Max Perutz wrote a great deal during long scientific life, but didn't get around to writing his autobiography. When he found he was terminally ill he approached Georgina Ferry
to write his biography. Max Perutz and the Secret of Life
is the result.
Ferry tells of Perutz's early struggles to establish himself. As a refugee from Nazi Austria he was deported as an enemy alien for a while. Fortunately there was great interest in molecular biology after World War II, and Perutz became head of a research group in Cambridge that became the Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Ferry describes the benefits of his style of management - hire good people and give them the resources they need - a style that led to Watson and Crick's discovery of the structure of DNA. The molecule that Perutz himself worked on was haemoglobin - we find out about the many years he spent trying to find it's structure, for which he won the Nobel prize, and then to work out how it transported oxygen. I felt that the fact that he did so much work on one molecule helped to add cohesion to the book. Ferry also looks at some of the negative sides of Perutz's character - how as he became more successful he would try to block those who disagreed with his ideas. Overall I felt that the book is a well written account of someone who played a significant part in the development of 20th century science.