Post 500

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling.  Angeles National Forest, Thanksgiving Day, 1952.

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling. Angeles National Forest, Thanksgiving Day, 1952.

This is the five-hundredth post that we’ve published on the Pauling Blog, and in this season of thanksgiving we find ourselves in a grateful mood.  Five-hundred posts, surely at least a half-million words and, recently, our 500,000th view.  Great thanks to you, our readers, who continue to seek out and use this resource in steadily increasing measure.

To celebrate this milestone, we are publishing a few excerpts from one of our favorite Pauling manuscripts.  Titled “An Extraordinary Life: An Autobiographical Ramble,” the piece was written by Pauling for presentation to the Institute for the Humanities in Saledo, Texas, April 1989.  The text finds Pauling in an unusually reflective mood, speaking with serenity, at age 88, of a life spent dipping in and out of scientific disciplines in a most remarkable way.


Young Pauling, ca. 1910s.

Young Pauling, ca. 1910s.

[…] I am moderately smart. I estimate that there are 20,000 people in the United States who are smarter than I am, perhaps 15,000 women and 5,000 men. I reached this conclusion because a month after my wife and I got married, we had carried out some intelligence tests, and I discovered she was smarter than I, but we were already married. It was too late for me to do anything about it. Of course, I recognize that there are many physicists who are smarter than I am – theoretical physicists, most of them. There are a lot of smart people who have gone into theoretical physics, so there is a lot of competition there. I console myself with the thought that they may be smarter than I am and deeper thinkers than I am, but I have broader interests than they have. I don’t suppose that there is anybody else in the world who has a good background, knowledge of physics, mathematics, theoretical physics, and who knows a great deal about chemistry – the amount that I know.

When I was eleven years old with no outside inspiration – just library books – I started collecting insects. Not only collecting insects but reading about insects. I was filling my mind with a lot of information about the lepidoptera and diptera and so on. My father, a druggist, died when I was nine. There was another druggist who was a friend of the family to whom I went if I needed some chemicals when I got interested in chemistry, but I wasn’t interested in chemistry yet. I was just interested in insects when I was eleven. I said, “A person who collects insects needs to have a killing bottle.” And I got a Mason jar from my mother. So all I needed now was ten grams of potassium cyanide and perhaps fifty grams of plaster of paris. So Mr. Ziegler, the druggist, gave me ten grams of potassium cyanide and fifty grams of plaster of paris, and I took them home, went out on the back porch, because I knew that potassium cyanide was dangerous, and I dumped the potassium cyanide into the bottle. I mixed the plaster of paris with some water and put it in the bottle on top of it and let it harden. I had my killing bottle. I collected a lot of insects.

Next year I got interested in minerals. I didn’t have very many minerals, at least that I could recognize, only agates. So about all I could do was go around Portland looking for piles of gravel where someone was putting in a house foundation or sidewalk. I’d go through the gravel looking for chunks of agate.

Just think of what the difference is now.  A young fellow gets interested in chemistry and is given a chemical set.   The chemical set doesn’t contain any potassium cyanide. It doesn’t even contain any copper  sulphate  or anything interesting because  they are all  poisonous  substances. Most chemicals are poisonous substances. These young budding chemists don’t have any chance to do anything interesting when they are given a chemical set anymore.   As I look back, I think it is pretty remarkable that Mr. Zieglar, this friend of the family,  would have just turned over one third of an ounce of potassium cyanide to me at age eleven. […]


Linus and Ava Helen, camping near Palm Springs, 1924.

Linus and Ava Helen, camping near Palm Springs, 1924.

[…] I  was   very  fortunate  when   I   came  to  the   California   Institute   of Technology.    There was a new experimental technique that had been discovered only eight years before.    This was the determination of the structure of crystals by the x-ray diffraction method.    Roscoe Dickinson,  a  few  years older than I, had been using this technique for three or four years at the California Institute of Technology.    He was the first man to get a Ph.D.  from the California Institute of Technology. He taught me the technique.    I was very much excited about it.    It took only a couple of months for him to teach me how to determine the structure of a rather simple crystal by taking x-ray diffraction photographs of it and then analyzing those photographs.    Perhaps the greatest thing that he taught me was how to assess the reliability of your own conclusions.   He taught me to ask every time I reached some conclusion:

“Have I made some assumption in reaching this conclusion?    And what is the assumption? And what are the chances that this assumption is wrong? How reliable is the conclusion?” I have remembered this ever since and have continued to feel grateful to him ever since. It is possible to delude yourself if you have an original idea into thinking that there are observations that support this idea. Or it is possible when you think that you have developed some idea on the basis of a rational argument that you have made an assumption somewhere that isn’t justified. So this was very important in my development.

I hear people often describing me as a biochemist or as an organic chemist or something else. In fact, I never did like organic chemistry. I liked biochemistry even less. I didn’t have any courses to speak of in organic chemistry and no course at all in biochemistry. No course in any aspect of biology, nothing in medicine. But I have made contributions in the nutritional field and the biochemical field. If I were to go through my some eight hundred scientific papers, and see what fields of science I have made contributions   to,   I  could  say  I  am a x-ray  crystallographer. I am a mineralogist, because the American Mineralogist Society gave me their Roebling Medal which they give every year to an outstanding mineralogist. I am a physical chemist. That was what I called myself originally and what my Ph.D. diploma says. I am a chemical engineer too with a degree and five years of practical experience. I am an analytical chemist. When I was nineteen years old,   I didn’t have enough money to go back to my junior year at Oregon Agricultural College. As a sophomore I had taken the course in Quantitative Chemical Analysis and they gave me a job full time to teach the sophomore  Chemical Analysis. So I am an analytical chemist too. And I am an organic chemist.   I laid the theoretical  foundation for the tetrahedral carbon atom and developed resonance hybrid concept. I explained a lot of things in organic chemistry. I am a biochemist. I am a molecular biologist and sort of originated this field in a sense. I am a geneticist and have made contributions.   I’m an evolutionary scientist. […]


Pauling in 1989 - an extraordinary life. Photo by Paolo M. Sutter.

Pauling in 1989 – an extraordinary life. Photo by Paolo M. Sutter.

[…] In 1937, I was invited to give the prestigious George Fisher Baker Lectures at Cornell University. I went there for one semester. There had been famous chemists who had held this appointment. One requirement was that you write a book. My lectures were on the nature of the chemical bond, and the book came out in 1939, The Nature of the Chemical Bond. It was a bestseller, published by Cornell University Press. After a year the editor of Cornell University Press wrote to me and said, “Your edition of 10,000 copies is just about sold out. Would you prepare a second edition?” And I said, “Well, it hasn’t been a year yet. Nothing much has happened, but there have been some changes in this field. But why should I prepare a second edition of the book?”   He said, “Well, you don’t get any royalties from the book.   It was a condition of your appointment as George Fisher Baker Lecturer in Chemistry that you should write the book and present the manuscript.   There has never been a George Fisher Baker book that has gone into a second edition, but if you write a second edition, Cornell University Press will give you royalties on it.”

Well, that was a really good incentive.    I got busy and added ten pages perhaps and it came out as the second edition in 1940 and ever since then I have collected royalties.   On thinking back on this man, editor of Cornell University Press, he is really a remarkable man in that he should think that it would be unjust to me not to get royalties on that book that had become a scientific bestseller.    He was Amish from Pennsylvania and perhaps this may have something to do with his ethical standards.    It is a good thing that people have ethical standards.

People keep saying to me, “How does it come about that you shifted your field every five or ten years in a remarkable way?” In fact, all that I did was to expand my field of interest. I started out first determining the structure of minerals, and the second job I did was to determine the structure of an intermetallic compound — the first intermetallic compound to have its structure determined. For about ten years I worked on the structure of silicate minerals and of various other inorganic compounds.

So that was one period, but then I got interested in the structure of organic molecules. And there was another technique. We built the first apparatus in the United States to determine the structure of gas molecules by electron diffraction. A friend of mine, Herman Mark in Germany, was the man who built the very first apparatus of this sort. So I began determining interatomic distances, and applying quantum mechanics which I had learned as one of the first people in the field in 1926 when I was in Germany on a Guggenheim Fellowship.   All of this related to the question of the nature of the chemical bond. In the 1930s I formulated several new ideas about chemical bonds.

In 1935 the Rockefeller Foundation had been supporting my work on the crystal structure of the sulphide minerals, and they said to me, “You know, we’re not really interested in the sulphide minerals.    We’re interested in biological substances.”   They had been giving me five thousand dollars a year.   I thought, “What do I know about biological materials?   Not very much.   Hemoglobin, red cells in the blood, molecular weight about 68,000, that has four iron atoms in it.   Iron compounds often are paramagnetic.    So why don’t I apply to the Rockefeller Foundation  and  suggest  that  I  measure  the  magnetic   susceptibility  of hemoglobin and hemoglobin derivatives?”   So I did. And they gave me fifty thousand dollars.    This shows that these fellows in the big foundations can influence  activities  of  scientists.

So we measured  the magnetic susceptibility of blood. Venus blood turned out to be paramagnetic, and arterial blood was diamagnetic,  meaning repelled by a magnet.    Careful measurements  of this sort gave  astonishing  information  about   the  structure  of  the hemoglobin molecule. So then I thought, “Well, what about the rest of the hemoglobin molecule?    There are four iron atoms and 9,996 other atoms.   What are they doing?    So I had better work on the structure of proteins.”  I was giving a talk in 1936 at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research about the magnetic properties of hemoglobin.    A man named Karl Landsteiner sent word to me, asking me to come to his laboratory to talk to him.   I did.   He said he was making immunological studies — antibodies, antitoxins.   He wanted to know if I could explain some of his observations.    So I thought about them for four years and finally wrote a paper, and when the second edition of his book came out there was a chapter by me on the molecular structure of antibodies.    I hadn’t changed my course.    I’d just gone on roads that have diverged a  little from the ones I’d been  going  on.

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Promoting and Reacting to The Nature of the Chemical Bond

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[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.”

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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

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[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.

Returning to Pasadena and Finishing the Manuscript

Segment of Pauling's draft manuscript for The Nature of the Chemical Bond, ca. 1936.

Segment of Pauling’s draft manuscript for The Nature of the Chemical Bond, ca. 1937.

[Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Nature of the Chemical Bond. Part 3 of 6.]

While Linus Pauling, temporarily settled at Cornell as George Fischer Baker Lecturer, used his absence from his family to fuel his work and writing, he also ran into several obstacles and courted various diversions.  An early obstacle came by way of his left wrist.  Not long after Ava Helen left, Pauling’s letters home begin to describe mounting soreness in the wrist.  On November 11, 1937, Pauling’s main Cornell contact, Jacob Papish, intervened directly by calling a doctor “who said (without looking) for me to get it baked out at the hospital with a short-wave apparatus and bandaged. This was done.”

Pauling was not too impressed – later in the day he reported “I am carrying my arm in a sling – it hurts when I use it, and I find myself using it if it is free. I think it will be well soon, though. If it isn’t I’ll go to a doctor – not Papish’s.”  From the sounds of it though, the treatments started to work.  By the fifteenth Pauling told his wife that “it still hurts, but only once in a while, and I can use my hand if I am careful.”  But a few days later his voluminous writing began to catch up with him as he began experiencing cramps in his right hand and developed a callous on his pinky finger.  By the 24th, with most of his wrist pains behind him, Pauling finally remembered how he had hurt himself in the first place, recalling that he was “at Maury’s office” and “fell over backward in his chair – flat on the floor – and I’m sure that I fell on my wrist.  Isn’t it strange that I forgot that?  I’m rather tired of writing.”


Pauling also found a few diversions to break up his otherwise relentless pace of writing and lecturing while at Cornell.  For one, he took advantage of the opportunity to sit in on various campus lectures.  On November 11, for example, Pauling “listened to a long talk” that was “rather boring” but still boasting an interesting point or two – on the sweet-potato starch industry.”  Pauling also engaged in some reading, including Edwin C. Kemble’s The Fundamental Principles of Quantum Mechanics with Elementary Applications.  He likewise found time to read for pleasure, most commonly the Sunday paper and Time magazine.  He included a bit of space for fiction, including two short stories by Thomas Mann and Christopher Morley’s The Trojan Horse, which he found “very amusing” and useful for “put[ting] me in the mood (Liny’s word) for sleep.”  Alas, the technique didn’t work too well, because the next day a weary Pauling wrote to Ava Helen that he was going home early to finish the book and go straight to bed.

These diversions, it would seem, were not enough to slake Pauling’s loneliness and he continued to seek out ways to be together with Ava Helen.  At Thanksgiving Pauling wrote to his wife,

I am working hard now so that if you do come back with me in January I’ll have more time to play with you. We would have fun going to Princeton and Yale (also Buffalo – we would go to Niagara Falls again). I liked having you in the Lab. with me, but I did get worried about you, thinking that you were bored while I was trying to work. If you come back with me I’ll work in my/our room and you can read or go to bed. We used to do that in Munich. You have forgotten what it is like to have Paddy with you working.

Though Ava Helen initially protested the idea of going back to Ithaca, she gradually warmed to the suggestion.  For it to happen, they needed their helper Lola Cook to take care of the four Pauling children, including Crellin, still an infant.  This may not have been too difficult to arrange since Ava Helen had told Linus earlier, on November 11th, that Lola “said she wants to take care of the baby!”  On December 2, Ava Helen wrote, “I’d leave Lola with the baby I think and get someone to do the work.  I’m hoping that after three weeks at home you will want to return to Ithaca alone.  That would be simpler and less expensive.”  Those three weeks, as it turned out, were not enough, and Ava Helen returned to upstate New York with her husband in January.

The Paulings and Yvonne Handy at Niagara Falls, January 1938.

The Paulings and Yvonne Handy at Niagara Falls, January 1938.


As the time came closer for him to return to Pasadena for the Christmas holiday, Pauling began to run out of steam.  On December 3rd, he told Ava Helen, “I’m afraid that I’m getting stale – I’ve written only a few pages today.”  A few days later he repeated how “stale” he had become, telling his wife, “I need you to play with me and love me and make me happy again.”  Ava Helen responded the same day, though presumably to his December 3rd letter, telling him, “Of course you can’t write more on your book because you’ve worn yourself out.”  Luckily for Pauling, his plan to make a quick exit from Cornell for the winter break was successful and he was on his way home in early December.  Riding the train back to Pasadena, Pauling continued to work on his book, telling Ava Helen, “I haven’t anything to read” and, as a result, had “been planning out the last chapters of the book.”

Once Linus and Ava Helen were back together, first in Pasadena and later in Ithaca, progress on The Nature of the Chemical Bond slowed considerably – it would take several months to match the productivity of Pauling’s one month alone at Cornell, during which time he had written half of his book.  On February 10, 1938, Pauling, now back in Pasadena for good, wrote to Papsish at Cornell to let him know that he had just received his manuscript by mail and “shall now settle down to work on it with the hope of completing it before long.”  Over a month later, on March 18, Pauling told his Caltech colleague Eddie Hughes, who had stayed at Cornell to help push the book through the university’s press, “I haven’t done very much toward completing the chemical bond book, but I hope to get to work on it soon.”  The following month, when Pauling was away from Ava Helen again, he told her that he was working on the book “for a while (correcting old chapters).”

Ava Helen and Linus peeking through a train window, Spring 1938.

Ava Helen and Linus peeking through a train window, Spring 1938.


By May contacts at Cornell were inquiring into the whereabouts of Pauling’s book, but the author still had one chapter left to write.  On May 10 he told Hughes, “I am indeed anxious to get my book finished, but I am having trouble in finding time to work on it.”  Pauling decided to begin sending it in sections and told Hughes that he would finish it by the end of June, at which point Hughes could make his way back to Pasadena.

While he had not yet begun sending the manuscript to Cornell, Pauling resumed his correspondence with Papish to discuss a second edition; according to Pauling, “the field is progressing so rapidly…[a second edition] probably should be prepared in about two years.”  A month later Pauling began sending chapters one-by-one, telling Hughes that he was mostly finished “except for two or three odd sections” and “some of the figures.”  Pauling would find that his delay in getting a final manuscript to Cornell would only cause trouble and interfere with his plans to use the book in his classroom the following year.

The George Fischer Baker Lectureship and the Beginnings of the Manuscript

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[Celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Nature of the Chemical Bond. Part 2 of 6.]

While Linus Pauling attempted throughout the 1930s to sit down and compose a book-length treatment of his ideas on chemical bonding, he was seemingly destined not to complete it. Burdened, in a sense, by his own and other’s rapid advancements in understanding, early attempts at what would become The Nature of the Chemical Bond quickly went out-of-date if they were even briefly set aside.

A window opened at the end of 1936, when Pauling began to receive offers to serve as visiting fellow at two different institutions on the East Coast. One offer came from the Institute for Advance Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and the other from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to give the chemistry department’s George Fischer Baker Lectures. Pauling quickly saw the latter option as a chance to give himself both the time and structure necessary to write his book. The Baker Lectures appeared to Pauling to provide the best circumstances to accomplish this, since every year’s lectures were followed by a publication.

Pauling promptly tried to figure out how his writing of The Nature of the Chemical Bond could fit in with the Baker Lectures. In November 1936, he asked Jacob Papish, who was arranging the fellowship, if an expanded text based on his lectures was possible and how much the book might cost. Pauling wanted the price to be set as low as possible to have a “good sale,” and based his expectations on the one-cent per page cost of previous books published in the series. Royalties were also of interest as Pauling was already planning additional editions and expansions of his yet unwritten book. Papish welcomed Pauling’s idea and suggested (very correctly, as it turned out) that his book would be one of the most successful of the series. However, all royalties for the first edition would go to the Cornell University Press, while royalties for any subsequent editions belonged to Pauling.

With everything seemingly arranged by December, Pauling only needed approval to take leave. The death in June of Caltech chemistry head Arthur A. Noyes created some hesitation in the minds of those around Pauling; as he told Papish, “the authorities of the Institute” questioned whether it was appropriate for him to take leave. The matter was quickly resolved however and Pauling began to plan for his trip the following autumn.


The Pauling family, summer 1937.

The Pauling family, summer 1937.

Initially Pauling hoped that his whole family, including Ava Helen, Linus Jr., Linda, and Peter, could join him in Ithaca, where they would all stay together in a house. But the family was growing and, in June 1937, Ava Helen gave birth to the youngest Pauling child, Crellin. Linus Pauling, most likely relaying the results of his failed attempts to convince Ava Helen that the whole family make the trip, had told Papish a month before the birth that it would most likely only be him. Ava Helen did end up joining her husband on the train and staying with him for about a month, leaving the children and their dog Tyl in the care of Lola Cook, who lived with the Paulings to assist with childcare and household chores.

Preparations related to Pauling’s work responsibilities were also necessary. Pauling told E. Bright Wilson, Jr. that he planned to stay in Pasadena “until the last possible moment” so he could help the new lab workers settle in and prepare for the coming months without him. Pauling also arranged for a graduate student to work under him while at Cornell, choosing Philip A. Shaffer, Jr. from Harvard rather than someone from Caltech. Shaffer’s assistance was sufficient to merit a mention by Pauling in the preface to The Nature of the Chemical Bond. Two research fellows, however, did accompany Pauling from Caltech: G. C. Hampson, who continued his research on crystal structures, and H. D. Springall, who continued his work on electron diffraction. Both also earned Pauling’s gratitude in the preface.

The Paulings arrived in Ithaca during the last week of September 1937. Their date of arrival gave Linus one week to settle affairs before the start of his duties, which included giving the Baker Lectures on Tuesdays and Thursdays and leading a weekly Wednesday seminar. The couple selected the Telluride House, which housed students, as their residence while in Ithaca, and Pauling wound up staying there for the duration of his lectureship. It didn’t take long for Pauling to make an impact: during the third week of his visit, he gave a public lecture to an audience of 100 that drew the attention of the Cornell Daily Sun and the Ithaca Journal. The town newspaper described Pauling as building “his story around the statement that ‘Structure is the basis of all chemistry,'” a story that was subsequently detailed in the Baker Lectures and The Nature of the Chemical Bond.

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At the beginning of November, once living arrangements had been fully ironed out, Ava Helen returned to Pasadena. The separation was difficult for them both. By writing to each other several times a week, they salved their heartache and kept up to date on the everyday activities that occupied them and those around them. Ava Helen kept her husband informed on how Peter was beginning to read, how Linus Jr. was learning to pronounce “competitor,” and how Crellin was being “such a good baby” who “literally never cries.” Though Pauling missed the children, he longed for Ava Helen most of all and told her several times how lonely he was and that working was the only thing that was keeping his emotions together. On November 20, he wrote

I love you, my own dear Ava Helen, with every bit of me. Life doesn’t mean anything while you are away – I live in a sort of daze, with nothing worthwhile. The only thing I can stand to do is to work.

At least in part, it would seem then that it was out of a motivation to suppress his longing to be with his wife and children that Pauling wrote the bulk of The Nature of the Chemical Bond while he was at Cornell.

Pauling’s Cornell correspondence with Ava Helen also chronicles how hard he pushed himself to progress through his writing, to the point where he eventually wore himself out. Handwriting anywhere from ten to forty-plus pages per day of manuscript, Pauling often stayed late at the lab, sometimes until three or four in the morning. This upset his wife, who repeatedly admonished him for working himself too hard. On November 27th she wrote,

You are an awful boy to try to work all night. Your Wednesday (really Thursday) letter came today and I’m mad – hopping mad as Peter says. I told Mrs. Crellin that you worked until 4:10 a.m. (She took us all riding in her electric car this morning for an hour) She said you were shortening your life and that you owed it to your family to take care of yourself. It is wonderful that you were able to get so much done but I do worry about you.

Pauling was indeed able to get a lot done, finishing more than half of the chapters for his first book draft early in December, only a month after Ava Helen had left.

The Molecular Theory of Civilization

(Part 3 of 4 in our series marking the fiftieth anniversary of Pauling’s delivery of the Messenger Lectures.)

At the heart of Pauling’s Messenger Lectures was his newly established theory which he referred to simply as the “molecular basis of civilization.”  Through his work as a chemist, Pauling had developed a belief that the seeming randomness of life could be traced down to the molecular level where macroscopic problems, like violence and disease, could be explained.

Pauling explained that the first molecules resulted from photo- and electrochemical reactions.  Some of these molecules became autocatalytic, or self-duplicating, while others were broken down and reformed into different molecules, with each molecule competing for atomic particles that would allow for further self-duplication.

As this duplication and competition continued, the newly formed molecules began to evolve according to the abundance of various elements.  Eventually, mutations allowed these molecules to begin manufacturing smaller molecules to be used as “food” for the growing molecular colonies.  These molecules continued to mutate, eventually developing into organisms ranging from bacteria to complex mammals such as humans.  Joints, organs, nervous systems, and brains all appeared following millions of years of molecular evolution.

Pauling claimed that memories, for example, were one of the most significant results of evolution in history.  Pauling explained that when the human brain size doubled – approximately 700,000 years ago – humans developed the ability to create, maintain, and share memories. He described this phenomenon as the first example of “the inheritance of acquired characteristics.”  Ephemeral and long-term memory, he said, are the basis of civilization.  Without them, speech, invention, and the communication of long-term knowledge would all be virtually impossible.

According to Pauling, this increase in human brain size was the last great evolutionary moment in human history, and that the achievement of long-term memory and communication marked a completely new moment for life.  The ability to communicate information, he said, transformed the human race into a single organism connected through our collective knowledge.

From there, Pauling argued that, for the human race to thrive, evolution must continue. In his final lecture at Cornell, he exhorted that “we must now achieve the mutation that will bring sanity to this great organism, the organism that is mankind.”  Pauling admitted that a mutation allowing greater empathy among humans (he suggested extrasensory perception as an example) had the potential to be highly effective.  Unfortunately, in his view, the human race may well not survive long enough to enjoy another highly beneficial mutation along those lines.  Instead, he argued that the next “mutation” must be a mutation of conscience in human thought that would allow for widespread elimination of suffering via cooperation and shared interest in the advancement of human well-being.

Pauling argued that this change in human thought, however far outside our traditional understanding of evolution, is deeply connected with Darwinian theory.  He explained that a mass restructuring of values across the human race would accomplish the ultimate goal of physical evolution by allowing for the survival and even growth of the human race.  What’s more, he explained that this evolution of the mind corresponded directly with the earlier evolution of the brain.

Over the next decade, Pauling continued to refer to this next step – sometimes called conscious evolution – as a means of encouraging a wide variety of practices including nuclear disarmament, the control of hereditary genetic abnormalities, and the development of an international governing body.  In fact, he closed his final Messenger Lecture with a brief talk on the importance of international peace and the need to end human suffering, encouraging his audience to actively seek a heightened sense of communal responsibility.

Following the lecture series, it was traditional for the guest speaker to partner with Cornell University Press for a print release of the talks.  Though not a requirement of the lectureship, this partnership gave the Press some exposure and allowed the lecturer’s work to be more widely circulate, making it an ideal situation for both parties.  Pauling believed his talks to be suitable for publication and, in late 1959, began to collect his notes and resources accordingly.

Unfortunately, the book never materialized.  In 1960, Pauling was subpoenaed by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and embroiled in a long and unpleasant series of investigations into his patriotism.  From there, his peace work took over, leaving little time for other activities.  It seems that the Messenger publication was simply neglected amidst the press of greater issues.  Nevertheless, Pauling’s papers include a substantial collection of his Messenger notes and manuscripts, affording us a glimpse at the philosophical questions that stimulated and intrigued Pauling during his most politically active years.

Click here for all of our posts on the Messenger Lectures.  For more information on Linus Pauling, please visit the Linus Pauling Portal or the OSU Special Collections homepage.