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Nobel Prize

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Nobel Prize of Shai Agnon

The Nobel Prize is an annual international award. It is bestowed in a number of categories by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895. The prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace were first awarded in 1901. The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, while the other prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden. Baruch Aba Shalev, author of a book on the Nobel Prize, has said "the Nobel Prize has come to be regarded as the best-known and most prestigious award available in the fields of literature, medicine, physics, chemistry, peace and economics. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank instituted an award that is often associated with the Nobel prizes, the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. The first such prize was awarded in 1969. Although it is not an official Nobel Prize, its announcements and presentations are made along with the other prizes. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awards the Nobel Prize in Physics, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The Swedish Academy grants the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel Peace Prize is not awarded by a Swedish organisation but by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Each recipient, or laureate, receives a gold medal, a diploma, and a sum of money which depends on the Nobel Foundation's income that year. In 2011, each prize was worth SEK 10 million (c. US$1.46 million, €1.16 million). The prize is not awarded posthumously; however, if a person is awarded a prize and dies before receiving it, the prize may still be presented." A prize may not be shared among more than three people. The average number of laureates per prize has increased substantially over the 20th century.

Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel had the unpleasant surprise of reading his own obituary, titled The merchant of death is dead, in a French newspaper. Alfred Nobel was born on 21 October 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden, into a family of engineers. He was a chemist, engineer, and inventor. In 1894 Nobel purchased the Bofors iron and steel mill, which he made into a major armaments manufacturer. Nobel also invented ballistite, a precursor to many smokeless military explosives, especially the British smokeless powder cordite. Nobel was even involved in a patent infringement lawsuit over cordite. Nobel amassed a fortune during his lifetime. Most of his wealth was from his 355 inventions, of which dynamite is the most famous. In 1888, Alfred was astonished to read his own obituary, titled ‘The merchant of death is dead’, in a French newspaper. As it was Alfred's brother Ludvig who had died, the obituary was eight years premature. The article disconcerted Nobel and made him apprehensive about how he would be remembered. This inspired him to change his will. On 10 December 1896 Alfred Nobel died in his villa in San Remo, Italy, from a cerebral haemorrhage. He was 63 years old. To widespread astonishment, Nobel's last will specified that his fortune be used to create a series of prizes for those who confer the "greatest benefit on mankind" in physics, chemistry, peace, physiology or medicine, and literature. Nobel wrote several wills during his lifetime. The last was written over a year before he died, signed at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris on 27 November 1895. Nobel bequeathed 94% of his total assets, 31 million SEK (c. US$186 million, €150 million in 2008), to establish the five Nobel Prizes. Because of scepticism surrounding the will, it was not until 26 April 1897 that it was approved by the Storting in Norway. The executors of Nobel's will, Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist, formed the Nobel Foundation to take care of Nobel's fortune and organise the award of prizes. Nobel's instructions named a Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize, the members of whom were appointed shortly after the will was approved in April 1897. Soon thereafter, the other prize-awarding organisations were established. These were the Karolinska Institutet on 7 June, the Swedish Academy on 9 June, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on 11 June. The Nobel Foundation reached an agreement on guidelines for how the prizes should be awarded, and in 1900, the Nobel Foundation's newly-created statutes were promulgated by King Oscar II. In 1905, the Union between Sweden and Norway was dissolved. Thereafter Norway's Nobel Committee was responsible for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize and the Swedish institutions retained responsibility for the other prizes.

Alfred Nobel's will stated that 94% of his total assets should be used to establish the Nobel Prizes. The Nobel Foundation was founded as a private organisation on 29 June 1900, to manage the finances and administration of the Nobel Prizes.[16] In accordance with Nobel's will, the primary task of the Foundation is to manage the fortune Nobel left. Robert and Ludwig Nobel were involved in the oil business in Azerbaijan and according to Swedish historian E. Bargengren, who accessed the Nobel family archives, it was this "decision to allow withdrawal of Alfred's money from Baku that became the decisive factor that enabled the Nobel Prizes to be established".[17] Another important task of the Nobel Foundation is to market the prizes internationally and to oversee informal administration related to the prizes. The Foundation is not involved in the process of selecting the Nobel laureates. In many ways the Nobel Foundation is similar to an investment company, in that it invests Nobel's money to create a solid funding base for the prizes and the administrative activities. The Nobel Foundation is exempt from all taxes in Sweden (since 1946) and from investment taxes in the United States (since 1953). Since the 1980s, the Foundation's investments have become more profitable and as of 31 December 2007, the assets controlled by the Nobel Foundation amounted to 3.628 billion Swedish kronor (c. US$560 million). According to the statutes, the Foundation consists of a board of five Swedish or Norwegian citizens, with its seat in Stockholm. The Chairman of the Board is appointed by the Swedish King in Council, with the other four members appointed by the trustees of the prize-awarding institutions. An Executive Director is chosen from among the board members, a Deputy Director is appointed by the King in Council, and two deputies are appointed by the trustees. However, since 1995 all the members of the board have been chosen by the trustees, and the Executive Director and the Deputy Director appointed by the board itself. As well as the board, the Nobel Foundation is made up of the prize-awarding institutions (the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute, the Swedish Academy, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee), the trustees of these institutions, and auditors.


Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen received the first Physics Prize for his discovery of X-rays. Once the Nobel Foundation and its guidelines were in place, the Nobel Committees began collecting nominations for the inaugural prizes. Subsequently they sent a list of preliminary candidates to the prize-awarding institutions. Originally, the Norwegian Nobel Committee appointed prominent figures including Jørgen Løvland, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Johannes Steen to give the Nobel Peace Prize credibility. The committee awarded the Peace Prize to two prominent figures in the growing peace movement around the end of the 19th century: Frédéric Passy was co-founder of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Henry Dunant was founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Nobel Committee's Physics Prize shortlist cited Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen's discovery of X-rays and Philipp Lenard's work on cathode rays. The Academy of Sciences selected Röntgen for the prize. In the last decades of the 19th century, many chemists had made significant contributions. Thus, with the Chemistry Prize, the Academy "was chiefly faced with merely deciding the order in which these scientists should be awarded the prize." The Academy received 20 nominations, eleven of them for Jacobus van't Hoff. Van't Hoff was awarded the prize for his contributions in chemical thermodynamics. The Swedish Academy chose the poet Sully Prudhomme for the first Nobel Prize in Literature. A group including 42 Swedish writers, artists and literary critics protested against this decision, having expected Leo Tolstoy to win.[32] Some, including Burton Feldman, have criticised this prize because they consider Prudhomme a mediocre poet. Feldman's explanation is that most of the Academy members preferred Victorian literature and thus selected a Victorian poet. The first Physiology or Medicine Prize went to the German physiologist and microbiologist Emil von Behring. During the 1890s, von Behring developed an antitoxin to treat diphtheria, which until then was causing thousands of deaths each year.[34][35] World War II In 1938 and 1939, Adolf Hitler's Third Reich forbade three laureates from Germany (Richard Kuhn, Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt, and Gerhard Domagk) from accepting their prizes. Each man was later able to receive the diploma and medal.[37] Even though Sweden was officially neutral during World War II, the prizes were awarded irregularly. In 1939, the Peace Prize was not awarded. No prize was awarded in any category from 1940–42, due to the occupation of Norway by Germany. In the subsequent year, all prizes were awarded except those for literature and peace.[38] During the occupation of Norway, three members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee fled into exile. The remaining members escaped persecution from the Nazis when the Nobel Foundation stated that the Committee building in Oslo was Swedish property. Thus it was a safe haven from the German military, which was not at war with Sweden. These members kept the work of the Committee going but did not award any prizes. In 1944 the Nobel Foundation, together with the three members in exile, made sure that nominations were submitted for the Peace Prize and that the prize could be awarded once again.

Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences

Main article: Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences

In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank celebrated its 300th anniversary by donating a large sum of money to the Nobel Foundation to be used to set up a prize in honor of Nobel. The following year, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded for the first time. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences became responsible for selecting laureates. The first laureates for the Economics Prize were Jan Tinbergen and Ragnar Frisch "for having developed and applied dynamic models for the analysis of economic processes." Although not a Nobel Prize, it is intimately identified with the other awards; the laureates are announced with the Nobel Prize recipients, and the Prize in Economic Sciences is presented at the Swedish Nobel Prize Award Ceremony. The Board of the Nobel Foundation decided that after this addition, it would allow no further new prizes.