EVEN AMONG THE RANKS OF superachievers, Linus Pauling, who died of prostate cancer on Aug. 19 at his home in Big Sur, Calif., was a maverick. Equal parts scientist and humanist, he combined sheer intellect with charisma. Known as the champion of vitamin C, he was the only person to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes—one in 1954 for his work on how atoms bond to form molecules, and another in 1962 for his efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation. And he is probably the only man in history to be awarded his high school diploma (in 1962) after winning two Nobels.
Born in 1901 in Portland, Ore., the son of a pharmacist and a homemaker, Pauling quit high school only a couple of credits short of graduation, as a protest against taking what he considered useless courses. He preferred to spend time on his own chemistry experiments. "Our mother was always quite upset when the most awful odors would come up from the basement," says Pauling's sister Pauline Emmett, 92. He got a Ph.D. from Caltech, and his theories on chemical bonding eventually earned him the label of genius from none other than Albert Einstein.
For all his fame as a scientist, Pauling remained a lifelong critic of his profession. "Most problems in the modern world are the result of the contributions of science," he once said. What he had in mind mostly was nuclear weapons. On the day in April 1962 when he was invited to dinner with other Nobel laureates by President Kennedy, he spent the afternoon picketing outside the White House for an end to nuclear testing.
Pauling may be best-known, however, as the passionate advocate of vitamin C, which he said would ward off colds if taken in massive doses. The controversy—and skepticism—stirred by his 1970 book, Vitamin C and the Common Cold, didn't prevent him from subsequently claiming that the pills could also help fight heart disease and cancer. "I say my ideas are invaluable," explained Pauling, undaunted to the end. "But they're not so obviously valuable that they're immediately accepted."
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