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Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling

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Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling
By Thomas Hager. Simon & Schuster: 1995. ISBN: 0684809095

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - January 18, 2002

Doctor Linus Pauling was a scientific dynamo who was born in 1901, he died on August 19, 1994 at the age of 93. Not only did Pauling make important contributions to the fields of chemistry, biology, physics, immunology, and medicine, but he also worked to ban nuclear testing. Pauling received two, unshared, Noble Prizes for his work. In 1954 he was awarded a Noble Prize in Chemistry, and in 1962 he was awarded the Noble Prize for Peace for his efforts to ban nuclear testing. Despite his scientific discoveries, and his the efforts to engender world peace, Pauling is perhaps best known for his outspoken advocacy of the use of Vitamin C to treat just about everything from the common cold to cancer.

In this marvelously written biography, Thomas Hager provides an in-depth and riveting account of the life and work of Linus Pauling. Many myths surround Pauling's life. In this book, Hager separates the myths from the man, presenting the definitive biography of Pauling. In the writing of the book, Hager was aided by Pauling, who, among other things, provided Hager with access to his private papers. Pauling also engaged in intensive discussions with Hager, about his life and his work. Hager was also fortunate in being able to interview scores of people who knew and worked with Pauling. In researching this comprehensive biography, Hager also perused a wealth of documents, both private and public, many of which have never been published.

Hager, a journalist, undertook a humongous task when he sought to chronicle Pauling's life. Pauling was a man of seemingly ceaseless energy, who led a fuller life than is the norm. Force of Nature not only details Pauling's scientific endeavors, but it also takes an intimate look at his life, and his loves. Including the tremendous impact that his wife, and former student, Ava Helen Miller, had, in his life in general, and in regard to entering the realm of political activism. His political activities were to rise the ire of the FBI, who embarked upon a 24-year investigation of Pauling's 'activities'.

Without doubt, Pauling was a remarkable man, and a pure genius. He was also a true Renaissance man. Although he was, technically, a chemist, his interested were broad, and he frequently engaged in study outside his primary field of study. His innate scientific abilities, and his drive to investigate anything that peaked his interest, resulted in a wealth of scientific advances across a range of fields. His work in chemistry alone was to have long-lasting effects on the course of scientific research, but these endeavors where merely the tip of a phenomenally deep ice-berg. This book clearly defines Pauling's scientific accomplishments, including his work that helped to develop new scientific disciplines, including, molecular biology, chemical physics, and ortho-molecular medicine.

Not just a scientist, Pauling was also a teacher who had a knack for translating complicated scientific ideas into terms that were readily understandable by non-scientist. Hager has captured the essences of Pauling's communication style, and has managed to explain the scientific foundations of Pauling's work in a clear, authoritative, and a comprehensible manner.

This book ably captures the spirit of Pauling's enthusiastic love of learning and exuberance upon making a discovery, and when sharing his knowledge with others. Throughout, this book is resplendent with the names of dozens of luminaries who Pauling worked and interacted with. Not only does this book present a compelling look at a fascinating man, but it also offers the reader an overview of the scientific advances and political changes that occurred during the 20th century.

I highly recommend this book. This entrancing narrative is marvelously suited for the general reader, due to the clear explanations of the scientific principles covered. It is well written, enthralling, and it provides a detailed look at a complicated man. Although it is obvious that Hager respected Pauling, he was able to step back and offer the reader an honest look at Pauling, including offering a candid appraisal of Pauling's numerous faults. Hager is also clear to point out, that while he has tried to be objective in writing this book, he did have to make some personal, interpretive decisions when deciding what to include and exclude from this book. Force of Nature shows Pauling as he was, an intellectual power house with strong moral and ethical beliefs, but who was also as a man with natural, human weaknesses. In short, Pauling was one of the top minds to have graced the Earth during the 20th century, and this biography offers one of the best overviews of Pauling's life now in existence.

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