From Publishers Weekly
If you had been awakened by an early-morning phone call this October to learn that you had just been awarded a Nobel Prize, you would have won a little under one million dollars and worldwide fame. However, if your sleep was undisturbed, you are in the company of Marcel Proust, Jonas Salk, Edwin Hubble, Joan Robinson, Mahatma GandhiAto name only a few world-renowned figures listed by Feldman who weren't awarded a prize. Feldman, who holds a Ph.D. in the history of science and ideas, surveys the history of the six illustrious prizes, which all sprang from a vague paragraph in dynamite king Alfred Nobel's will. The proceedings of the Swedish and Norwegian institutions that award the prizes are kept sealed, but Feldman, who uses earlier accounts containing leaks and interviews, analyzes the choices since 1901 to show the jostling for favorite candidates that occurs, and how prizes are often awarded to make a political statement, especially those for literature and peace. Feldman relies almost exclusively on secondary literature; his reluctance to interview living prize winners makes his otherwise carefully considered study less than definitive. The structure is occasionally flabby and the chapters on the science prizes are slightly technical, but the reader who isn't a science buff will get a valuable short course in the history of 20th-century science and medicine. 8 pages of illus. not seen by PW. (Dec.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Feldman relates the lively history of the most prestigious merit awards in consistently engaging fashion, touring its century-long existence forward from the will of dynamite mogul Alfred Nobel. That tersely phrased testament contains some quirky commandments, such as that the prizes be conferred on work done "in the year immediately preceding." Further, Nobel stipulated ambiguous criteria for each prize, which kindled controversy, especially in regard to the peace and literature prizes; the latter, for instance, supposedly goes to "work of an idealistic tendency." Turning to the track records of the physics, chemistry, and medicine awards, Feldman chronicles the evolving preferences of the Swedish awarding committees (e.g., their favoring of particle physics over astrophysics) and their quirks, exemplified by the truly bizarre awarding of the prize in medicine to the inventor of the lobotomy. In pointing out such mistakes, the mediocrities who got prizes, and the worthies--Emile Zola, Edwin Hubble, the Mahatma Gandhi, etc.--who didn't, Feldman reveals the human side of the Nobels. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved