Recorded: 23 Jun 2000
And so he thought, “If I take the money that they offer me to write an autobiography, and pay somebody to write my biography, then I get it all done.” So he called me, knowing that he was already very sick. And he called me late 1980, December, and I agreed to visit him, I came in February 81, and in march 81 he died, and while I was visiting him in California I agreed that I should make all efforts to write his book, and he had written a nice letter, saying that he wants me to write his biography, and when he died I could take this letter and send it to some funding institutions and they gave me a scholarship to write Max Delbruck’s biography, I was supported very much by the family, Manny Delbruck, she bought me a computer, which at this time was still a very clumsy thing, but nevertheless you could start writing a book, write a text in the computer with wordstyle as the first program was called. And so all the sudden I was changing my life, I left the bench science, I was no longer doing experimental work in biophysics, what I was doing at the University of Kostanz, but all of the sudden I started to write biography of Max Delbruck, I finished this, this book was published, actually in two different versions which is very strange, because I was writing this more for Manny Delbruck than for anyone else, and she could not really read German very well, I decided to write it in English, but of course, it turned out to be broken English. So I had 500 pages of broken English, and I handed this to a professor of English, Carol Lipson, the wife of a colleague of mine at Caltech, a post doc of Max’s. so Carol Lipson converted my broken English version to a literary English version and this book was published in English, thinking about science, and I took my broken English version and translated it into German, so there are two different versions of Max Delbruck’s biography, the German version which of course emphasizes more aspects that are important for the Germans, like what he did at the University of Kostanz, how he switched when he was a young boy from high school to university, and the American version stresses more certain scientific aspects like making jokes with the genetic code that don’t translate very well into English.
Ernst Peter Fischer, Professor of the History of Science at the University of Constance since 1994. He studied mathematics and physics in Cologne and biology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He earned Ph.D. in biology and qualified as a professor in the history of science.
He has published biographies of Max Delbrück, Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli and James D. Watson and received several awards for his scientific publications. Fischer is an author of such books as "Die andere Bildung", "Selling science - The history of Boehringer Mannheim" and "Das Genom" - an introduction into modern genome research.
He has been honoured with the Heinrich-Bechold-Medaille (1980), Preis der wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft Freiburg (1981); Lorenz-Oken-Medaille (2002), Treviranus-Medaille (2003) and Eduard-Rhein-Kulturpreis (2003).