Friday, October 12, 2007

Nobel and Noble

Alfred Nobel invented dynamite??? Who knew!

The guy spent most of his life developing explosives for the family factory, which traditionally supplied materials for war -- they faced bankruptcy when the Crimean War ended in 1856. But by 1860, the chemist Nobel was experimenting with nitroglycerine, and in 1863 he patented his 'blasting oil'. Despite several people being killed in the factory (including his brother!) he persisted in his work - patenting dynamite in 1867, and blasting gelatine in 1876.

Setting aside his fascination with exploding things, Nobel was a pacifist throughout his life, and a shy, sickly man. He thought carefully on how his fortune would be best used -- the will that established the Nobel prizes was his third.

The back of the Nobel medal shows a tunnel blasted by dynamite. On the front of the medal is a portrait of Nobel, with the Latin inscription Creavit et promovit: "he created and promoted".

And blew stuff up. A lot.

But speaking of creating thoughtful legacies: there's a great (and rare) interview with Chuck Feeney on NPR. Billionaire Feeney founded Duty Free Shoppers, and is on track to give away all of his money before he dies. He's already done a bunch of philanthropic work, and his foundation will spend the remaining $4 billion over the next decade. Feeney calls it 'giving while living'. Fabulous fabulous work.

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