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Selected personal letters of Max Perutz are released in new book

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. Nobel Prize-winning scientist Max Perutz was a campaigner for humanitarian causes, essayist, and advocate of science. A compilation of his personal letters has just been released by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. Selected and edited by his daughter Vivien Perutz, the letters in the book What a Time I am Having: Selected Letters of Max Perutz chronicle his adventurous life through his own vivid, erudite, and humorous pen.

"My father was a prolific letter writer," Vivien wrote in the book's preface. "He nurtured his skills as a writer from his teenage years, first in letters he wrote to an English girl friend and later to his family, honing his ability to tell a good story and to breathe life into his observations of people and places."

With a backdrop of family and friends, politics and war, literature, travels, and Max's beloved mountains, the letters provide rare insight into the thoughts of a remarkable and very human scientist, and delightful sketches of some of the people he encountered. In particular, the book documents the hopes, roadblocks, and moments of elation of Max's 60-year quest to understand the molecular biology of hemoglobin. His discovery of the structure of the molecule earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1962.

The letters also reveal some of Max's experiences while an "enemy alien" interned in Canada during World War II, his super-secret war work for the British to build a floating ice airstrip in the North Atlantic, his ardent campaigning letters to scientists and politicians, and his self-deprecating stories of his own mishaps written to amuse his children and grandchildren. Rounding out the book are many photos, a timeline of Max's life, a list of people with whom he corresponded (including the British Queen and Prime Minister), and a memoir by David Blow, a research student who worked for Max for many years. Although some of the letters deal with scientific details, they have been edited for a non-technical audience.

This volume will appeal to those interested in the history of science and the development of molecular biology. Related books include Max's I Wish I'd Made You Angry Earlier: Essays on Science, Scientists, and Humanity ( and Georgina Ferry's Max Perutz and the Secret of Life (


Contact: Ingrid Benirschke
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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