Brenda Maddox

You Never Know

Max Perutz and the Secret of Life

By

Chatto & Windus 349pp £25 order from our bookshop

This biography ends just the way I hoped it would, with Max Perutz’s closing comment on Desert Island Discs. When in June 2000 Sue Lawley asked the Austrian-born Nobel laureate, then in his late eighties, what luxury he would take to his desert island, he replied: ‘A pair of skis. You never know – it might snow.’

Such merriment, with its Viennese overtones, summed up the remarkable personality of a scientist known for his niceness. Perutz was a Jew, born in 1914 to a family of textile manufacturers, who (like Gustav Mahler) found it useful to be Catholic in an anti-Semitic society. However, baptism did not save him from being thought of as a Jew by his fellow students at the University of Vienna, where he studied chemistry. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,
    • 'Bythell glowers past his till at a world in slow free fall.' on the travails of a second-hand book… ,
    • 'It is a scent of animal wrath, of instinctive need, of brutal life which affects the cultured nostrils of our civi… ,
    • 'The day produced countless stories of chance, of people taking one route or another without realising that the dec… ,
    • In this month's 'Silenced Voices', looks at the case of Azimjon Askarov, the journalist and human rights… ,