Books by Anthony Serafini

The old-fashioned subtitle is appropriate for a biography of Pauling. He is clearly a very political man—winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962 for his antinuclear, antiwar crusades—and a very scientific man—winner of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1954 for his discovery of the alpha helix structure of proteins. He is also, some would add, a not-so-scientific man who touts the virtues of vitamin C for cancer and the common cold, and who earlier espoused megavitamin therapy for mental illness. Serafini (Philosophy & Religion/Centenary College, N.J.) has had the benefit of access to the public record, and to colleagues, opponents, and relatives, if not the Man himself. The result is a broad-stroke portrait that never quite gets to the heart of the matter of what makes Pauling Pauling. We learn that growing up was hard and life with his shrewish widowed mother in Portland, Ore., even harder; that he went off to the state Agricultural College, working at odd jobs and showing academic brilliance; and that in his senior year, he met and later married Ava Helen Miller. It was the very politically active, very, leftist Ava Helen who drew Pauling into politics and the later fierce encounters with Congress, William Buckley, Edward Teller, and even respected colleagues like geneticist Herman J. Muller. Clearly, Pauling loved the political limelight, the verbal lashings, and the inevitable lawsuits. He has also loved the scientific limelight, energized by a brilliant intuitive mind ready to jump to theory first, proof later. His genius lay in being right so often—in the nature of the chemical bond, in protein structure and sickle-cell anemia, for example. One is tempted to say that when he was good he was very very good and when he was bad he was horrid, for Serafini's narrative runs from tales of extreme kindness to those of extreme ruthessness. Pauling remains active today at the Linus Pauling Institute in Menlo Park, Cal., working on chemical structure, and, yes, Vitamin C. Isaac Asimov provides a personal memoir in an introduction in which he describes Pauling as the greatest chemist of the 20th century. Clearly, a man worth reading about. Read full book review >