A Noble Scientist

Alfred Nobel: The Man behind the Peace Prize
By Kathy-Jo Wargin
Illustrated by Zachary Pullen
(Sleeping Bear Press, 2009, Ann Arbor, $17.95)

 The man whose name is now synonymous with diplomacy and humanitarianism invented dynamite. Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel intended the explosive as tool for building bridges and railways; he never imagined it would become a deadly weapon. For giving the world dynamite, Nobel became one of Europe’s richest men. But Nobel was not to enjoy his fortune: seeing people use his invention to maim and kill others depressed him. Through his will, he tried to reverse this inadvertent legacy. He established the Nobel prizes to honor achievement in science, literature – and peace.

In Alfred Nobel, Kathy-Jo Wargin tells the inventor’s tale. Simple enough for young children, yet sophisticated enough for middle-grade readers, the picture-book biography is also a poignant musing on responsibility and legacy. Zachary Pullen’s illustrations capture Nobel’s loneliness. In two spreads, a solitary Nobel regards a bird: here, at least, is someone who doesn’t associate him with dynamite’s destructive qualities. Pullen makes Nobel himself palpably human: his hair and beard appear coarse and touchable; his eyes have bags, presumably from long hours of research and self-recrimination.

Biographies are among the few books in which children encounter adult protagonists; as such, they help kids relate to people of all ages. More than an educational text, Alfred Nobel humanizes the scientist and solidifies his humanitarian legacy.

Dorothy A. Dahm

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