A Surprise from the ACS

I was in San Francisco last week, attending the American Chemical Society’s national meeting. They gave me their national writing award. This, to me, was both welcome and surprising. The ACS is not a group that I’ve been particularly close with over the years. In fact, sort of the opposite. It’s not a huge deal either way, but the story is this: The first major book I ever wrote (as a solo author) was Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling, a biography of a former ACS President (and certified genius, and all-around great guy). After the book came out in 1995, it was only natural that one of the organization’s main magazines — Chemical and Engineering News — would review it.

They did. Unfortunately for me, it turned out to be the worst review the book got anywhere. It was written by an eminent chemist and colleague of Pauling’s — so far, so good — whom I had interviewed for the book and who showed up as a character. He didn’t like what I’d written about him (as I remember it, he was in one of one of the book’s darker chapters, quibbled over his portrayal, and didn’t like the quotes I’d used from our interview). The magazine’s decision to use a reviewer who is a character in the book seemed to me like a basic mistake, and I told the editor so. The response was more or less to be quiet and go away. I did not feel happy about this.

After that, the magazine ignored every book I wrote.

So it came as a nice surprise when the ACS informed me that they were giving me this year’s Grady-Stack award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public. It’s kind of a big deal, given (along with many other scientific awards) at a big banquet, replete with tuxedos and steak. It was a lovely evening, with great people

The award came about because one man, Doug Dollemore, a former fellow UO Journalism School grad who now works at the ACS headquarters in Washington, D.C., pushed my nomination for years, and must have worn everybody down. Plus my books are just that good.

Thanks, Doug! I had a great time and enjoyed the banquet. And thanks, ACS!