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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Nobel Scientists: A Biographical Encyclopedia by George Thomas Kurian (Prometheus) The Nobel Scientists. A Biographical Encyclopedia is a biographical reference that celebrates one hundred years of the Nobel Prize in 2001. It contains the profiles of 466 scientists and chronicles their lives and achievements in, as far as possible, simple, nontechnical language. Each laureate receives a separate entry, even when the prize was awarded in a given year to two or three persons. This may mean some overlap, but makes each entry self-contained.

Among intellectual and scientific institutions in the modern world, the Nobel Prize occupies a unique position. It is the accolade par excellence for accomplishments in six fields and it confers on its winners the crown of ultimate achievement. Begun in 1900, it has honored over 700 individuals, of whom more than 450 were scientists. The emphasis on science was a direct legacy of Alfred Nobel, who himself was a child of the nineteenth century. It reflected the great hopes that his generation placed on the ability of science and scientists to usher in a brave new world of limitless possibilities. This dream was achieved in the sense of creating a world where the mysteries of matter and the world were, if not solved, at least clarified, and many dread diseases that afflicted mankind for centuries were, if not eliminated, at least controlled. In only very rare instances in human history has the dream of one man to create a better world been so fruitful and so inspiring.

Nobel Prize winners form one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. The sci­entific prizes have been more or less uncontroversial and often widely applauded. This is because the Nobel Prize Committee itself is a highly respected body and its selection norms and procedures are among the most rigorous in the world. They involve nomi­nations from distinguished captains of erudition and professional associations throughout the world. Nominations of candidates can be made only on invitation. Between 200 and 250 nominations are received every year by the Nobel selection bodies for science. In many cases, the same candidate is nominated by more than one nominator. Some candidates are proposed over and over again for many years before they are selected. The only criterion adopted by the selection committee is that laid down by Alfred Nobel himself‑the discoveries should "confer the greatest benefit on mankind." According to the statutes, no more than three persons can be awarded the Nobel Prize in any one field in any one year, and this seriously limits the number of lau­reates. The Nobel Foundation itself is not involved in proposing candidates or evalu­ating their work or the final selections, but it arranges the Nobel Prize ceremonies and also administers the Nobel Symposia. A second reason why the prize is so prestigious is that it is one of the first truly international prizes to be awarded in the twentieth cen­tury. Citizens from over thirty nations have received the prizes in science. Because of the statutory limitations on the number of winners in any one year, many great discov­eries have not received an award and big science projects involving many teams of workers are often ignored. The turbulence of the twentieth century is reflected in the history of the Nobel Prizes. The two world wars resulted in a hiatus in the awards between 1914 and 1918 and between 1939 and 1945. Nazi Germany prohibited the award of the prizes to its citizens during the latter part of the 1930s.

The Nobel Scientists is organized in three sections: Chemistry, Physics, and Physi­ology or Medicine. In each section, the names are presented chronologically to 2000.

The Nobel Scientists is a rich tableau of the lives of the many geniuses whose lives have changed the very nature of knowledge in the twentieth century.

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