The Inside Story of the Nobel Peace Prize
Email this review


The history, importance, and impact of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Lundestad (The Rise and Decline of the American "Empire": Power and its Limits in Comparative Perspective, 2012, etc.) brings 25 years of experience as director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute and secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the prize. For the historical sections, the author draws on his two earlier books published in Norwegian in 2015 and 2017. Lundestad begins with the life of Alfred Nobel, who “held over 350 patents in widely varying areas, his will, and the influences on him. Then the author considers the evolution of the Nobel Prize through three eras—the years prior to World War I, the League of Nations years from 1919 to 1939, and the United Nations years from 1948 to the present—and shows how the focus of the prize shifted from international structures promoting peace to opposition to specific regimes to promotion of human rights and democracy and then to protecting the environment. In Chapter 6, Lundestad shifts gears, providing a range of personal profiles of laureates, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, Kofi Annan, and Barack Obama. The history section of the narrative is instructive but decidedly academic while the easy-reading portraits are revealing about the recipient, the decision to award the prize, the controversies surrounding the awarding of the prize, and its impact. However, the author does not disclose what individual committee members had to say about the nominees being considered. Lundestad admits that some mistakes have been made, but his arguments for the importance of the Nobel and its continuing influence are convincing. At the end, the author includes a valuable reference tool: a chronological list of Nobel Peace laureates, which gives not just the laureate’s name and country, but also a brief statement of the committee’s rationale for the award.

An odd juxtaposition of objective institutional history with a more interesting insider’s look at the laureates.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-19-884187-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2019