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Bad people do good things: thinking about Alfred Nobel

Ryan Looney

NobelThe world’s most famous prizes for intellectual achievement are named for the man who invented dynamite.

How could that be?

Legend has it that the man who invented dynamite, Alfred Nobel, read his own obituary.

“The merchant of death is dead”

Imagine reading that about yourself.

I mean, hurt feelings.

It was his brother, Ludvig, who died, and some editor was surely fired or reprimanded for the paper’s mistake. But the obituary made its mark on Alfred, or so the story goes. It spurred a period of self-reflection that led to his creation of the Nobel Prizes, designed to reward the “good.” He announced the prizes, hilariously, through his will after his death.

By modern internet accounts, which is to say not much research, Alfred comes across as an artist at heart (witty, lonely, prone to depression) and a businessman otherwise. He was an enormous success otherwise, building a dynamite-based…

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