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Diary

M.F. Perutz: Memories of J.D.Bernal

6 July 2000
... In 1936, after four years of chemistry at Vienna University, I took the train to Cambridge to seek out the Great Sage, and asked him: ‘How can I solve the riddle of life?’ ‘The riddle of life is in the structure of proteins,’ he replied, ‘and it can be solved only by X-ray crystallography.’ The Great Sage was John Desmond Bernal, a flamboyant Irishman with a mane of fair hair, crumpled ...
6 June 1985
The Limits of Science 
by Peter Medawar.
Oxford, 108 pp., £7.50, February 1985, 0 19 217744 3
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... Medawar presents an erudite and entertaining account of the limits of science, or mostly the lack of them, as perceived by great thinkers from Francis Bacon to Karl Popper and himself. His arguments are couched in largely epistemological terms which do not arouse my passions, but they stimulated me to think about those limits that affect laymen’s attitudes to science, about the practical limits scientists ...

Dangerous Misprints

M.F. Perutz

26 September 1991
Genome 
by Jerry Bishop and Michael Waldholz.
Touchstone, 352 pp., £8.99, September 1991, 0 671 74032 6
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... We are now within reach of being able to map all the genes on the human chromosomes, some hundred thousand of them maybe, and to decipher all the genetic information that defines a human being. This will include its sex, the chemistry of its body and its predisposition to a variety of diseases, but not, at least not yet, its personality. All this information is laid down in the human germ cells. Each ...

Lab Lib

M.F. Perutz

19 April 1984
Rutherford: Simple Genius 
by David Wilson.
Hodder, 639 pp., £14.95, February 1984, 0 340 23805 4
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... Rutherford was one of my early heroes, and Wilson’s biography of this great and lovable man has enlivened and enlarged, rather than debunked, my youthful image. Rutherford was the man who created the atomic age: a farmer’s boy from New Zealand whose brilliance and Herculean energy brought him the Presidency of the Royal Society, a peerage, and honours from all over the world. Wilson goes a long ...

True Science

M.F. Perutz

19 March 1981
Advice to a Young Scientist 
by P.B. Medawar.
Harper and Row, 109 pp., £4.95, February 1980, 0 06 337006 9
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... This is a guide book to the scientific scene, full of urbane wisdom, happy phrases and entertaining examples. ‘How can I tell if I am cut out to be a scientist?’ Medawar asks. He dismisses curiosity (it killed the cat) and suggests that scientists need something for which ‘exploratory impulsion’ is not too grand a name. But what about delight and wonder at the works of nature? Without these ...

Spying made easy

M.F. Perutz

25 June 1987
Klaus Fuchs: The man who stole the atom bomb 
by Norman Moss.
Grafton, 216 pp., £12.95, April 1987, 0 246 13158 6
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... On 10 September 1949 Michael Perrin, one of the heads of the British Atomic Energy Programme, was woken up by an urgent telephone call asking him to come to the communications room at the US Embassy in London. There his opposite number in the Pentagon asked that an RAF plane be sent to the upper atmosphere to check radioactivity detected by the US Air Force that appeared to signal a Soviet atomic explosion ...

Havens

Daniel Kevles

17 August 1989
Thinking about science: Max Delbrück and the Origins of Molecular Biology 
by Ernst Peter Fischer and Carol Lipson.
Norton, 334 pp., £13.95, January 1989, 9780393025088
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Is science necessary? Essays on Science and Scientists 
by M.F. Perutz.
Barrie and Jenkins, 285 pp., £14.95, July 1989, 0 7126 2123 7
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... Darwin – despite his protestations to the contrary – had strong theoretical inclinations, but he constantly tested and modified his ideas against an enormous array of observational data. Max Perutz, who was for many years the director of the Medical Research Council Unit for Molecular Biology at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, had a front-row seat during many innings of molecular ...

German Scientist

M.F. Perutz

8 January 1987
The Dilemmas of an Upright Man: Max Planck as Spokesman for German Science 
by J.L. Heilbron.
California, 250 pp., £14.50, July 1986, 0 520 05710 4
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... The dilemmas referred to in the title of this book were those faced by a leading German scientist who believed in his country right or wrong even when that country became the embodiment of evil. Max Planck is famous to this day for his introduction of the quantum theory. He was born in 1858 in Kiel, which was then part of Denmark. One of his formative memories was the triumphant entry in 1864 of Bismarck’s ...

War on Heisenberg

M.F. Perutz

18 November 1993
Heisenberg’s War: The Secret History of the German Bomb 
by Thomas Powers.
Cape, 610 pp., £20, April 1993, 0 224 03641 6
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Operation Epsilon: The Farm Hall Transcripts 
introduced by Charles Frank.
Institute of Physics, 515 pp., £14.95, May 1993, 0 7503 0274 7
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... Did the German physicists make no atomic bombs during the Second World War because they wouldn’t or because they couldn’t? This is the question which Powers addresses in his extensive study of German atomic research: a question finally answered by the recent publication of the secretly recorded conversations between Heisenberg and the other German atomic physicists interned at Farm Hall, near Huntingdon ...

Patriotic Work

M.F. Perutz

27 September 1990
Memoirs 
by Andrei Sakharov, translated by Richard Lourie.
Hutchinson, 776 pp., £19.99, July 1990, 0 09 174636 1
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... This book betrays two very different Sakharovs who hardly seem to have communicated with each other. The first was the cold-blooded inventor of the Russian hydrogen bombs; the second was the fearless leader of the Russian intelligentsia’s struggle for human rights. For twenty years, from 1948 until his dismissal in 1968, Sakharov masterminded the scientific groundwork for the development and perfection ...

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