CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 5. . . .October 1, 2010
The Nobel Prize: The Story of Alfred Nobel and the Most Famous Prize in the World.
Richmond Hill, ON: Firefly Books, 2010.
80 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
Nobel, Alfred Bernhard, 1833-1896.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by J. Lynn Fraser.
In clear prose, author Michael Worek relates the story of Alfred Nobel and the genesis of the Nobel Prizes that were the result of Nobel's creativity, wealth, and desire to acknowledge those who contributed to humanity in the fields of science, literature, peace and economics.
Young readers of this book will have a good overview of the individuals and the history of the Nobel Prize. The more controversial aspects of the individuals who have been awarded the Nobel Prizes, and those who did not win, are not discussed in the book. Rather, the reader is presented with the most inspirational aspects of the Nobel Prize's recipients and their work.
The author William Faulker won a Nobel Prize for Literature, for example. The Nobel Prize Committee's presentation speech described him as "a great author who in a brilliant manner has enlarged man's knowledge of himself" (p.41). Author and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who turned down his Prize for Literature, was described as "rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth" (p.43). Barak Obama won the 2009 Nobel Prize for Peace. The Committee commented at that time that "the Nobel Prize had not just been used to honor specific achievements, but also to give momentum to a set of causes. The Prize could thus represent 'a call to action'." The reader will be reminded, in this book, of the joy of discovery, learning, and of contributing to a greater good that the Prize recipients represent.
One does not have the sense of reading a weighty tome but, instead, both in the writing and in the design of the book, there is a sense of 'flow' and progression as Worek highlights particular Prize winners:
The advancement in science in the last century has been so rapid and so profound that it is now almost impossible to image the world as it existed when Alfred Nobel established the prize that bears his name. At Nobel's death, steam engines and horses powered the world. Communication was by letter and medical care was in its infancy.
In little more than 100 years, science has taken us to the moon, revealed the secrets of the atom, photographed the distant galaxies...But new discoveries have proven to be dangerous as well as beneficial.
Like the escaped contents of Pandora's box, scientific discoveries once made can never be hidden away again. Our moral and ethical sense as human beings...must grow and mature at a pace equal to our increasing scientific knowledge...It this hope that underscored Alfred Nobel's desire to reward those scientists who had "conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.
The design of Worek's book has a crisp and contemporary feel to it. This gives a modern tone to the stories of the Prize winners of the past for the younger reader. A colourful chart at the back of the book gives a full rendering of all the Prize winners over time. One suggestion for future reprintings would be to make the website address of the Nobel Prize organization more prominent in the book so that readers, of all ages, can find out more information about the Prize winners and their acceptance speeches.
This book is highly recommended for readers who would like a general introduction to the history of the Nobel Prizes as well as information about seminal contributors to the fields of science, literature, peace and economics.
Located in Toronto, ON, J. Lynn Fraser is an author and freelance writer whose magazine articles appear in national and international publications.
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