CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 10. . . . January, 2003
A Nobel Prize is awarded each year to those who have made significant achievements in Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine. There are also prizes for Literature and for World Peace. These were established by Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), a Swedish chemical engineer, who made a huge fortune from the discovery of dynamite. In 1968, the Bank of Sweden set up a separate prize for outstanding achievement in Economics in Nobel's name. Canada and the Nobel Prize is about the twenty-three Canadians who received these prestigious awards.
Canada and the Nobel Prize is a book of biographical sketches of 23 Canadians, or near Canadians, (those with some Canadian connection) who were awarded the Nobel Prize. Each sketch is between one and four pages in length and is illustrated with a pencil sketch by the author. While written to entertain a young audience, this is a book that will require a dictionary and considerable patience by the reader in order to be fully appreciated. Because of the complicated nature of the achievements discussed, many children will find it a difficult book to read.
The scientific processes that Black describes are very complicated. His brief explanations are less than satisfying. They do not usually clarify the process but only confuse. One example is in the chapter on Henry Taube who received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1983. To explain Taube's work, Black quotes another source. "Metals differ from non-metals in that one or more of the outer shell electrons are only weakly attracted to the nucleus of the molecule and are readily removed, thus transforming the metal into a positively charged ion. He proved that metal ions in solution form chemical bonds with water molecules which act as ligands, a proposition that had been suggested but never shown." This quote is taken from a book meant for a sophisticated audience, and it seems foolish to include in a book for young readers assuming they will be able to understand it.
Footnotes are used to help explain scientific terms, but non-scientific terms are often ignored. Young readers, and many older ones as well, are unlikely to understand terms such as the "McCarthy inquisition." Some may not fully understand the meaning of inquisition.
Even the explanations of scientific terms can be confusing. With a quote from another source, a laser is described as "a device that creates and amplifies a narrow, intense beam of coherent light. That is light where the waves march in step with one another." This sounds interesting, but what does it mean?
There is a brief, incomplete, and not very useful bibliography. A good glossary would have been helpful.
Black, a graduate in architecture, history, and fine art worked with UNICEF and the Red Cross. This is his second book on Canadian achievers. His fine arts background is put to good use in the illustrations which allow the reader to form a more complete picture of the individuals discussed, most of whom will not be well- known.
Black takes considerable licence in his use of the term "Canadian" in order to increase the number of people included in the book. It is certainly stretching the understanding of the word to include author Ernest Hemingway. While he did a spell with the Toronto Star in the 1920's, he was 100% American. Black includes him because he was one "who did an important part of his work in Canada." Using this criterion, Hemingway can also be considered French and Cuban, something he would, no doubt, find amusing.
Intended for young readers, the sketches are very short, too short to provide much insight into these unusual over achievers. There is the basis here for a longer, more detailed, book.
Thomas F. Chambers is a retired college teacher living in North Bay, ON.
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