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.

One Response

  1. Was a 2nd edition ever published? I see Pauling refers to a 1960 edition on page 10 of “The Nature of the Chemical Bond” 3rd edition. I cannot locate a copy showing Karplus as an author.

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