Ignoble Nobel Prizes

Bob Dylan has, not for the first time, made something cool. I could wax lyrical about Dylan and his genius, but there are many (much) better informed writers doing that. I want instead to focus on the award, the Nobel Prize; because in winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, Dylan has brought new controversy to a prize that had a controversial start in life.

Alfred Nobel, born in Stockholm in 1833, was a chemist, engineer and successful inventor, who held over 350 patents. The majority of these “Nobel Creations”, including Dynamite, were from his work with weaponry and explosives. He was an important cog in the global war machine and a man who amassed a large fortune from the profits of these conflicts.

He opened over ninety armament factories and even went on to invent gelignite, the same substance that was at the centre of the famous Irish Rebellion, Ambush at Soloheadbeg. Alfred Nobel was a self-declared pacifist, whose fingerprints were all over the global conflicts of his age.

The story goes that in 1888 when Alfred’s brother Ludvig Nobel died, the press, mistaking the deceased for Alfred, wrote celebratory headlines  including one that stated that the “The Merchant of Death is Dead”.

So taken aback by the level of delight at his (mistaken) death, it is believed that Alfred set about re-balancing his ledger. His most successful endeavour came after his (actual) death in 1896, when his will determined that the proceeds of his fortune be used to endow “prizes to those who, have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind”.

The establishment of The Nobel Prize was opposed vehemently by Alfred’s family. The Institutions he selected refused to acquiesce to the Wills request for nearly five years, until 1901, when the first Nobel Prize was awarded.

So what can we learn from such a short tale?

  • Good things can come from bad places
  • Bad things can come from good places
  • We can all benefit from hearing what would be said about us at our funeral
  • It’s never too late to change
  • Bob Dylan is cool


Tony Groves October 2016 Image result for nobel prize images

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