have changed since 1935.” This was an early sign of what would soon become an apparent lack of investment in the second edition on Pauling’s part.

In November Karplus met with McGraw-Hill and agreed on a new deadline of Fall 1957 for publication in 1958. Nearly a year later, in October 1957, the deadline was extended again to the summer of 1958. In a September 1957 letter, Karplus gave some insight into the reasons for the delays:

I am very sorry that I have not been able to accomplish more on the revision. Other obligations as well as some personal problems, have prevented me from devoting as much time as I should have liked to give to the work.

As time passed, the disagreements between the co-authors and the lack of organization were becoming more and more apparent. In a letter to Karplus, Pauling’s frustration with the situation was evident

I wish that you would send me a copy of some of your material on the revision of Introduction to Quantum Mechanics…I trust that you are not changing the book completely.

In early March 1959, Karplus wrote to Pauling and offered a glimmer of hope that the end of the revisions was near, suggesting that “in terms of the present rate of progress, it is perhaps not completely unrealistic to hope that the new edition will appear in the spring of 1960.”

Yet the publication delay continued.  When Pauling was asked to compose a recommendation for Karplus for a position opening at Tufts University in October of 1959, Pauling shed further insight into the issues plaguing the revision.

The work that Karplus has been doing in revising the book seems to me to be of the highest grade. My suggestions in the main have dealt with a simplification of what he has written. I have not found any errors, not even in judgment, except that I am afraid that he tends to be interested in the more complex aspects of the subject….I may point out that he was, I think, somewhat disturbed in his research and his revision of Introduction to Quantum Mechanics by personal difficulties.

Clearly reasons other than lack of cooperation between co-authors were causing the delays.

Two years later, in 1961, Pauling wrote to a Dr. T. Katsurai in Tokyo, who had inquired about the publication date of the new edition. In this reply, Pauling confessed of his own contributions to the slowness of the project.

Professor Wilson and I have got to the stage in life when we have many duties and less energy than formerly. Professor Karplus is hard at work, but the job is a big one, and I surmise that it will still be a year or more before it is finished.

Later that year, Pauling received a letter from a McGraw-Hill editor informing him that “Professor Karplus assured me three weeks ago that he and Professor Wilson are actively revising, and that they anticipate completion in the summer of 1962.” And yet, 1962 passed without publication.

In 1963 Pauling cut himself off from the project, in large part because of the growing press of work, especially peace work, that now defined his every waking moment.  In a letter to Karplus informing him of his decision, Pauling wrote

I feel that I should not be a co-author with you and Bright. I have decided that my many activities, combined I think, with some lack of interest in the details of modern quantum mechanics, will prevent me from making any contribution to the new book.

Wilson responded curtly to Pauling’s withdrawal, insisting that it would reflect poorly on Karplus as well as the second edition.

I was very disturbed to receive the copy of your letter of May 22 to Martin Karplus. I don’t really see how you can do this to him. After all, it was you who chose him and persuaded him to undertake the job of revising our book, a job which has turned out to be enormously more burdensome and worrying than he could possibly have realized, in good part because of his own success in research. I fear that he (and the public) will infer that you have no confidence in him and prefer the old edition even though you haven’t examined the new.

Pauling responded to his colleagues apologetically, explaining that his request to withdraw was not based on a lack of confidence in the project, but on his own inability to participate.

I[f] you and Bright are willing that I be a co-author, I would be happy to be. My conscience has been bothering me because I have not contributed anything significant to the revision. I do not like to accept anything that I do not deserve, and I have felt doubtful that I deserve to be a co-author of the new edition.

Nine years later, in 1972, Karplus sent Pauling a letter informing him that the book was near completion. But by 1974, nearly twenty years after Pauling and Wilson made their decision to publish a second edition, McGraw-Hill still had not received a manuscript. At this time, Pauling sent a final letter to Wilson and Karplus officially withdrawing as co-author.  The second edition never made it to print.

Introduction to Quantum Mechanics: A Second Edition?

Martin Karplus and Linus Pauling, 1960s.

[Part 3 of 4]

During its first eighteen years in print, Linus Pauling and E. Bright Wilson, Jr.’s Introduction to Quantum Mechanics sold over 17,000 copies.  Heartened by the success of the first edition, Pauling wrote to his co-author in November 1953,

It seems to me that the book has been successful enough to justify a second edition, and I do not think that any of the newer books takes its place.

In December, Wilson replied in agreement but with slight trepidation.

I should be quite willing to have a second edition of Introduction to Quantum Mechanics prepared if it didn’t involve too much work for me and if we could agree on the general principles which we were going to use in carrying out the revision.

Wilson’s reply in hand, Pauling wrote to their editor at McGraw-Hill, Hugh W. Handsfield, and informed him of their decision to revise the 1935 text. Handsfield replied with a deadline of winter 1956 in preparation for a publication date of January 1957.

To alleviate some of the work load, Pauling suggested that the two authors collaborate with a young Ph. D. named Martin Karplus, a former student of Pauling’s and a recent graduate of Caltech. Wilson agreed, Pauling extended the offer and Karplus accepted, if warily, noting that “though I am not certain that I am qualified for the task, I should like to attempt it.”

Pauling, Wilson, and Karplus agreed to divide the royalties according to estimated contribution levels, allotting a quarter of both Pauling’s and Wilson’s royalties to Karplus. Having delegated a significant portion of the revision work to Karplus, Pauling did not foresee much difficulty in the development of a second edition.

Unfortunately, there emerged significant flaws in their three-way collaboration, especially that of geography. When the authors began making preparations for the revision, Karplus was in England at Oxford completing a National Science Foundation Fellowship, Pauling was in Pasadena at Caltech, and Wilson was in Massachusetts at Harvard. This distance presented obvious complications in revision efficiency, appreciably slowing down the process.

The problems, however, did not end with logistics, but extended to revision philosophy. When Pauling and Wilson asked Karplus to participate, they both made it very clear that they wished to maintain the integrity of the first edition by keeping the focus of the text on applications to chemistry for students that were less mathematically inclined.  As Bright Wilson wrote in a letter to Karplus

I think Professor Pauling agrees with me that we are very anxious to keep the book at a level which can be understood by first-year graduate students in chemistry. It has always been the great feature, in my opinion, which has made the book so successful in its first edition. My main contribution to it was to bring an adequate degree of ignorance into the authorship, and I therefore claim a lot of credit for the success of the book because I was not able to understand anything highbrow and therefore there was not very much highbrow put into it.

Their reasons for keeping the book at such a level extended beyond academic intentions. Both original authors recognized the market potential for a text on quantum mechanics applied to chemistry as there existed many quantum mechanics books available for physicists and none, other than theirs, for chemists.  Wilson summed it up succinctly

I don’t think we can hope to compete with the books designed specifically for physicists and that we should try very hard not to increase the level of difficulty because otherwise we will lose our principal attractive feature.

Karplus found such revisions difficult as he struggled to incorporate what he believed to be important while maintaining the original format developed by Pauling and Wilson. These disagreements in revision philosophy ultimately amounted to yet another considerable hurdle in the revision process.  Time passed quickly over the next year and it soon became apparent that there was no conceivable way that the co-authors were going to meet their first deadline.

Pauling and Wilson

[Part 2 of 4]

In 1926, while still in Europe completing his Guggenheim fellowship, Pauling attended history’s first full-term lecture on the new concept of wave mechanics as applied to quantum theory. This course, taught by Arnold Johannes Willhelm Sommerfeld, a renowned German theoretical physicist and a pioneer of quantum mechanics, was historically significant as the first of its kind.  Sommerfeld would later write of the classes,  “My first lectures on this theory were heard by Linus Pauling, who learned as much from them as I did myself.”

Upon returning from Europe to Caltech, Pauling used the knowledge gleaned from his Guggenheim experience to develop his own lecture series on quantum mechanics. Among those who attended these was none other than Albert Einstein who sat in on one of Pauling’s talks in 1930.

The content of this course became the foundation for Pauling’s first textbook, Introduction to Quantum Mechanics with Applications to Chemistry, which he developed with a former Ph. D. student named Edgar Bright Wilson, Jr.

E. B. Wilson, Jr., known to many as Bright, was born in Gallatin, Tennessee in 1908. After graduating from Princeton in 1930, Wilson attended Caltech and, under Pauling’s direction, received his doctorate in 1933. Wilson then became a fellow at Caltech until accepting a position at Harvard in 1934.

E. Bright Wilson, 1970.

In 1935 Wilson and Pauling published their co-authored text, which took the duo over two years to transform from Pauling’s original lecture notes.  The primary goal in writing the volume was to “produce a textbook of practical quantum mechanics for the chemist, the experimental physicist, and the beginning student of theoretical physics,” for the authors firmly believed that quantum mechanics had applications to nearly all scientific disciplines.

Cognizant of the need to guide the less mathematically adept reader “through the usually straightforward but sometimes rather complicated derivations of quantum mechanics,” Pauling and Wilson formatted their content such that it could be understood by those with mathematics training up through calculus, with some limited additional background on complex numbers, differential equations, and partial differentiation.  Pauling and Wilson wrote that

The book is particularly designed for study by men without extensive previous experience with advanced mathematics, such as chemists interested in the subject because of its chemical applications.

In completing the text, the authors acknowledged a number of mentors and colleagues – many of them Caltech contemporaries – for their contributions to both the authors’ own personal knowledge and to the field of quantum mechanics: Arnold Sommerfeld, Edward U. Condon, Howard Percy Robertson, Richard C. Tolman, Philip M. Morse, Leslie E. Sutton, George W. Wheland, Lawrence O. Brockway, Jack Sherman and Sidney Weinbaum. And last, but certainly not least, the authors acknowledged their wives, Emily Buckingham Wilson and Ava Helen Pauling.

In the years following publication, Wilson built a career as a highly successful chemist and an esteemed member of the scientific community. In 1949 Wilson too received a Guggenheim Fellowship, with another to follow in 1970. And in 1975 Wilson was awarded the prestigious National Medal of Science for physical sciences, just one year after Pauling.

Pauling Amidst the Titans of Quantum Mechanics: Europe, 1926

Erwin Schrödinger and Fritz London in Berlin, Germany, 1928.

[Ed. Note: Spring 2010 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of Linus Pauling and E. Bright Wilson, Jr.’s landmark textbook, Introduction to Quantum Mechanics.  This is post 1 of 4 detailing the authoring and impact of Pauling and Wilson’s book.]

…the replacement of the old quantum theory by the quantum mechanics is not the overthrow of a dynasty through revolution, but rather the abdication of an old and feeble king in favor of his young and powerful son.

-Linus Pauling, “The Development of the Quantum Mechanics,” February 1929.

Since 1925 the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has annually awarded fellowships to promising individuals identified as advanced professionals who have “already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.”  The selection process is extremely competitive and recipients are generally esteemed in their chosen field as applicants face rigorous screening and are selected based on peer recommendation and expert review.

Since the first awards in 1925, many Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners have received Guggenheim Fellowships including, but not limited to, Ansel Adams, Aaron Copland, Martha Graham, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Paul Samuelson, Wendy Wasserstein, James Watson and, of course, Linus Pauling.

As one of the program’s earliest honorees, Pauling was awarded his first Guggenheim fellowship in 1926.  Heeding the advice of his mentors, Pauling had applied for the fellowship in hopes of pursuing an opportunity for international study.  Pauling’s advisers had long been insisting that he go to Europe to study alongside the leading experts in the budding field of quantum physics, and the Guggenheim funding provided Pauling with the opportunity to do just that.  It was this fellowship that allowed Pauling to travel abroad in order to learn from the European geniuses of quantum physics and to later become one of the early American pioneers of the new field of quantum mechanics.


Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s apartment in Munich, Germany. 1927.

The subject of quantum mechanics constitutes the most recent step in the very old search for the general laws governing the motion of matter.

–Linus Pauling and E. Bright Wilson, Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, 1935.

The mid-1920s – the time during which Pauling was awarded the prestigious Guggenheim fellowship – was an exciting period to begin an exploration of quantum theory.  The tides were dramatically shifting in this field of study and the acceptance of the old quantum theory was rapidly declining.

Linus and Ava Helen left for Europe on March 4, 1926, arriving in Europe in the midst of what was a great quantum theory reform.  At the inception of quantum theory, physicists and chemists had attempted to apply the classical laws of physics to atomic particles in an effort to understand the motion of and interactions between nuclei and electrons.  This application was grossly flawed as the classical laws, such as Newton’s laws, were originally generated to represent macroscopic systems.   Theorists soon discovered that the classical laws did not apply to atomic systems, and that the microscopic world does not consistently align with experimental observations.

A series of breakthroughs by prominent theorists in the early- to mid-1920s accelerated the decline of the old quantum theory.  In 1924 Louis de Broglie discovered the wave-particle duality of matter, and in the process introduced the theory of wave mechanics.  Then in 1925, just one year before Pauling began his European adventure, Werner Heisenberg developed his uncertainty principle and thus began applying matrix mechanics to the quantum world.

In 1926, shortly after the Paulings arrived in Europe, Erwin Schrödinger combined de Broglie’s and Heisenberg’s findings, mathematically proving that the two approaches produce equivalent results.  Schrödinger then proceeded to develop an equation, now know as the Schrödinger Equation, that treats the electron as a wave.  (The Schrödinger Equation remains a central component of quantum mechanics today.)  The adoption of wave and matrix mechanics led to the development of a new quantum theory and the overwhelming acceptance of a burgeoning field known as quantum mechanics.


Arnold Sommerfeld and Ava Helen Pauling in Munich, Germany. 1927.

Where the old quantum theory was in disagreement with the experiment, the new mechanics ran hand-in-hand with nature and where the old quantum theory was silent, the new mechanics spoke the truth.

–Linus Pauling, February 1929

Pauling began his work in Munich at Arnold Sommerfeld‘s Institute for Theoretical Physics, a scholarly environment described by biographer Thomas Hager as “a new wave-mechanical universe for Pauling.”  It was this atmosphere that opened the door for Pauling to leave his mark as a pioneer of quantum mechanics.

In the fall of 1926, Pauling began applying the new quantum mechanics to the calculation of light refraction, diamagnetic susceptibility, and the atomic size of large, complex atoms.  Through these types of applications, Pauling developed his valence-bond theory, in the process making significant advancements in the new field of quantum mechanics and expanding our understanding of the chemical bond.

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