LINUS PAULING: A Life in Science and Politics by Ted & Ben Goertzel Goertzel

LINUS PAULING: A Life in Science and Politics

Email this review


A comprehensive but simplistic biography of the scientist, activist, double Nobel laureate, and controversial public figure. Ted Goertzel (Sociology/Rutgers Univ.) enlisted the help of his son, a mathematician, to finish this biographical work begun by his parents, Mildred and Victor, in the 1960s. The completed biography of Pauling (1901-1994) begins with a heavy emphasis on the scientist's mother's insistence that he leave school to support his fatherless family. Pauling refused his mother's wishes and effectively turned his back on her, completing his Ph.D. and settling at Caltech with a bright young wife who was totally devoted to him and to his work. Having established this seminal example of Pauling's single-minded independence, the Goertzels then apply it to explain most of Pauling's achievements. They divide his life into three sections: his early, important work on molecular structure and the nature of the chemical bond; his passionate (many thought pro-Communist) activism for a nuclear test ban and world peace; and his strange obsession, in later life, with vitamin C as a panacea for almost any disease, especially cancer and the common cold. Pauling emerges as a brilliant interpreter of scientific data but a predictable political rhetorician. He was a tireless self-promoter, a narcissist who threatened legal action at the vaguest hint of slander but remained a vocal proponent of freedom of speech. Lawsuits involving former collaborators clouded the end of his life, and though he remained popular abroad, the American public began to brand him as a flake. An odd appendix offers Pauling's Rorschach protocol as the book's only attempt to explore the personality behind the public figure. A stiff homage to a man whose complexities are only obliquely suggested here: a lot of what and who, with a maddening lack of why.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1995
ISBN: 0465006736
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Basic