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The Nobel Prize: A History of Genius , Controversy and Prestige Hardcover – November 2, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-1559705370 ISBN-10: 155970537X Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 489 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; 1st edition (November 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155970537X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559705370
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,353,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

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 Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Burton Feldman, hitherto a historian of ideas, here takes a stroll through the history of the most consistently prestigious accolade of the twentieth century- the Nobel Prize. The book is fast paced and gives a nice balance of gossip, information, and speculation, touching as well on the accomplishments of at least some of the laureates. The Nobels can be used as a cultural history of the last 100 years, or as a straight forward history, or as a gossipy expose-- scandals of the rich and prizegiving! Feldman tries to give a bit of each. His information on the prizes was accurate, so far as I could tell, and he does an honest job in trying to assess achievement in Peace, Lit, Physics, Chemistry and Econ. For some one with little background in these fields, he has accomplished a good deal. He misses some of the best anecdotes in Physics and Chem, clearly alien corn to him, but does a decent enough job. His treatment of the econ memorial prize is fun, but too brief and unfocussed to tell us much, and his comments about Paul Samuelson are both unfair and inaccurate (compared to some other econ prizewinners, Samuelson has been a veritable Tiresias in his predictions).He is fairly good in covering objections to the Econ prize, but never really marshals the reasoning. Thus his catalogue will cause reflection in those already familiar with the arguments, but will be cryptic to others. In his section on the Peace prize his choice of anecdotes seems arbitrary, and rather skewed to the political right. He also misses quite basic information on the prize, including facts given on the Nobel's own website. He gives the most attention to literature, unsurprisingly, spending most of his time berating the committee for overlooking various authors.Read more ›
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Declan Hayes on October 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
Burton Feldman's absorbing book gives us a brief history of Alfred Nobel, the prizes his fortune funded, as well as fascinating details on those who won these cherished prizes. As the author explains, the Nobel Prize's combination of wealth, pomp and prestige lends it greater credibility than, say, The Fields medal, awarded every four years by the International Mathematical Union, which is much harder to win.

Scandal has also helped. The tale of Marie Curie, a double Nobel Prize winner, whose amazing rags to riches story was taken up by the French media, helped to spread the fame of the Nobel awards during the crucial early years. Curie won her prizes while nursing her child - and simultaneously having a brief affair with a fellow French physicist. After Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac, Pauling, Feynman and similar intellectual giants were also honored, the prestige of the Nobel Prize in Physics was assured forever.

The same cannot be said for the other prizes. Hitler was proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize - for not invading Austria in 1934. Around the same time, Charlie Chaplin was proposed for the Literature prize. Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce, Emile Zola, Mark Twain, Heinrik Ibsen, August Strinberg, Henry Adams, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Anton Chekhov, Gertrude Stein, Eugene Ionesco and Virginia Woolf were all denied the prize.

For anyone hoping to win the prize, it helps to have a good Swedish translation - better still if you are Swedish. Scandinavians have won the Literature Prize some fourteen times in all. The fact that one-seventh of all Nobel Literature prizes have gone to their compatriots is evidence, no doubt, of the comparative superiority of Nordic writing. Either that or it is a fix!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Irfan A. Alvi TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 24, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book apparently tries to accomplish three main goals: (a) teach key ideas of the subject matter covered by the Nobel prizes, (b) describe many specific Nobel prize winners and their accomplishments, and (c) provide gossipy information on why various people did and didn't receive the prize.

The result is a book which is long, detailed, and generally fascinating to all people with wide interests and appreciation for human achievement, but the attempt to accomplish all three goals simultaneously turns out to mean that none of them is ideally achieved. Instead, the book has a rather incoherent hodgepodge feel, with the reader often unclear about how one topic relates to the next. Moreover, much of the material is likely to be difficult to follow for readers who don't have at least some relevant background. Nevertheless, the book is still a major achievement because of the sheer breadth and depth of material it covers, and does so in a sufficiently sophisticated manner.

A book like this can't really be summarized, or at least I'm not up for trying, but one key finding is certainly that subjectivity and politics have been major factors in awarding the prizes, especially the literature and peace prizes, with the result that not all winners were equally deserving, and many deserving people were never winners (and I agree with another reviewer's comment that Einstein should have won three times).

But let's still be glad for the Nobel prizes (maybe even the pseudo-Nobel prize for economics), since they uplift human aspirations and ultimately help bring out the best in us.

Recommended, if this kind of thing is your cup of tea.
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