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If you like Linus Pauling's story, you might also like:
Francis Collins,
Freeman Dyson,
Gertrude Elion,
Paul Farmer,
Murray Gell-Mann,
Eric Lander,
Robert Langer,
Leon Lederman,
Robert Lefkowitz,
Mario Molina,
George Rathmann,
Jonas Salk,
Glenn Seaborg,
John Sulston,
Edward Teller,
James Watson and
Edward O. Wilson

Linus Pauling's recommended reading: The War of the Worlds

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Linus Pauling in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Advocacy & Citizenship
Meet a Nobel Laureate
The Power of Words

Related Links:
Nobel Prize
Profiles in Science
Pauling Institute

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Linus Pauling
Linus Pauling
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Linus Pauling Interview (page: 2 / 9)

Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Peace

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  Linus Pauling

You've mentioned reading books about natural science and history. Did you read any fiction as a young man? Was there anything that captivated you in other ways?

Linus Pauling Interview Photo
Linus Pauling: Oh, yes. I read almost any book that I could get hold of. When I was up in Corvallis just recently, I mentioned to the people in the library at Oregon Agricultural College -- it's now Oregon State University -- that in a sense I owed my general education to the library at Oregon Agricultural College. I can remember many of the books that I read I got from the library in succession, all of the plays that Shaw had written. I can remember reading Voltaire's poems -- I studied French in college -- and there were many other books. I read the romances, there was one that came out while I was still in high school, The Girl of the Limberlost, just a love story. I rather liked those.

I bought the Saturday Evening Post nearly every week if I had a nickel that I could spare, and read the stories in the Saturday Evening Post. One of them, I realized later, had been written by an author who collaborated with a well-known American physicist. The physicist was Wood, professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University. It was called The Man Who Rocked the World. It was about someone who had discovered a way to make a substance radioactive, to induce radioactivity. And there was a cliff in Greenland, I think, containing the substance that could be made radioactive by this method. So the plot involved a man having the idea that he would illuminate this cliff in such a way that the radioactive particles were shot out and that could shift the axis of rotation of the earth. So he was using this to blackmail the countries, the people of the whole world, into paying tribute to him.

And I remember a series of stories about a boy who had an extraordinary memory. He apparently could recall memories in such a way that he saw the scenes that he had viewed at some earlier time. So he was called in to help solve problems such as discovering a criminal by recalling a scene and pointing out some features that weren't in his conscious memory before. I learned later this is called eidetic memory, when you can see a scene as though it were on a television screen in your mind. I read everything I could get my hands on about it.

What interested you so much about the story of the boy with the amazing memory? Something to do with your curiosity about the world?

Linus Pauling: Yes. The boy was called Marcus Aurelius Fortunatus Todd, and I suppose I identified with him, being the hero, providing the solution to a problem. But it's something like reading detective stories, which I liked to do. Early science fiction, Argosy magazine, mainly sort of adventure stories, but some of them could be called early science fiction. And, of course Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

Which of Wells's stories did you like the most?

Linus Pauling: I can't say which I liked the most at the time I read them. I probably liked all of them, but of course I've re-read them since then. The War of the Worlds, for example. I think that was the one in which these flying machines came over at the tremendous height of four hundred feet above the ground and dropped bombs. I remember one of his stories where there were large speakers at the street corners for advertising, saying, "Buy Glaxo cold medicine and control your cold," and things like that! He anticipated many developments just as did the other writers of science fiction.

I have given up reading novels, romantic novels because it seems to me there is nothing new. I have read it all before, and I am no longer very interested anyway. And the same thing is true of science fiction stories. It seems to me the plots of the new science fiction stories are all plots that I have run across before.

Looking back on your childhood years and early college years, is there anything you would have done differently?

Linus Pauling Interview Photo
Linus Pauling: I was fortunate. I don't think there is anything that I would have done differently. I regret that my mother was having so much financial trouble, and I could answer by saying that I should have gone on in the machine shop business and helped my mother more. Actually, I did borrow a thousand dollars from my uncle in order that the elder of my two sisters could have a year at Oregon Agricultural College. I don't think she liked it very well. She was a very smart person, and she may have been handicapped by not having much money too.

In working yourself through school, were there some things that you learned? Did you get a perspective that you would have missed if your family had been more fortunate financially?

Linus Pauling: Well, I'm sure that I got in the habit of working, and not being lazy, not wasting my time.

In the third term of my freshman year, when my mother was no longer sending me money, I was able to make 25 dollars a month -- which was barely enough for me to get by with -- by working 100 hours a month chopping wood and cutting up quarters of beef for the girls' dormitory. Chopping wood for the wood burning stoves in the kitchen of the girls' dormitory and cutting the beef for them and mopping the kitchens every night. And, in order to do this, to work 100 hours a month at a job for 25 cents an hour and to keep up with my studies, it was necessary that I not waste any hours during the day. So, I think I developed the habit of working.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

My success in solving scientific problems I think is the result of two qualities that I have. One is that of being able to formulate or discover problems. The other is that of being able to make a decision as to what problems I might be able to solve, and which I probably will not be able to solve, so that I don't waste time on those.

Do you have any idea how you developed those traits?

Linus Pauling: Well, I have some idea.

As the years have gone by, starting quite early, I realized I tried to formulate a picture of the universe. In a sense, a theory of everything. Whenever I hear something new, I try to fit it into the picture that I have already formed of the universe. If it fits in, well and good, I don't need to worry about it. But, if it doesn't fit in, then I ask, "Why doesn't it fit in with my ideas about how the universe ought to be operating?" I'd better try to find the answer to that. So, then I can ask, "How well is my background of knowledge and experience, such that I have a reasonable chance of finding the answer?" And if it isn't, then I say, "Well, perhaps someone else will make some progress with that idea, but I better go on with the others." So, I have lots of ideas. I do a lot of scientific reading, and quite often, every week perhaps, I read about something that someone is reporting that puzzles me. So I have a big pile of questions of this sort that I would like to settle down to work on.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

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