Nobel Prize Retrospective After 115 Years

Alfred Nobel and His Prizes: From Dynamite to DNA

Marshall A. Lichtman


Alfred Nobel was one of the most successful chemists, inventors, entrepreneurs, and businessmen of the late nineteenth century. In a decision later in life, he rewrote his will to leave virtually all his fortune to establish prizes for persons of any nationality who made the most compelling achievement for the benefit of mankind in the fields of chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace among nations. The prizes were first awarded in 1901, five years after his death. In considering his choice of prizes, it may be pertinent that he used the principles of chemistry and physics in his inventions and he had a lifelong devotion to science, he suffered and died from severe coronary and cerebral atherosclerosis, and he was a bibliophile, an author, and mingled with the literati of Paris. His interest in harmony among nations may have derived from the effects of the applications of his inventions in warfare (“merchant of death”) and his friendship with a leader in the movement to bring peace to nations of Europe. After some controversy, including Nobel’s citizenship, the mechanisms to choose the laureates and make four of the awards were developed by a foundation established in Stockholm; the choice of the laureate for promoting harmony among nations was assigned to the Norwegian Storting, another controversy. The Nobel Prizes after 115 years remain the most prestigious of awards. This review describes the man, his foundation, and the prizes with a special commentary on the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2017;8(3):e0035