General Chemistry: Reactions to the First Edition

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[An examination of General Chemistry, published by Linus Pauling seventy years ago. This is part 3 of 7.]

The first edition of Linus Pauling’s General Chemistry textbook was published by W.H. Freeman and Co. in August 1947, and almost immediately the comment cards poured in. The majority of the book’s readers praised Pauling’s refreshingly modern approach to the principles of chemistry. They considered his focus on modern chemical principles, with only brief and necessary digressions into historical background, a welcome innovation in textbook design.

Many also were also impressed by Pauling’s clear and direct approach to his subject matter, with one reviewer commenting that

[Pauling’s book] is written in a way which should appeal to the imaginations of those who happen to possess them, which is perhaps as important as anything that can be done.

Reviewers were likewise nearly unanimous in their enthusiasm for Roger Hayward’s skillful illustrations, pointing out the degree to which his depictions were a truly extraordinary asset, especially for concepts known to be sources of difficulty for students.


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That is not to suggest, however, that the first edition was uniformly accepted as flawless. Indeed, over half of Pauling’s reviewers declared the book to be too advanced for it’s announced audience: first year students. Moreover, many also noted that the book actually discouraged all but their most determined introductory pupils from moving forward because of the difficulties that they encountered with some of the fundamental principles that Pauling laid out.

Many of the professors who found the text to be too challenging believed that Pauling had mistakenly used Caltech as the standard by which to measure all incoming college freshman. But while their opinion that Pauling had miscalculated in this regard was fairly consistent, the collective did not provide a consensus on who might be an appropriate target audience for the book; reviewers’ suggestions ranged from advanced freshmen to pre-professional students.

In fact, Pauling did have Caltech freshmen in mind when he wrote the book, and very intentionally so. When he embarked upon the project, he made clear that his primary ambition was to develop a text that would prove useful to students who shared his own early enthusiasm for chemistry and who were prepared to devote their academic careers – and, ideally, their professional careers – to the study of chemistry. In the eyes of many though, this approach was not appropriate to other institutions of higher learning and the question of ideal audience remained a point of contention for the entire life of the book.


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Several professors who argued in support of the text tended to feel that its advanced nature was actually the best possible asset that could be provided to specific cohorts of students: in particular, students blessed with sufficient high school experience and/or interest, as well as students who made up for their lack of experience with enthusiasm and perseverance. A few years after Pauling first published his book, a California professor commented that, in his higher-level class, students using General Chemistry applied essential material more effectively and achieved higher rates of success in upper-division chemistry courses overall.

Other positive reviewers focused more intently on Pauling’s technique and powers of description. Scripps professor Norris Rakestraw called Pauling’s review of molecular structure “one of the best approaches to an understanding of general chemistry” and also agreed with others who claimed that the book had the potential to propel students to a more rigorous level. If perhaps not ideally suited for freshmen, Rakestraw believed that General Chemistry was certainly perfect for a refresher course.

Several others followed suit. A.L. Rathmer suggested that Pauling’s “unorthodox and unconventional” treatment was valuable to teachers and other researchers in the field. A reviewer from Northwestern University phrased a similar sentiment in a decidedly different way:

Any instructor who fails to read this text should be fired – and any instructor who tries to use it with freshman should also be fired.

A smaller group of professors offering mixed reviews pointed out that Pauling’s own research interests – particularly his biochemical interests – seemed to dominate the text. A few went so far as to accuse Pauling of using his book as a platform to advance his own scientific theories. Pauling, who was generally open to feedback, did not respond to these comments except to disclaim them in fragmented notes scribbled in the margins of letters and review cards.


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One oft-issued request that did receive a response from Pauling was that he release an answer key to the book’s exercises. He worked on this key during the summer of 1947 while he was working as a visiting professor at Oxford University, and he enlisted his son, Peter, to work through the problems alongside him, verifying answers and identifying problematic practice questions.

Reacting to a different set of complaints, Bill Freeman suggested that the publishing house also compile and release a laboratory manual that was specifically designed to accompany the text. Settling on a length of 290 pages with 80 Hayward illustrations, Freeman worked with Pauling to select Harper Frantz, a lecturer at Pasadena City College, and Lloyd Malm, a University of Utah chemistry professor, as co-authors. Frantz and Malm in turn developed experiments that were based on and that further amplified the principles described in General Chemistry.


Pauling was not only unconventional in his approach to subject matter, but also in how he used his terminology. Two prominent examples of this tendency were his representation of Avogadro’s number and his use of the term “molality” in the place of “molarity.”

Avogadro’s number defines the units in one mole of a solution and is typically set at approximately 6.022 x 1023. Pauling, however, chose to write the number as 0.6023 x 1024. Even when several colleagues urged him to stick to generally accepted convention, Pauling insisted on representing the number as 0.6023 x 1024 and continued to do so throughout all three editions of General Chemistry. In defending his point of view, Pauling offered this explanation in a footnote:

There is great convenience in learning Avogadro’s number as 0.6023 x 1024. An important use of this number involves the conversion of the volume of a gram-atom of an element into the volume per atom. The first volume is expressed in cm3, and the second in Å3. The relation between cm3 and Å3 involves the factor of 1024 : 1 cm3 = 1024 Å3. Accordingly, in case that Avogadro’s number has been taken as 0.6023 x 1024, there is no trouble whatever in deciding on the position of the decimal point.

In other words, by simplifying Avogadro’s number in an unorthodox way, Pauling was trying to make the concept easier to learn for students.

He defended his choice to use “molality” in a similar fashion, referencing A.A. Noyes, Ernest Swift, and W.C. Bray as among those who used “molality” to refer to moles per liter of solution. Pauling incorrectly believed that the term would eventually prevail within the discipline and therefore felt that students would be well-advised to familiarize themselves with it. Eventually he conceded that his was not destined to be the conventional wisdom and he changed “molal” to “molar” in the second edition.

Indeed, throughout the lifespan of General Chemistry, Pauling trusted that students using the book would come equipped with a firm grasp on the language of chemistry. He did, however, agree to provide more definitions in the second edition, particularly for less common or more advanced terms.


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Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, 1948.

While there was widespread disagreement about the appropriateness of using Pauling’s book in freshman classes, very few reviewers disputed General Chemistry‘s strength in content. One colleague, J.S. Coles, who later went on to author a textbook of his own, published a review of Pauling’s first edition and followed it up with a letter in which he emphasized that

Even if every suggestion or criticism [contained within the review] were completely ignored, I would continue to believe [General Chemistry] far ahead of any other text in the field and would continue to use it in any of my courses wherein I thought it to be appropriate.

Many professors who did not adopt the text for their courses admitted to keeping a few copies on hand for themselves and, on occasion, for their advanced students. More still reconsidered their initial rejection of the book when the Frantz-Malm laboratory manual came out in 1949. Of the overall response to General Chemistry, Bill Freeman wrote, “Oh we will slip from grace now and then – I hope it will be because we are trying to improve on the conventional.”

What is beyond doubt is that General Chemistry was wildly successful, even if it didn’t always reach its intended audience, and the royalties that Pauling received provided him with a new level of financial comfort. While most of the windfall was used to support Pauling’s ambitious travel schedule, he did choose to invest in at least one comfort item: an outdoor pool at his Pasadena home.

Affectionately dubbed by his children as “the pool that General Chemistry built,” the space quickly became a gathering spot for some of Pauling’s luckier graduate students, and evolved from there into a location where students could engage Pauling in lively conversations and solicit advice. Not unlike Pauling’s book, these conversations, on any number of occasions, led to insights that shifted the entire course of a student’s professional trajectory.

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An Auspicious Friendship

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[An examination of General Chemistry, published by Linus Pauling seventy years ago. This is part 2 of 7.]

William Hazen “Bill” Freeman established the publishing firm of W.H. Freeman and Company in 1946. On breaking with his previous employer MacMillan Publishers, Freeman said simply, “We made so bold a move because we found that every factor contributing to the success of such a venture was at hand, waiting to be put to work.” There is little doubt that Freeman was thinking of Linus Pauling when he made this statement, but his confidence was also born of extensive experience in the publishing world, working especially with college textbooks.

Freeman brought all his resources and skills to bear on Pauling’s General Chemistry manuscript. He began by circulating early drafts of the text to curate specific feedback in cases where he himself was not equipped to offer it. He also promoted the finished text tirelessly and, through the process, worked without complaint around Pauling’s complicated lecture and travel schedule. Put simply, Freeman knew that he had a singular resource in hand with Linus Pauling, and he did his best to do right by this relationship, both out of respect for Pauling and out of interest in building his business.


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Illustration prepared by Roger Hayward for use in General Chemistry, 1947.

Without question, another individual who contributed greatly to the success of General Chemistry – and to W.H. Freeman and Company – was Roger Hayward, who joined the duo early on as an illustrator at Pauling’s insistence. Hayward moved from the East Coast to Pasadena in 1929, upon which time he became a member of the Caltech One-Hundred-to-One Shot Club, which was comprised of individuals interested in astronomy. Through this connection, Hayward gradually came to be involved with several projects involving Caltech faculty and ultimately met Pauling in the 1930s.

Hayward was an architect by training and Pauling so respected his skill as a draftsman and an artist that he insisted that he was the only one up to the task of creating illustrations for General Chemistry. Pauling was no doubt attracted to Hayward’s unique approach to scientific illustration, wherein he conducted in-depth and detailed research on the scientific principles underlying his topic before ever setting pencil to paper. Freeman also recognized Hayward’s unrivaled skill, and enlisted him on a number of other projects beyond Pauling’s text. By the end of their partnership, Pauling considered Hayward to be not only a collaborator and a friend, but a scientist as well.

As the General Chemistry text was being developed, Pauling evinced such faith in Hayward’s abilities that he offered to transfer .05% of his royalty rate to the illustrator, a payment that would be made in addition to the fee that Freeman and Co. had contracted for the illustrations themselves. Bill Freeman agreed to this arrangement and generously matched Pauling’s offer such that Hayward ultimately received royalties at the rate of 1% for every copy sold – a rate nearly as high as Pauling’s 1.5% royalty agreement.

While seemingly generous, this understanding later proved to be fraught with complications, and Hayward often complained that Freeman and Co. did not adequately compensate him for the amount and quality of work that he contributed. Pauling and Freeman, growing exasperated with this behavior, privately agreed that Hayward was a key contributer but also a “bit of a prima donna.”

Nonetheless, Freeman deeply respected Hayward as a serious artist and clearly understood the value that he brought to the company. As a result, he strove to adjust financial arrangements so that they would benefit all parties involved. For a brief period in the early 1950s, Freeman even brought Hayward on under contract as a staffmember at Freeman and Co. Although the arrangement ended before Hayward’s ten-year deal had expired, the two men deeply appreciated the friendship they shared. Indeed, even in the midst of sensitive and difficult financial negotiations, their letters often ended with mutual expressions of hope that they would see one other soon.


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Under Freeman’s stewardship, Pauling’s manuscript underwent a number of important changes. Initially organized into thirteen chapters, the text was ultimately divided into thirty-three chapters by the time of its publication. In so doing, Freeman and Pauling agreed to remove an initial chapter on valence, choosing instead to disburse the subject matter into a series of subsections located throughout the book.

Likewise, in the manuscript version, Pauling had included a small introductory paragraph on the broader subject of chemistry before diving into his material. In the published book, Pauling instead dedicated his entire first chapter to the importance of studying chemistry as well as the mission and philosophy of the textbook that he had written to help aid in this endeavor. This change allowed Pauling to provide guidance to students on how they might use the book itself, a particularly important addition given that he was breaking from traditional pedagogical styles.

Freeman and Pauling also decided to move chapters on chemical reactions, the properties of gases, and thermochemistry to the end of the book, judging these topics to be sufficiently advanced that a strong foundation on elementary topics should be established first.

Most of the changes that Pauling and Freeman made reflected a desire to create more space to explore topics and to build logical connections between sections and chapters. In the chapters that Pauling eventually added, he covered specific elements like sulfur and nitrogen, as well as compounds including water and several metals. Other changes in chapter order enabled deeper introductions to substances and solutions prior to walking readers through investigations of matter, properties, and variations.


As late as 1947, mere months before Freeman and Co. released the book, Pauling was still calling his text Principles of Chemistry. Freeman suggested that the title be changed to A General Chemistry, because he felt that it conveyed a sense of modesty.

Once Pauling had dropped the indefinite article in favor of a more authoritative title, General Chemistry, Freeman offered him three possible subtitles from which to choose: “An Introduction to Modern Theory and Descriptive Chemistry,” “A Statement of Modern Theory and Descriptive Chemistry,” or “An Introductory Statement of Modern Theory and Descriptive Chemistry.” Pauling eventually synthesized the three into “An Introduction to Descriptive Chemistry and Modern Chemical Theory.”

This subtitle reflected Pauling’s goal for the book itself: in his text, he sought to present descriptive chemistry and theoretical chemistry alongside one another to illustrate their equal significance and impact. His first chapter made clear that he felt practical work, in tandem with study and review of the facts of chemistry, were vital to a full understanding of the subject. In reflecting on this point, he noted that

A well-educated man or woman needs to have an understanding of the material world in which he lives as well as of literature and history, and he may find great pleasure in the appreciation of new knowledge as it results from scientific progress.


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Once Pauling had a completed his draft, he and Freeman fell into a rhythm, editing the manuscript collaboratively through a series of memos and letters. Pauling typically submitted one chapter at a time, to which Freeman would quickly reply with corrections and suggestions. From there, Pauling would counter by accepting, rejecting, or offering alternate suggestions. In effect, the letters acted as a written dialogue between the two; Freeman providing detailed explanations with his feedback and Pauling taking care to respond and explain his choices.

By February 1947, Freeman told Pauling that their collaboration had exceeded his initial expectations for progress, but that they still needed to keep pushing if they hoped to have a successful first year. The publisher’s goal was to sell between 13,000 to 16,000 copies of the book within its first year in circulation, but this number would only be attainable if they had shipped review copies to professors before the end of spring term.

Subsequently, the two increased the pace of their correspondence and managed to get 500 review copies out by the end of May 1947, with an official release date set for that September. The estimated price of the volume was $4.25 per copy. It would span 600 pages and include 160 of Hayward’s illustrations. Just prior to printing, Pauling wrote a preface that stated his goal for the text:

a special effort has been made in this book to present the subject of chemistry in a logical and simple matter, and to correlate descriptive chemistry with the theories of chemistry.


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Comment sheet collected by Bill Freeman, 1947.

As they neared completion, Pauling offered to assist with his own marketing by proposing that he send a table of contents and brief description of the book to former Ph.D. students from Caltech who were now teaching classes of their own. Freeman gently declined this idea, explaining to Pauling that an author did not conventionally promote his own text and asking that all marketing activities be left to the publishing house. Freeman and his assistant, Janet MacRorie, subsequently created a vigorous advertising plan, targeting chemistry professors at all major universities as well as several smaller institutions. The publishers also sent out an open later including excerpts from the book that Freeman believed best demonstrated Pauling’s distinct and straightforward writing style.

In April, Freeman and Co. sent page proofs of the first five chapters of the book to fifteen different schools, with the idea that doing so would allow them to receive and incorporate feedback in the finished product. The response was overwhelmingly positive, but did contain points of constructive criticism that provided direction for revision. Reviewers typically highlighted passages that they felt would be too complex or confusing for their own classes, drawing from their own unique experiences working with undergraduates.

Freeman collected the primary concerns expressed about the book and organized them for Pauling to review. Though some felt that the text was too challenging, Freeman remained confident that even those who were critical in the beginning would return to it if Pauling spent the next year collecting observations and announcing plans for revision at a forthcoming date.

Pauling and Freeman were both deeply invested in the project, so much so that, when it came out, Freeman told Pauling that he felt like a “first time father in the maternity ward.” Once the final version arrived back from the printers, it became clear that Freeman’s commitment to meticulous editing had paid off; Pauling remarked that he had never seen such an extensive publication that contained so few errors.

The duo soon had further reason to celebrate: by June 1948, over forty colleges had adopted or were planning to adopt General Chemistry. Meanwhile, Pauling’s royalties for the first printing of the book summed to nearly $3,700 (over $38,000 in today’s dollars) and continued to increase over the next ten years, bumping up significantly more after the release of the second edition. By the end of 1950, eighty-three colleges had adopted General Chemistry and Pauling’s royalty rate had increased from 1.5% to 3%For author and publisher both, this project was already a huge success.

General Chemistry

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[Ed Note: Today we begin a lengthy examination of Linus Pauling’s milestone textbook, General Chemistry, which was published seventy years ago. This is part 1 of 7.]

Linus Pauling’s first college textbook, General Chemistry, revolutionized science textbook publishing and changed how professors, students, and authors approached introductory texts. The first edition was published in 1947 by a fledgling independent press, W.H. Freeman and Company, that enjoyed its first taste of success as a result of Pauling’s book. And what a success it was! General Chemistry was on the market for over twenty years, was translated into more than ten languages, and was adopted at almost 200 universities in the United States alone. Over the next several weeks, we will endeavor to tell the story of how this book came to be and the significant impact that it ultimately made.


Several years before Pauling set out to write a book himself, he noted that the science texts in current use – particularly freshman and introductory texts – often failed to keep up with new and updated theories. This concerned Pauling as he firmly believed that introductory texts were an important foundation to a scientific education.

He likewise worried that authors of such texts often attempted to cram too much information into their pages and in the process lessened the student’s opportunities to gain practical experience from their education. In addition, Pauling felt that authors of the day tended to present their subjects chaotically and too often failed to distinguish guiding principles from constituent components. Even when an author did identify distinguishing principles, Pauling complained that their bias further inhibited students.

Clearly this situation could be improved upon, and in his initial notes on the topic, Pauling began to sketch out a vision for what would later come to pass, recording a variety of observations like the following:

I believe that a book would be valuable to young students which gave them concrete pictures of molecules as we now picture them. Ionic substances could well be described as containing spherical [sic] given by ‘crystal radii,’ the electrons staying mostly within.

As he surveyed the pedagogical landscape, Pauling identified a particular need for improvement in instruction on theories of atomic structure as well as ideas emerging from quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and thermodynamics. Accordingly, he began preparing lessons and supplementary materials on these topics for use in his own teaching. These materials, which eventually took on the form of a booklet, touched upon new theories while also providing concise explanations and discussions of the practical applications of various older theories. Pauling updated this booklet frequently, using it to supplement Joel Henry Hildebrand’s Principles of Chemistry, the textbook of choice for many introductory-level chemistry classes, including those taught at Caltech.

As time moved forward, Pauling became more serious about reformatting and publishing a version of his classroom booklet, which mostly consisted of a semi-formal collection of notes. As he developed his publication plan, Pauling drew up an outline of the subjects that would want to discuss in his text. He also jotted down thoughts on general formatting as well as broad introductory remarks on the importance, history, and daily application of chemistry. Having thrived as a lecturer for over a decade already, Pauling felt that he had far more to offer to students than a rote recitation of past discoveries, results and publications. Indeed, his ultimate ambition was to re-imagine the very foundations of chemistry education.


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Pauling eventually had his revised booklet, which he titled Elementary Chemistry: The Facts and Basics of Chemistry and their Significance in Modern Life, lithographed for the purpose of aesthetics and ease. As he later remarked to publisher Bill Freeman, he did not consider this collection, even after he had it lithographed, to be a separate draft. On the contrary, this version of what would become a major textbook was to be regarded as a snapshot of a stage in Pauling’s writing process.

Pauling didn’t formally announce his plans to publish a textbook until 1941, by which time he had generated a more organized draft of thirteen mimeographed chapters. He changed the title of his manuscript to General Chemistry: A First-year Course to Follow a Year of High School Chemistry, and by the early months of 1942 he had a group of ten publishers competing for the opportunity to publish his book.

Choosing which publishing offer to accept proved to be a difficult process for Pauling. By 1942, Pauling had emerged as a star within the world of science and several publishers recognized full-well the likely benefit of having his name associated with their company. For his part, Pauling strove to find a publisher who recognized the value of the book itself, regardless of the name attached to it.

John Wiley & Sons was the first company to approach Pauling about his manuscript but the relationship quickly soured, partly because Pauling had become extremely busy. Burdened by a great many other duties, Pauling did not appreciate Wiley’s stipulation that he wait until they had “thoroughly examined the manuscript” before allowing him to send it anywhere else. The final straw came about when Wiley expressed skepticism that Pauling would finish his text in a timely manner; annoyed, Pauling withdrew the manuscript from their consideration.

W.B. Saunders Company approached Pauling next and expressed such a genuine and deep interest in his work that Pauling began negotiating with them shortly after they had made their initial pitch. Saunders had substantial experience publishing scientific texts and, unlike Wiley & Co., believed so completely in the Pauling book’s potential to succeed that they proposed a royalty rate of 15% for each retail sale. (J.C. Stacey Inc., another company in the running at the time, learned what Saunders was proposing and advised Pauling to accept the offer, as 15% far exceeded the standard royalty rate being tendered to authors at that time.) Saunders also offered to send Pauling’s preliminary draft to a chemistry professor for initial feedback and to finance a graduate student to assist with the detail work.

Encouraged by the host of publishers clamoring to publish his work, Pauling continued to revise his manuscript. This steady rhythm was interrupted when the United States entered World War II, a point at which Pauling quickly realized that his government-funded war projects were going to require his full attention. Discouraged from writing, but recognizing the importance of what he was doing, he sent out a copy letter to all publishers interested in his manuscript. In it, he stated that the present circumstances were such that he was unlikely to make much progress on his book. When the war concluded in 1945, many of these publishers inquired again, but by then Pauling had made his decision.


 

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Cartoon tipped into Pauling’s first edition, first printing of General Chemistry, 1947.

William Freeman, a representative of the college department at MacMillan Publishers, had approached Pauling in 1941 to express MacMillan’s interest in Pauling’s manuscript. A strong contender from the beginning, MacMillan had enticed Pauling with their experience as a mainstream textbook publisher. The company’s associate editor also promised Pauling the best editing services and attention around.

In the end however, it was Bill Freeman who won Pauling over. Since Freeman worked at MacMillan’s San Francisco branch, he offered to meet with Pauling in Pasadena to discuss, in person, the means by which they might partner to navigate the publishing world and protect Pauling’s rights as an author. Pauling was concerned that Macmillan, though a major player in the textbook industry, hadn’t published many scientific volumes. Freeman replied candidly, pointing out that this was actually a good thing because it meant that Pauling wouldn’t have to compete for marketing resources within the company.

Freeman also assured Pauling that, although a high royalty might look good in the short-term, a lower royalty, such as the one that MacMillan was offering, would allow the company to market the book at a lower cost. Doing so, Freeman argued, would ensure a higher volume of sales for Pauling’s text and, consequently, a more widespread adoption. Pauling was impressed. After meeting with Freeman, he returned Saunders’ contract completely blank.

When the U.S. entered the war, Pauling sent MacMillan the same letter that he had sent to everyone else, detailing the time conflicts that he was confronting with his scientific war work and announcing that the book project was moving to the back burner. But as the war years went by, Pauling and Freeman stayed in touch, and the relationship that the two men developed during this period made all the difference.

When Freeman decided to strike out on his own as an independent textbook publisher with a focus on science, he recruited Pauling to edit a series of chemistry books that he planned to publish over the next decade. In turn, Pauling entrusted his own coveted manuscript to Freeman as the first book to be released in this series and, ultimately, the first text that W.H. Freeman and Company would ever publish.