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Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling

Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling

by Thomas Hager

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Linus Pauling (1901-1994), biochemist, peace activist, advocate of nuclear disarmament, champion of vitamin C as a remedy for colds and cancer, was a scientific genius who leaped the boundaries of physics, chemistry, biology and medicine, and in so doing helped to create whole new disciplines including molecular biology and chemical physics. In a balanced, captivating biography, freelance writer Hager skillfully leads the reader through Pauling's pioneering work in fields ranging from quantum theory to crystallography to immunology. Drawing on scores of interviews with Pauling, his family and his colleagues, and on the two-time Nobel Prize-winner's papers, Hager limns a fiercely competitive, emotionally constricted man, irreverent, audacious, sometimes self-righteous and bullying-a more complex figure than his public persona of maverick idealist. Though a self-professed lover of humanity, Pauling practically ignored his own children. His father, an ambitious Oregon druggist, worked himself to death at the age of 32, and his widowed, worn-out, delusional mother was committed to a mental ward shortly before her death. Drawing on a trove of newly declassified government documents, Hager tells the full story of the FBI's harassment and intimidation of Pauling for his leftist politics. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Pauling's scientific career spanned nearly the entire 20th century, from his revolutionary Nobel Prize-winning theories on the chemical bond to his controversial work on orthomolecular medicine and vitamin therapy, which continued up to his death in 1994. To many, however, he is best remembered as an ardent peace activist and a crusader for human rights, which brought him his second Nobel. Throughout his career, he was called a genius, a visionary, a Communist, and even a crank. Nothing about Pauling was simple or obvious. For a biographer, writing the life story of so enigmatic a figure is a great challenge and requires an almost epic effort. Neither of these two new biographies is strictly authorized, although Pauling cooperated to some degree in the writing of each. Hager's massive work invokes the broadest context and best portrays Pauling as a man of insight and conscience and a major player in science, politics, and society throughout some extraordinary times. A journalist, Hager made extensive use of Pauling's official archives in the library at Oregon State University and also drew upon reams of other primary sources, including formerly classified materials from the FBI and State Department. Hager does a superior job of fleshing out the details of Pauling's influences and motivations. He also interprets freely, especially in sections describing Pauling's political convictions, and, while some historians might quibble with certain interpretations, Hager backs them up with reference to primary literature. By contrast, the Goertzels' rendering is more factual and straightforward, and it is probably less vulnerable to being criticized for subjectivity. Like Hager, however, the authors (Ted, the father, is a sociology professor; Ben is a lecturer in cognitive science) can be both laudatory and critical of Pauling. Their book's greatest virtue is the lucid and methodological way it expounds Pauling's science, compared with Hager's somewhat discursive technical passages. The Goertzels' work might be the better choice for pedagogical purposes, but, overall, Hager's is better for the majority of general and informed lay readers. Either book is better than Anthony Serafini's Linus Pauling: A Man and his Science (LJ 3/15/89. o.p.). Of the third of these new releases, Linus Pauling in His Own Words, Pauling wrote, "This book will take me as close to writing my memoirs or autobiography as I shall ever get." The editor was a lifelong associate of Pauling and an employee at his Institute for Science and Medicine; her selections, arranged in four chronological sections, are both forceful and enlightening and full of resonant quotes, and her transitional text makes for smooth reading. The tone is openly deferential to Pauling (the book is dedicated to him); accordingly, it might appeal to fans and admirers, but its academic usefulness is minimal. Being released in tandem with Hager's book, however, it might ride on the latter's coattails.Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib.

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Simon & Schuster
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6.40(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.59(d)

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