The Sci-Fi Author that Might Have Been…

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…and featuring a debut story by Linus Pauling?

Along with detective stories, crossword puzzles and the occasional walk, reading science fiction was Linus Pauling’s primary form of leisure.  The hundreds of dog eared sci-fi monthlies spanning multiple decades in his personal library (used to good effect by a past Resident Scholar of ours) are testament to a keen interest in the genre.  It was not until recently, however, that we learned of Pauling’s one-time interest in dabbling as a fiction writer himself.

From an October 1992 interview with Thomas Hager, conducted in support of his 1995 biography, Force of Nature:

Thomas Hager: Do you continue to have an interest in science fiction now?

Linus Pauling: Yes, I subscribe to two of the science fiction journals. Argosy and Science Fiction and Science Fact, the two principle science fiction journals I subscribe to, and I usually read them. The serials sometimes are just too long, I don’t bother to read them. And of course the problem is first the characters have been changing recently. Instead of being adventure science fiction stories, they are sort of sexual relations science fiction stories – the way with novels, too. I don’t read novels anymore either except for old ones that I re-read. And then the science fiction stories, the plots all seem to me to be old ones that I have read before. Sometimes it seems to me that the stories aren’t so interesting as they were in the old days.

TH: Well, that’s probably true. You’ve been reading them long enough, they repeat.

LP: Yes, for years I thought I would write a science fiction story based upon the idea that one can have life essentially identical with life on earth which is based on DNA and proteins and amino acids, but with other handedness. In my General Chemistry or College Chemistry freshman chemistry text, I have a footnote about Alice in Wonderland, or I have a page or two about right-handed and left-handed molecules. And I quote Alice in Wonderland saying, ‘But would looking glass milk be good for me?’ And I said of course it wouldn’t be. It would be made of D-amino acids. And someone who had been converted to the dextral form would not be able to eat anything unless he could get food made of D-amino acids… And couldn’t get married and have children unless he could find a wife who had also been. Well I was going to have a catastrophe in the ship going through space. Some sort of catastrophe that changed everything from left-handed to right-handed.

Extracted from "College Chemistry," 3rd edition, 1964.

Extracted from “College Chemistry,” 3rd edition, 1964.

TH: Now do you remember what sort of catastrophe it would’ve been?

LP: No. Well, it’s pretty hard for a scientist to invent a catastrophe that would do that. It had to be a catastrophe somehow involving multiple worlds, not just a shockwave. Because you would have to have angular momentum, chirality, and it’s very hard even to convert L-alanine to D-alanine, for example.

TH: If you lifted an L-being out of the third dimension into the fourth dimension and turned them over and put them back, would that…?

LP: Oh yes. Surely that’s exactly what people who have written about multi-dimensional space had said or the man who wrote Flatland. You could do that in three dimensions and go back to two dimensions.

TH: I wonder, but I’m trying to think, would that result in that sort of inversion in that…?

LP: Oh yes, well, if you had a scalene triangle, three edges unequal to one another, three edges all different, and turn it over, it goes from being a right-handed to a left-handed.

TH: So in any case, that’s an interesting idea. It is too bad you never finished that.

LP: Yes, well of course, one complaint about some science fiction writers is that their handling of interpersonal relationships is poor. This is a complaint I had of E. T. Bell‘s science fiction books. He wrote two or three science fiction books under the pseudonym John Taine. And they were mildly interesting from the science, sort of. Not more interesting than books or stories by many science fiction writers. Mildly interesting, but the handling of personal, interpersonal relationships was very poor. Of course, good science fiction stories depend to a considerable extent on the personal relationships, just as good novels do.

TH: Do you feel that would have been a weakness if you had tried writing one?

LP: Well, I thought I recognized the need for including a good story of this sort inside of the story, but I’m not sure that I could do it. But the main thing is I never have had time. There are always scientific problems that I am trying to solve and that interest me more.

Pauling's personal collection of science fiction periodicals, as housed in the OSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center.

Pauling’s personal collection of science fiction periodicals, as housed in the OSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center.

Die Chronologie von Linus Pauling

Pauling speaking in Mainz, Germany, July 1983.

Pauling speaking in Mainz, Germany, July 1983.

Since we’re in an announcing mood, it gives us great pleasure to pass along word of another new Pauling resource recently made available online by the Special Collections & Archives Research Center: a German-language edition of Robert Paradowski’s Pauling Chronology.

Robert Paradowski’s chronology of the life and work of Linus Pauling, which we’ve written about in the past, is surely one of the most useful accounts of Pauling’s story available anywhere and almost certainly the best general overview that one can find online.  Paradowski is Pauling’s official biographer.  He knew Pauling well and compiled a significant corpus of one-on-one interviews that surely contain a great deal of unique information.  Those of us who spend time in the Pauling orbit have long anticipated the release of the Paradowski biography, rumored to be a three-volume work, but it has yet to see the light of day.

So until the publication of his epic, Pauling watchers with an interest in Paradowski’s work have to content themselves with the Chronology, which was first published in print in 1991 and later released online by Oregon State University in 2009.  Since then, we have done what we can to increase the accessibility of the text to larger audiences, beginning with a Spanish translation released in 2010.  The new German edition is likewise meant to act in this spirit of increased access to a valuable resource.  Future translations are anticipated as skill sets within the department avail themselves.


Pauling was comfortable with language.  His written English was impeccable – peppered throughout the Pauling Papers, one finds numerous examples of his correcting the grammar or style of other authors – and he was comfortable delivering lectures in essentially all of the romance languages. German, however, was Pauling’s strongest second language.

Carl Pauling, 1915.

Carl Pauling, 1915.

Pauling came from German stock on his father’s side. His grandfather Charles Henry Pauling, whom everyone called Carl, was born in the U.S. to recent German immigrants, and he eventually married a German woman named Adelheit Blanken.  In 1882 Carl and Adelheit moved to Oswego, Oregon, a suburb of Portland, and stayed there for the remainder of their lives.  Linus, who was born in 1901, spent a significant amount of time in his grandparents’ home, especially after his family had settled for good in Portland in 1909.  As Thomas Hager notes in his Pauling biography, Force of Nature, daily life in the grandparents’ home was imbued with the culture of the old country.

…the woodstove was always warm and the smell of rich German cakes filled the air. A sod cellar was packed with home-canned fruits and crocks of sauerkraut and pickles….Carl and Adelheit were devout Lutherans. Because there was no church in Oswego, every month they would invite a minister from across the river to hold services in their house. Linus sometimes sat among the small group of worshipers in the front parlor, listening to the service and hymns sung in German.

This early exposure to German spoken in the home gave Linus a leg up in his later studies of the language, which included two years of undergraduate class work at Oregon Agricultural College and, later, his passing of a compulsory exam during his doctoral studies at Caltech.

This study was of extreme use in that facility with German was crucial for a scientist in the early twentieth century.  Much of the more important work in the physical sciences was being published in German-language journals and many of the leading minds were based at German universities.

An academic procession at the University of Munich, 1927. Note the arrow pointing to Arnold Sommerfeld.  Photo likely taken by Linus Pauling.

An academic procession at the University of Munich, 1927. Note the arrow pointing to Arnold Sommerfeld. Photo likely taken by Linus Pauling.

Pauling gained first hand knowledge of these facts during his crucially important Guggenheim trip in 1926-1927.  Based mostly in Germany, Pauling made contacts with a number of German scientists including Arnold Sommerfeld, an early mentor of great consequence.  Sommerfeld’s lectures made a deep impression on Pauling and it was not long before Pauling was taking notes, writing papers and giving talks in German.  This capacity only sharpened over the course of his European stay and served Pauling exceedingly well for the remainder of his life.

The German translation of Paradowski’s Pauling Chronology is available at http://scarc.library.oregonstate.edu/coll/pauling/diechronologie/page1.html

Pauling v. Wrinch

“Report on the work of Dr. Dorothy Wrinch.” Written by Linus Pauling and submitted to the Rockefeller Institute. March 31, 1938.

[Part 3 of 4]

Dorothy Wrinch’s 1937 American tour brought her, and her highly controversial cyclol hypothesis, into the public consciousness. She attracted a lot of attention, but mistook that attention for firm support. Thus buoyed, she began making outsized claims as to the importance of her theory and, more importantly, false claims that it had already been scientifically proven. Wrinch’s rhetoric caused many of her friends and colleagues to distance themselves from her and her ideas. And when Pauling ultimately agreed to meet with Wrinch in Ithaca, New York, the gloves came off: Pauling slammed her ideas as plainly ridiculous, more fancy than fact.

The critical reaction to Wrinch’s ideas soon built into an onslaught. When she returned to the U.K., a group of British x-ray crystallographers argued that her suggestions were false. While Wrinch claimed that x-ray crystallography proved her theory, these scientists pointed out that, to the contrary, crystallographic results actively disproved her cyclols.

Stateside, Linus Pauling and Carl Niemann officially got in on the act with their publication of “The Structure of Proteins” in the July 1939 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. In it, the authors declared that Wrinch’s cyclol cage was so thermodynamically unstable that it couldn’t even be produced in a lab intentionally, let alone be found in nature. From the article:

[We] draw the rigorous conclusion that the cyclol structure cannot be of primary importance for proteins; if it occurs at all…not more than about three percent of the amino acid residues could possess this configuration. [emphasis theirs]

Wrinch, who was looking for work in the U.S., was forced to respond to Pauling’s article with one of her own. In it she publicly questioned his competency and stated that “opponents of the cyclol hypothesis have felt compelled to fall back upon arguments which are specious (due to errors in logic), and upon experiments which are irrelevant…or incompetent to decide the issue.” (Although it wouldn’t be known until 1952, the last part of her accusation was correct – Pauling’s hypothesis was also partially inaccurate.) In an effort to keep the peace, JACS refused to publish her rebuttal until Pauling had been given a chance to review it. Once done, Pauling and Niemann wrote another response to Wrinch’s piece – one equally acidic as Wrinch’s – rebutting her response point-by-point, just as “The Structure of Proteins” had done to cyclol theory.

Their battle, played out in the pages of newspapers and among the referees of major scientific journals, was defined by vitriol for it duration. Wrinch would attack Pauling, even going after his earlier theories on chemical bond resonance; Pauling would respond, calling Wrinch’s theories unworthy of serious scientific debate. At one point, 13-year old Pam, Dorothy’s daughter, wrote a letter to Pauling, which suggested

Your attacks on my mother have been made rather too frequently. If you both think each other is wrong, it is best to prove it instead of writing disagreeable things about each other in papers. I think it would be best to have it out and see which one of you is really right.

As time passed, evidence continued to grow that Wrinch’s cylol theory was wrong. Nonetheless, she continued to defend the work with vigor. In her 1987 book on women in science, historian Pnina Abir-am wrote that Wrinch developed a “lifelong obsessive defense of her theory and refusal to follow the shifting scientific frontier.” Additionally, her counterattacks on Pauling were full of shaky logic and bad science, which reduced her credibility far more than it reduced his.

Wrinch gathered little support in the scientific community by going after Pauling, by then known to many as a major scientific figure. Frustrated, her ego again got the best of her, and she accused her colleagues of being “cowards” who were too scared of Pauling to see the truth of her theories. This strategy bore little fruit and the remainder of her support had largely vanished by the end of 1939.  By 1941 Pauling had emerged victorious and Wrinch was largely ostracized from the scientific community.

An uncommonly vitriolic letter from Pauling to David Harker concerning his role in the Wrinch affair. July 6, 1940.

Victory aside, Pauling did not cloak himself in glory with his actions. In the estimation of Pauling biographer Thomas Hager, the saga managed to “illuminate less appealing sides of Pauling’s character,” his strong-arm tactics “a demonstration of his new power.” Clearly a rising star within the scientific world, Pauling’s

prestige and acclaim brought out negative factors in his personality that became more evident as his power grew: a tendency toward self-righteousness, a desire to control situations and frame debates, and a willingness to silence those with aberrant ideas.


The aftermath of the drama found Wrinch in a severely compromised position. For starters, the Rockefeller Foundation terminated Wrinch’s fellowship, rendering her without funding as a result of her having failed to find more solid support for the cyclol theory in the five years allocated to her.

Wrinch spent the years 1939–1941 searching for jobs in the US and Canada. She lamented to her close friend, Otto Charles Glaser: “I am notoriously poor at institutions about people.” Glaser was a frequent correspondent and a big supporter of her work. Finally, in 1941, Glaser engineered a deal for Wrinch and she was offered a position as a joint visiting research professor at Amherst, Smith, and Mount Holyoke Colleges.

Not long after she had moved to her new position in western Massachusetts, a mutual friend approached Wrinch and told her that Glaser was wildly in love with her. Wrinch was caught completely off guard by this news and was even more surprised when, shortly afterward, Glaser proposed to her. Wrinch asked for time to think about it before answering; she was still a bit nervous, seeing as how her first marriage had been so unhappy and ended poorly.

As she deliberated, Wrinch drew up a table of pros and cons on the topic of marrying Glaser, using terms including “net losses” and “net gains” in her contemplation. She asked Pam what she thought and her daughter told her to be careful, since her first marriage had been so awful. But on the same token, Pam thought, Glaser was a good man and Dorothy was clearly close to him. Ultimately Wrinch and Glaser were married on August 20, 1941, in the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The wedding was a private affair, but still highly photographed and publicized. The couple permanently settled down in Massachusetts. As always, Dorothy was dedicated to maintaining her career, marriage, and her motherhood.

As published in the New York Times, August 21, 1941.

As published in the New York Times, August 21, 1941.

Linus Pauling and the Structure of Proteins: A Documentary History

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Today is Linus Pauling’s birthday – he would have been 112 years old.  Every year on February 28th we try to do something special and this time around we’re pleased to announce a project about which we’re all very excited: the sixth in our series of Pauling documentary history websites.

Launched today, Linus Pauling and the Structure of Proteins is the both latest in the documentary history series and our first since 2010’s The Scientific War Work of Linus C. Pauling. (we’ve been a little busy these past few years)  Like Pauling’s program of proteins research, the new website is sprawling and multi-faceted.  It features well over 200 letters and manuscripts, as well as the usual array of photographs, papers, audio and video that users of our sites have come to expect.  A total of more than 400 primary source materials illustrate and provide depth to the site’s 45-page Narrative, which was written by Pauling biographer Thomas Hager.

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Warren Weaver, 1967.

That narrative tells a remarkable story that was central to many of the twentieth century’s great breakthroughs in molecular biology.  Readers will, for example, learn much of Pauling’s many interactions with Warren Weaver and the Rockefeller Foundation, the organization whose interest in the “science of life” helped prompt Pauling away from his early successes on the structure of crystals in favor of investigations into biological topics.

So too will users learn about Pauling’s sometimes caustic confrontations with Dorothy Wrinch, whose cyclol theory of protein structure was a source of intense objection for Pauling and his colleague, Carl Niemann.  Speaking of colleagues, the website also delves into the fruitful collaboration enjoyed between Pauling and his Caltech co-worker, Robert Corey.  The controversy surrounding Pauling’s interactions with another associate, Herman Branson, are also explored on the proteins website.

Linus Pauling shaking hands with Peter Lehman in front of two models of the alpha-helix. 1950s.

Linus Pauling shaking hands with Peter Lehman in front of two models of the alpha-helix. 1950s.

Much is known about Pauling’s famously lost “race for DNA,” contested with Jim Watson, Francis Crick and a handful of others in the UK.  Less storied is the long running competition between Pauling’s laboratory and an array of British proteins researchers, waged several years before Watson and Crick’s breakthrough.  That triumph, the double helix, was inspired by Pauling’s alpha helix, discovered one day when Linus lay sick in bed, bored and restless as he fought off a cold. (This was before the vitamin C days, of course.)

Illustration of the antibody-antigen framework, 1948.

Illustration of the antibody-antigen framework, 1948.

Many more discoveries lie in waiting for those interested in the history of molecular biology: the invention of the ultracentrifuge by The Svedberg; Pauling’s long dalliance with a theory of antibodies; his hugely important concept of biological specificity; and the contested notion of coiled-coils, an episode that once again pit Pauling versus Francis Crick.

Linus Pauling and the Structure of Proteins constitutes a major addition to the Pauling canon. It is an enormously rich resource that will suit the needs of many types of researchers, students and educators. It is, in short, a fitting birthday present for history’s only recipient of two unshared Nobel Prizes.

Happy birthday, Dr. Pauling!

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The Fate of Oxypolygelatin

An original container of 5% Oxypolygelatin in normal saline. 1940s.

During World War II, Linus Pauling, along with Dan H. Campbell and Joseph B. Koepfli, created a blood plasma substitute which they dubbed “oxypolygelatin.” This new compound seemed to be an acceptable substitute for human blood, but needed more testing to be approved by the Plasma Substitute Committee. Unfortunately when Pauling asked for additional funds to carry out more testing in 1945, he was denied by the Committee on Medical Research, which had been funding research up until that point.

By the time Pauling received more funding the war had almost come to a close, and it ended before oxypolygelatin got off the ground as an acceptable blood substitute. Likewise, the need for artificial blood was less pressing after the conclusion of the war. More information on the creation and manufacture of oxypolygelatin can be found in our blog posts “Blood and War: The Development of Oxypolygelatin, Part 1,” and “Pauling on the Homefront: The Development of Oxypolygelatin, Part 2.” Today’s post will focus on the patenting, ownership and uses of oxypolygelatin after World War II.

Pauling seemingly gave up on the project after 1946, mostly because widespread blood drives organized by the Red Cross and other organizations lessened the demand for artificial blood. In 1946 Pauling, Campbell and Koepfli decided to file for a patent on oxypolygelatin and its manufacturing process, which they then transferred to the California Institute Research Foundation with the stipulation that one of the inventors would be consulted before entering into any license agreement. They also noted that the Institute should collect reasonable royalties for the use of the invention, but only so much as was needed to protect the integrity of the invention.

The “Blood Substitute and Method of Manufacture” patent was filed December 4, 1946, and the Trustees of the Institute agreed to take on ownership of oxypolygelatin and the patent application in early 1947.

Notes by Linus Pauling on a method for producing oxypolygelatin. July 23, 1943.

Although it would appear that Pauling gave up on the oxypolygelatin project with the transfer of ownership, he still pushed for its manufacture years later. In October 1951, he wrote to Dr. I. S. Ravdin of the Department of Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School to inform him that oxypolygelatin was not being considered seriously enough by the medical world as a blood substitute.

Pauling insisted, “…that it is my own opinion that Oxypolygelatin is superior to any other plasma extender now known.” He likewise noted that it was the only plasma extender to which the government possessed an irrevocable, royalty-free license, so he could not understand why it was not being stockpiled and utilized.

As far as Pauling knew, only Don Baxter, Inc., of Glendale, California, was manufacturing oxypolygelatin. At this point the rights to oxypolygelatin were owned by the California Institute Research Foundation, not Pauling, and the Institute was not authorized to make a profit from it. Consequently, Pauling’s insistence on the production and usage of his invention can only be explained by a concern for humanity, coupled perhaps with an urge to see the compound succeed on a grander scale.

Later in 1951, Pauling continued to push for the usage of his invention, arguing in a February letter to Dr. E.C. Kleiderer that oxypolygelatin was superior to the plasma substitutes periston and dextran. In Pauling’s opinion “the fate of periston and dextran in the human body is uncertain…these substances may produce serious injuries to the organs, sometime after their injection.”

Oxypolygelatin, on the other hand, was rapidly hydrolyzed into the bloodstream and would not cause long-term damage. It was also a liquid at room temperature, unlike other gelatins, and was sterilized with hydrogen peroxide to kill any pyrogens (fever-inducing substances) while many other gelatin preparations failed because of pyrogenicity. One of the only problems with oxypolygelatin was that the chemical action of glyoxal and hydrogen peroxide could potentially produce undesirable materials, but the matter could be cleared up with further investigation.

It appears that Pauling’s interactions with Ravdin and Kleiderer did not result in the mass manufacture or marketing success of oxypolygelatin, but this did not deter Pauling from pursuing the matter many years later. In 1974, after visiting Dr. Ma Hai-teh in Peking, China, he sent Ma his published paper on oxypolygelatin, and discussed the possible production of the substance in China. He wrote to Ma, “I hope that you can interest the biochemists and pharmacologists in investigating Oxypolygelatin. I may point out that no special apparatus or equipment is needed.”

In reply, Ma expressed interest in oxypolygelatin and said that he had passed Pauling’s paper on to a group of biochemists, but that he was personally more interested in Pauling’s work on vitamin C. The rest of their correspondence focused primarily on the benefits of vitamin C, especially in the treatment of psoriasis.

In a 1991 interview with Thomas Hager, author of the Pauling biography Force of Nature, Pauling claimed, “I patented, with a couple of other people in the laboratory, the oxypolygelatin. I don’t remember when I had the idea of making oxypolygelatin. Perhaps in 1940 or thereabouts.” He added that it was not approved by the Plasma Substitute Committee, so it was not usable for humans, but was manufactured instead for veterinary use.

At the time of the interview, Pauling believed that oxypolygelatin was still being manufactured in some places, but was unsure of the details since there were many rumors floating around. According to him, the Committee on Plasma Substitutes did not approve his oxypolygelatin because it wasn’t homogenous; meaning that, on the molecular level, it included a range of weights. Pauling, however, believed that the range in molecular weights should not matter, since naturally occurring blood plasma includes serum albumin and serum globulin, whose molecular weights fall in a wide range anyway.

Joseph Koepfli

In 1992 Hager also interviewed Joseph Koepfli, one of the co-inventors of oxypolygelatin. Koepfli claimed that oxypolygelatin was at one time used by motorcycle officers around L.A. because they were the first to the scene of accidents. He also remembered that, in the early 1980s, Pauling had told him that oxypolygelatin was used for years in North Korea, but that no one was ever paid any royalties.

These and a few other rumors about oxypolygelatin circulated, but evaluating their worth is virtually impossible due to the secrecy surrounding wartime scientific work, as well as the scarcity and ambiguity of the surviving documentation. Judging from Pauling’s opinions though, what can be said is that perhaps if it had been pursued more vigorously, oxypolygelatin could have benefited the war effort and proven successful on a commercial level.

The Paulings in Latin America, 1940s – 1950s

La Prensa, (Mexico City) September 6, 1949.

[Part 1 of 5]

Throughout his long career as a scientist and peace advocate, Linus Pauling’s work took him all over the world, not excluding Latin America, to which he traveled multiple times. In fact, of the nineteen countries which today constitute Latin America, the only ones which Pauling did not visit were Ecuador, Honduras, Paraguay and Uruguay.

During his trips to the southern hemisphere he typically gave speeches on familiar topics including hemoglobin, the architecture of molecules, orthomolecular medicine, nuclear weapons and, of course, vitamin C. He also frequently advocated for human rights, speaking out against the incarceration of intellectuals in Argentina in the 1960s, urging the leaders of Latin America to resist the acquisition of nuclear weapons, and stressing the necessity for world peace and cooperation. Along the way, Pauling also received many awards, including membership in the Chilean Chemistry Society, the National Medal of the Chilean Senate and honorary citizenship of Puerto Rico.

In September 1949, on one of his earliest trips to Latin America, Pauling traveled to Mexico City to attend the Western Continental Congress for Peace. At the conference, Pauling delivered an address as the United States delegate, as well as a second speech titled, “Man – An Irrational Animal.”

In his delegate’s address, Pauling pointed out that the purpose of the conference was to work towards “permanent, world-wide peace” as well as to foster more effective cooperation between the people of the Americas. From his perspective as a scientist, Pauling felt that he could see order everywhere in the natural world, except for the seeming self-destructiveness of the human race. Pauling felt that the fight for peace included the fight for human rights, and that it was every individual’s responsibility to contribute. However, he believed that scientists should play a special role, suggesting that “the world looks to science for the ultimate solution of the threatening natural problems that menace it.”

At the Mexico City conference, Pauling also argued that scientists needed more freedom in order to focus their energy on solving problems such as world hunger, rather than on the preparation for and conducting of war. He likewise stressed that the United Nations needed to be more powerful, so that it could not be dominated by one or two great powers. To do this, Pauling rationalized, participating nations should transfer part of their sovereignty to the UN in order to form a democratic world government. At the end of the address, Pauling again stressed that world peace must be a democratic and collective undertaking, proclaiming that

It is we, the people, who now have the duty of working for peace, for the welfare and happiness of human beings everywhere. If another devastating world war comes, it will be because we, the people of the world, have failed. We must not fail.

On the same day that he delivered his address as a delegate, Pauling also gave a second speech “Man – An Irrational Animal.” In this talk, he reiterated his “deep interest in the structure of the material world,” and appreciation of the harmony and the workings of nature, but again suggested that the world of man was an anomaly to nature’s pattern of balance and structure. Pauling lamented that “we see groups of men, who make up the nations of the world, devoting the material wealth of the world and the intellectual powers of man, the ‘rational’ animal, not for the welfare of mankind, but for destruction.”

He attributed most of the problems that existed during the time to the struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States, pointing out that nearly ten percent of the world’s income was being used for war or preparation for war. He also stressed that, in the U. S., the fear of communism or any form of liberal thought was prohibiting many scientists from finding work in universities and the private sector alike. Pauling’s solution to the problems of the era was to propose that more funds be channeled toward UNESCO’s peace efforts, and that less be spent on war.

Pauling’s participation in the Mexico City assembly managed to rankle both the U. S. government as well as his fellow delegates.  As it turns out, unbeknownst to Pauling, the Western Continental Congress for Peace was  a Communist-organized gathering, and was accurately criticized as such back home.  In biographer Thomas Hager‘s words,

…that, of course, did not bother the Paulings.  They loved Mexico City – Ava Helen was becoming an admirer of folk art from around the world and spent time combing the mercados for pieces to add to her collection – but were less enthusiastic about the meeting, which seemed to consist of speech after long-winded speech defending the Soviet Union and attacking the United States.  His keynote address ranged from standard socialist anti-imperialism…to a purposeful and carefully evenhanded denouncement of both the United States’ and USSR’s policies of curtailing freedom and preparing for war.  The audience, expecting another one-sided attack on the Yankees, responded with lukewarm applause.

Pauling’s next visit to Latin America came about in May 1955, when Linus and Ava Helen were invited to a conference at the University of Puerto Rico by the Chancellor of the University, Jaime Benitez. At the meeting, Pauling gave three speeches: “The Hemoglobin Molecule in Health and Disease,” “The Structure of Proteins,” and “Technology and Democracy.”

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling posing with an unidentified group. Los Canos, Puerto Rico, 1955.

In “Technology and Democracy” – of the three, the only talk that he did not give on a regular basis to many other groups – Pauling commented that it was impossible for people to consider themselves “cultured” if they did not know about the sciences as well as about the rest of the world. He argued that “non-scientists, too, should be people of culture who have an understanding of the world, and this they cannot be without a knowledge of science.” Pauling also urged that more science be included in the curricula of elementary schools, and at a more advanced level. Pauling felt that people should be more interested in science because “knowledge of the nature of the world in which we live contributes to our happiness.”

Pauling’s trips to Mexico and Puerto Rico were just the beginning of an extensive political and scientific relationship that he maintained with Latin America.  In the coming weeks, we will take a closer look at several of his Ava Helen’s many visits to countries south of the border, from the 1960s through the 1980s.

“Force of Nature,” now available as an e-book

Tom Hager

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 BlogHow 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.


Tom Hager maintains a blog at his homepage, http://thomashager.net  The e-book version of Force of Nature is available here at Amazon.com.