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Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World Hardcover – 12 Apr 2012
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This delightful book entertained me and enriched my knowledge. How many books do that? If you pick it up, I defy you to put it down until you’ve finished it.”
Lou Cannon, historian and journalist
In an absorbingly well-researched, well-written and thoughtful history of the Peace Prize . . . Nordlinger looks with a critical but not jaundiced eye at the laureates. . . . In the course of his deliberations he has thought deeply about what genuinely constitutes peace.”
Andrew Roberts, historian
A masterly book, which dissects its notoriously controversial subject with precision, elegance, and wit. A splendid job!”
Solomon Volkov, Radio Liberty / Radio Free Europe
. . . like a history of the modern world, told through the prism of the prize, full of characters both familiar and unfamiliar, and well written in the style we’ve come to expect.”
John J. Miller, author, director of journalism at Hillsdale College
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The quotations below are examples of the many interesting, surprising and occasionally moving things in it:
-"It is hard to believe that the world cares about what five unknown Norwegians [the Nobel Peace Prize Committee] think. It is the one day in the year when Norway is on the world stage. When we change Primeministers, there is not much international interest, but there is for the peace prize'
Ole Dabolt Mjos, Former Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee
- `I watched, from the windows of my home, three Austrian soldiers fall in a hail of bullets. Apparently dead, they were carried away to a neighbouring square. I saw them again two hours later; one of them was still in the throes of dying. This sight froze the blood in my veins and I was overcome by a great compassion. In these three men I no longer saw enemies but men like myself"
Ernesto Moneta, Nobel Peace Prize winner for 1907, recalling in his Nobel lecture what he had seen as a teenager during a revolt in Milan in 1848.
-"I have a very hard time with this word `non-violence' because I don't believe I am non-violent. Right now I would love to kill George Bush. I don't know how I ever got the Nobel Peace Prize."
Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Prize winner for 1976 for campaigning for peace in Northern Ireland, speaking to school children in Brisbane, Australia in 2006
-"This was certainly not the Nobel Prize for Economics"
Gennadi Gerasimov, spokesman for the Soviet Foreign Ministry, at the news that the Soviet Union's last leader Mikhail Gorbachev had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, having presided over a peaceful end to the Cold War abroad but the near bankruptcy of his country at home.
-"Sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace"
I had not heard of this book's author, an American journalist called Jay Nordlinger, before I came across a review of this book in the journal `Foreign Affairs', but I have since been looking for almost everything I can find by or about him on the Internet, especially videos of him speaking or debating.
He points out at various places in this book what he sees as the naivety of some peace campaigners and the double-standards of some liberal and left-wing opinion, that he believes sometimes influences both the award of the Nobel Peace Prize and the causes for which some Prize winners have subsequently campaigned, using the prestige that the Prize gives them. Personally I think he has a point.
The author's own political views are conservative Republican. However, even if your own politics are different from that, as long as you have an open enough mind to be able to read views different from your own, please do not let that put you off from reading this book. Even where the author disagrees with the Nobel Prize Committee or Nobel Prize winners, he is careful to put both sides of the argument, give his own view, in his intelligent, but modest and often charming, style, acknowledge that he could be wrong, and leave you, the reader, to decide for yourself.
Other points that stand out for me:
The Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Medicine or Physiology, Literature and Peace were established with money left by the nineteenth century Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who is now remembered for inventing dynamite (a dangerous business- one of his brothers was killed in an explosion at the family's factory) but patented many other inventions as well.
Nobel left much of his fortune to establish the prizes because he had no children to whom he could leave his wealth.
Despite the large sums of money involved, and historic significance of what he was doing, Nobel wrote his Will establishing the Prizes himself without legal advice [speaking as a lawyer let me warn you never to do that!]. There were consequently years of arguments and litigation about the validity of the Will before the prizes could be awarded for the first time in 1901.
While the Prize Committee have sometimes interpreted this loosely, the Peace Prize is strictly meant to be awarded for work for peace in the previous year. This means that it is sometimes awarded when there has been too little time to be sure that the winner's work for peace has achieved anything lasting.
The American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger jointly won the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for helping to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. Exceptionally, he felt honour bound to try to return his prize medal, certificate, and prize money, in 1975, when it became clear that the peace had not lasted, as the North Vietnamese overran South Vietnam. The Nobel Prize Committee refused to accept return of his Prize.
The `Peace People' movement in Northern Ireland, for which the founders Betty Williams and Maread Corrigan won the 1976 Prize, collapsed soon afterwards without establishing peace. However, their Nobel Peace Prize and the international recognition that came with it may have done good, by persuading the IRA, who had previously threatened to kill them, that to assassinate Nobel Peace Prize winners would cause too much bad publicity for the terrorists' cause.
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Fortunately, this isn't the case. Nordlinger is thorough and fair. He provides his own conclusions, but only after summarizing both sides of any controversy. Sometimes he is surprising. For example, Nordlinger doesn't fault the Nobel committee for honoring Yassir Arafat. He understands its motivation to encourage negotiations in the Middle East. In fact Nordlinger notes that the prize is often awarded to works in progress that don't pan out. Occasionally this works out, such as the South African awards.
Another key point is that the Nobel committee often violates Alfred Nobel's will. It is supposed to go to the person who did the most for peace in the preceding year. Instead it is frequently a "lifetime achievement award." One change Nordlinger recommends is to focus less on celebrities. An additional criticism is that the award isn't always directly related to peace between nations. Sometimes the awards are for humantarian or human rights work. These efforts can be very worthwhile, but aren't directly related to peace. A frequent topic is the meaning of "peace." Mr. Nordlinger believes that Nobel believed in deterrence, not pacifism.
Nordlinger provides a brief biography of Alfred Nobel. For each laureate he describes the background of his or her work, the other contenders, debates about the award's merits, and a follow up on what happened later. This last item is sometimes embarrassing. One recipient had falsehoods in her autobiography. Another was undermined by the climategate scandal. Nordlinger also addresses Buckley's concerns about the committee's politics. The committee reflects Norway's politics. This is mostly portrayed positively, but sometimes there's some humbug. For example, the award sometimes reflects ankle-biting against America, yet Norway has no reluctance to live under America's nuclear protection.
The book gets more interesting as it covers more current laureates. I recommend it for those interested in the peace prize and modern international relations.
Nordlinger's style is very readable and thought provoking. Highly recommended.
Mr. Nordlinger's biographical sketches of the early winners are fascinating overview of the early 20th and late 19th century. His more contemporary portraits often do a great job of capturing the times and controversies surrounding these awards. As we find American Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush would never win a peace prize but surely should have the biggest stack of thank you letters from the people who did win. Nearly every single winner in the 21st century owes George Bush a thank you note at the very least.
Mr. Nordlinger's "parade of laureates", his term for his biographical sketches of the winners, could prove tedious in another author's hands but Mr. Nordlinger's wit, good humor and loving attention to his subject carries the day and drives the book along. It left me wishing that he had spent even more time on each laureate instead of less.
By reading this book you will not only have a better understanding of the Prize and how it is given and how it is handled you will have a better idea of the social views, ideas and fads that held sway with Western political elites through the 20th and early 21st centuries. This is book you will come to cherish having in your possession.
I always read his stuff in NR and NRO. Great sense of humor and irony. I particularly have
enjoyed the excerpts of the recipient lectures as well as the recipient introductions.
Although the Nobel committee has embarrassed themselves over the years, who hasn't!
Word to the wise: If you don't think that Ronald Reagan should not have at least been considered
for the Peace Prize, then you probably won't enjoy this book.