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The Nobel Prize: A History of Genius, Controversy and Prestige (2000) by Burton Feldman. Arcade Publishing, New York.

The author wrote this book because he found no "comprehensive and critical" history has been written. It is particularly useful for gifted students because they can learn about the rationale for awarding Nobel prizes in six areas - physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace and economics. Feldman emphasizes that the Nobel Prize has enormous influence on the direction fields of research take, and the movement of nations in such areas as nuclear armaments, genetic engineering and civil rights. As he also indicates, the awards have caused much curiosity and controversy in the world press. An example is when Marie and Pierre Curie received the Nobel Prize in 1903 for their discoveries of the radioactivity of polonium and radium. The Curies were obscure and economically poor French physicists who were relatively unknown in their own country. After receiving the Nobel Award, they were able to improve their research laboratory and to obtain respectable university positions.

Feldman presents a brief biography of Alfred Nobel who became wealthy from his inventions of the detonator for nitroglycerine and a composite explosive called dynamite. He set up the Nobel awards in his will; they were announced to the world one year after his death in 1897. The author provides a critical analysis of each area based upon asking whether the accomplishments of those awarded the Nobel Prize have been sustained over the years, and whether the renowned individuals who did not receive the award were treated unfairly. He points out that only five award winners in literature from 1901 to 1945 have maintained their stature - Kipling, Hamsun, Yeats, Shaw, Mann and Pirandello. Many great writers were overlooked, e.g., Tolstoy, Proust, Rilke, Joyce, Woolf, Dreiser and Lawrence. Feldman discusses different reasons for awarding the prize to certain types of authors, as follows: difficulty in identifying promising candidates because of the sheer volume of literary production, controversy over Nobel's original intention to identify writers with an "idealistic tendency," suspicion of modernism, and political biases of Nobel committee members.

The awards in science are concerned with identifying a different type of individual than in literature. The primary strategy is to be the first to make a major discovery that advances knowledge in physics, chemistry or medicine. Feldman gives the example of the physicist, Ernest Rutherford, who concentrated on "writing up" his discoveries in atomic physics lest someone else publish similar results before him. Another physicist, Richard Feynman, was concerned that his new methods of calculating atomic structures and the discovery of a law of atomic interaction would be superceded by his colleagues. He rushed these procedures and concepts into publication, and was awarded a Nobel Prize in physics several years later in 1965. In regard to the development of his computational procedures, Feynman said: "This is when I really knew I had something. . .that was the moment that I really knew that I had to publish - that I had gotten ahead of the world. . . .That was the fire. That was the moment when I got my Nobel prize, when Slotnick told me he had been working two years. When I got the real prize it was nothing, because I already knew I was a success." (p. 121). Feldman shows that most Nobel awards in physics have been in atomic physics while major theories and discoveries in astrophysics and geophysics have been ignored. For example, the discoverers of the expansion of the universe (Edwin Hubble) and continental drift (Alfred Wegener) were not recipients, although their contributions to their respective fields were just as important as those made by winners in atomic physics.

Feldman discusses the major Nobel laureates in physics and their accomplishments. Gifted students can learn a great deal concerning the history of atomic physics by reading about Ernest Rutherford, Albert Einstein and Max Planck. In addition, they can learn about other important areas of Nobel awards by reading the chapters on chemistry, medicine, peace and economics. For example, the chemistry chapter covers such areas as quantum chemistry, how atoms are bonded and organic chemistry. The primary focus of the Nobel Awards has been on research that clarifies the structure of elements and molecules, and the chemical bonding process. One of the greatest figures in modern chemistry who received a Nobel Prize (1954) was Linus Pauling. His work on quantum chemical bonding theory became widely accepted in the 1940's. Interestingly, he missed discovering the double helix structure of genes by one year. His rivals in this research, Francis Crick and James D. Watson, won the Nobel Prize in medicine (1962) for correctly mapping this structure. Another important area that came under the purview of the Nobel committee was chemical synthesis, a process that allows chemists to understand the structure of different molecules. One of the most brilliant researchers in this area was Robert B. Woodward who synthesized quinine, cholesterol, cortisone, chlorophyll and many other organic substances. He received a Nobel Prize in 1965 for this work. Feldman notes that one chemist who should have received a Nobel Prize was Dmitri Mendeleev for his organization of the periodic chart of elements (1871). He was a leading candidate in 1905 and 1906 but a member of the chemistry committee said his work was too old and no longer of interest.

The Nobel awards in physiology or medicine demonstrate how research in these areas has significantly influenced the health of all people and improved the understanding of previously fatal diseases. As Feldman shows, the Nobel spotlight has been shining brightly on molecular biology since Watson and Crick's discovery of the double-helix model of DNA in the 1950's. Their work has set the stage for researchers across the world to investigate gene splicing and related areas of immunology -- several Nobel prizes have been awarded for these research activities during the last forty years. Many of the awards in physiology from 1901 to 1950 were for research on the central nervous system, e.g., the discovery of the synapse by Santiago Ramón y Cajal (Nobel Prize, 1906). The famous English Neurologist, Charles Sherrington, received 134 nominations over thirty years for his research on the integrative function of the central nervous system. Finally in 1932, he received a Nobel Prize. The "microbe hunters" were also among the winners of many bacteriology Nobels in such fields as malaria research and the development of antibiotics. Additionally, important discoveries on the influence of vitamins on health and nutrition have received awards, as well as new findings on hormones and genetics. One of the awards (1923) in the hormones category was to Frederick Banting and J. J. R. Macleod for their joint discovery of insulin.

The book includes other useful resources: a chronological list of the Nobel prizes awarded in different areas, breakdowns of the prizes by nations, women and Jewish laureates. The Nobel Prize provides gifted students with an excellent summary of the major achievements in important fields of knowledge and accomplishment. This book will also give them basic information for engaging in additional studies of literature, science, medicine and international relations. Even with obvious weaknesses in the selection process, Feldman shows that the Nobel institution generally has a positive effect on the expansion of knowledge and understanding, particularly in physics, chemistry and medical research.

Importance of School Libraries in Developing Gifted Students' Minds by Michael E. Walters

Center for the Study of the Humanities in the Schools

I am presently working as a mentor, teaching for the New York Board of Education. One of my jobs is to give demonstration lessons to teacher interns in a middle school in the Bronx, New York. I have found this school's library to be a wonderful resource -- the librarian is constantly ordering books to reinforce the curriculum. The three books I have selected from this library are biographies written for teenagers. They are an important ingredient for the sensibility of gifted students because they contain interdisciplinary and multicultural approaches to stimulate their motivation and learning.

The biography of Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is important as a motivational resource for gifted children. He was a sickly youth and had to be tutored on his family's estate near Berlin, Germany. Despite his childhood illnesses he became one of the greatest scientists, naturalists, explorers, artists and writers of the 19th century. As a young man he went to South America for two major explorations. The first was in the Amazon basin between Venezuela and Brazil, while the second was a journey through the Andes region. His ability to relate to the native peoples of these areas was particularly noteworthy. Throughout his life he traveled and lectured. At the age of sixty he traveled from St. Petersburg, Russia to the central Asian steppes. He was constantly observing natural phenomena from the skies to the oceans, e.g., the Humboldt current. In addition, he had one of the largest personal libraries of his day.

The book on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) is also important for the development of self-esteem in the gifted. He was a dwarf and walked with difficulty. Despite these handicaps he became one of the greatest artists if the 19th century. Although French, he was influenced by Japanese art that he saw at an exhibition in Paris. His world was the inner city of Paris and sporting events such as horse racing. Lautrec's work combines the elements of fine and popular art formats.

The third book I discovered about the Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), is important because it explains how he synthesized the religious and secular perspectives of his period and region, northern Europe in the 17th century. He traveled throughout Europe and participated in various aspects of his time and place. His understanding of the impact of light upon landscape was a precursor for later painters of the impressionist school. Rubens was also important for his insights into the psychological character of his subjects.

These books show how biographies are important for the developmental sensibility of gifted students who can be influenced on both emotional and cognitive levels. Libraries are the laboratories for developing gifted students' minds.


(1) Alexander von Humboldt: Colossus of Exploration (1991) by Ann Gaines. Chelsea House, New York.

(2) Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec (1995) by Mike Venezia. Children's Press, Chicago.

(3) Rubens (1957) by Elizabeth Ripley. Oxford University Press.

Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, June-July 2001