The blog has recently acquired an e-reader and is taking the opportunity to re-read Thomas Hager’s excellent 1995 biography, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling, now available for download. The Hager biography has long been out of print, so it’s especially good news that this valuable book has re-entered the marketplace in digital format. Not long ago, we caught up with Tom to talk about the e-book and to see what he’s up to lately.
Pauling Blog: How did the e-book version of Force of Nature come about?
Tom Hager: Almost since the moment Force of Nature was first published in 1995 I have wanted to do an updated version. Part of the motivation was the desire to correct some niggling little errors (like getting Senator Joe McCarthy’s home state wrong); part was a desire to incorporate at least a little of the new information that became available after Linus’s death and the release of the last of his papers to Special Collections at Oregon State. Because of the size of the book, it was difficult to get a publisher to put out a new edition. So I decided to do it myself, in e-book form.
What’s different in this version as compared to the print version? How much new material is included?
I combed back through the notes and letters I received after the 1995 book was published, and made a comprehensive review of all needed corrections. These were made. I got the chance to smooth some prose, and added material in several places. Most notable, I think, is an expanded discussion of Herman Branson’s contribution to the alpha helix structure. This new information came about in part because of discussions that took place at the Pauling Symposium held at Oregon State in 1995.
How has your perspective on Pauling changed since the book was published in 1995?
My views of Linus’s life have not changed appreciably.
You’ve published two major history of science books – The Demon Under the Microscope (2006) and The Alchemy of Air (2008) – since the Pauling biography. How has your approach to writing science evolved over time?
I am more concerned now with narrative – effective, accurate story-telling – and less with a desire to be comprehensive. Force of Nature, with its great length and detail, certainly serves a purpose. But if I were to write it today, I would probably make the book about half the length and twice as dramatic.
What are you working on now?
My main interest now concerns the future of food, and how humanity is going to avoid mass famine as the population rises (while at the same time protecting our last wild places and avoiding pollution). I am also interested in the history of psychopharmacology, an interest of Linus’s in the 1950s.