cover image Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel

Kenne Kant, Kenne Fant. Arcade Publishing, $24.95 (342pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-222-5

Swedish industrialist and chemist Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), the inventor of dynamite and founder of the prestigious prizes, is seen as a secluded misanthrope prone to melancholy and convinced of life's absurdities in this gracefully written biography by Swedish actor/director Fant. Of special interest here are excerpts from the committed bachelor's unpublished letters to his Austrian mistress, a coquettish flower sales clerk named Sofie Hess. Having met her when he was 43 and she 20, Nobel vacillates in the course of their 18-year correspondence between fatherly tenderness, sexual desire and patronizing attempts to remake Sofie into a cultured sophisticate. His lonely life was punctuated by tragedies. His brother Emil, a lab worker, died in an explosion and his unscrupulous French business partner, Paul Barbe, killed himself. But perhaps the greatest tragedy was that this shy pacifistic introvert believed that the creation of weapons of mass annihilation would make wars impossible forever. (Oct.)