Nobel Prize both


…are some of the most sought-after awards in the world.



Swedish born Alfred Nobel bequeathed his fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes after reading a premature obituary which condemned him for profiting from the sales of arms. He originally found fame when he invented dynamite in 1866 and together with another invention, blasting caps, revolutionised the mining and building industry, through which he built his fortune. In 1887 he developed Ballistite, which was the precursor to many military grade explosive devices that helped advance the European war machine.

In 1888, a French newspaper, mistakenly thought that Alfred Nobel had died, when it was indeed his brother, Ludvig Nobel. The newspaper stated: “The Merchant of Death is Dead. Dr Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

Alfred Nobel left most of his fortune to the Nobel Foundation for the Nobel Prize, stipulating that assets from his estate should be invested in “safe securities” to sustain the endowment for the prizes. The Nobel Prizes carry a substantial monetary reward, e.g. this year’s Peace Prize is worth $900,000.

First winners – 1901

  • Physics – Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen
  • Chemistry – Jacobus Henricus van ‘t Hoff
  • Physiology or Medicine – Emil Adolf von Behring
  • Literature – Sully Prudhomme
  • Peace – Jean Henry Dunant (Founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross) and Frédéric Passy (Founder and President of first French peace society)

Most recent winners – 2019

  • Physics – James Peebles (theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology); Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz (discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star)
  • Chemistry – John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino (development of lithium-ion batteries)
  • Physiology or Medicine – William G. Kaelin Jr, Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza (discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability)
  • Literature – Peter Handke (his influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience)
  • Peace – Abiy Ahmed Ali (his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, particularly his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea)
  • Economic Sciences – Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer (their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty)


6 Categories Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace and Economics 1901First prize awarded 597 – number of times prizes have been awarded 923 – individuals, &

27 organisations have been awarded prizes

49 – number of times prizes not awarded (mostly during two World Wars)

Youngest winners per category

  • Physics (1915) – Lawrence Bragg (25)
  • Chemistry (1935) – Frédéric Joliot (35)
  • Medicine (1923) – Frederick G. Banting (32)
  • Literature (1907) – Rudyard Kipling (41)
  • Peace (2014) – Malala Yousafzai (17)
  • Economic Sciences (2019) – Esther Duflo (46)

Most controversial winners[1]

2009 Peace prizeBarrack Obama (received just nine months into his first term, and many believed he had not been in power long enough to deserve the prize)

1994 Peace prizeYasser Arafat (Palestinian leader), Yitzhak Rabin (Israeli Prime Minister) and Shimon Peres (Israeli Foreign Minister) shared the award for their work on the Oslo Peace Accords (many critics noted that while Arafat was head of Fatah, the PLO group engaged in acts of terrorism)

1973 Peace PrizeHenry Kissinger (US Secretary of State) was jointly awarded the prize along with North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho for brokering a cease-fire (highly criticised, not least because Kissinger had ordered a bombing raid of Hanoi while negotiating the cease-fire. Le Duc Tho declined his half of the award and two members of the committee, who had voted against Kissinger’s selection, resigned in protest)

Distribution of prizes by religion[2]

The distribution of Nobel Prizes by religion reveals that 654 (as of 2003) Laureates belong to 28 different religions. Most, 65.4%, have identified Christianity – in its various forms – as their religious preference. Atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers comprise 10.5% of total Nobel Prize winners, while an impressively high number of Laureates, over 20%, are of the Jewish faith (Jews make up only 0.02% of the world’s population).  By contrast, only 5 Nobel Laureates have been of the Muslim faith – 0.8% of the total number of Nobel prizes awarded (from a population base of about 1.2 billion – 20% of the world population).

78.3% – Peace

72.5% – Chemistry

65.3% – Physics

62% – Medicine

54% – Economics

49.5% – Literature

35% – Literature 17% – Chemistry

26% – Medicine and Physics

40% – Economics

11% – Peace

11% – Literature

100th Peace Prize Winner (2019) – Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed (a professing Christian)


“The Nobel Prizes epitomise the peak of human achievement, and as a result, encourage continued advances in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics and the pursuit of peace.”



[1] According to a CNBC article titled “Most controversial Nobel Prize-winners ever”

[2] According to Baruch A. Shalev, in his 2003 book “100 Years of Nobel Prizes”