Max Perutz and the Secret of Life by Georgina Ferry - review by Brenda Maddox

Brenda Maddox

You Never Know

Max Perutz and the Secret of Life

By

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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. 

In October 1936 Perutz shifted to Cambridge, not as a refugee but as a budding scientist in a search of better training in organic biochemistry than could be had in Vienna. He liked the place. As he later said, ‘It was Cambridge that made me, and I am forever grateful.’

He

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