Alfred Nobel’s Will, Life & Books

Alfred Nobel, Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

Alfred Nobel’s Will

On November 27, 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his third and last will at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris. When it was opened and read after his death, the will caused a lot of controversy both in Sweden and internationally, as Nobel had left much of his wealth for the establishment of a prize. His family opposed the establishment of the Nobel Prize, and the prize awarders he named refused to do what he had requested in his will. It was five years before the first Nobel Prize could be awarded in 1901.

The Establishment of the Nobel Prize

In this excerpt of the will, Alfred Nobel dictates that his entire remaining estate should be used to endow “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.”

Excerpt of Alfred Nobel's will

“The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses. The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiology or medical works by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm, and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not.”

Excerpts of Alfred Nobel'swill
Alfred Nobel, Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

Biographical Information

Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 21, 1833. His family was descended from Olof Rudbeck, the best-known technical genius in Sweden in the 17th century, an era in which Sweden was a great power in northern Europe. Nobel was fluent in several languages, and wrote poetry and drama. Nobel was also very interested in social and peace-related issues, and held views that were considered radical during his time. Alfred Nobel’s interests are reflected in the prize he established. Learn more about his life and his interests – science, inventions, entrepreneurship, literature and peace work.

Alfred Nobel’s Life and Work


Alfred Nobel’s Life and Work – for Grade Schoolers

By Editors

On October 21, 1833 a baby boy was born in Stockholm, Sweden who was to become the founder of the Nobel Prize

Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel – His Life and Work

By Nils Ringertz

Alfred Nobel was born in Sweden, grew up in Russia, studied chemistry and technology in France and the US

A young Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel – St. Petersburg, 1842-1863

By Birgitta Lemmel

The young Alfred grew up, received his education and was shaped as a human being in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of St. Petersburg.


Alfred Nobel’s Health and His Interest in Medicine

By Nils Ringertz

“Isn’t it the irony of fate that I have been prescribed N/G 1 (nitroglycerine) to be taken internally!”


Alfred Nobel and His Interest in Literature

By Åke Erlandsson

Alfred Nobel’s collection of books bears testimony to both the depth and breadth of his reading.


Alfred Nobel – the Poet

By Åke Erlandsson

Alfred Nobel’s collection of books bears testimony to both the depth and breadth of his reading.


Alfred Nobel – Life and Philosophy

By Tore Frängsmyr

Alfred Nobel went through philosophy from antiquity to modern times, pointing out what he perceived to be vital issues.


Alfred Nobel’s Thoughts about War and Peace

By Sven Tägil

Was Alfred Nobel’s view on the effects of weapons to deter war a comfortable way of defending his own activity?


Alfred Nobel’s House in Paris

By Birgitta Lemmel

At forty years old, Alfred Nobel bought an elegant mansion in Avenue Malakoff, a fashionable quarter near the Arc de Triomphe and Bois-de-Boulogne.

Nobel's house in Sanremo

Alfred Nobel’s Final Years in San Remo

By Lorenette Gozzo

Alfred Nobel died in his villa overlooking the Mediterranean in Sanremo, Italy.

Alfred Nobel’s Industrial Activities


Alfred Nobel’s Industrial Activities in Vinterviken

By Birgitta Lemmel

Alfred Nobel’s first company, Nitroglycerine Aktiebolaget, had its explosives plant on an isolated inlet of Lake Mälaren.


Alfred Nobel in Krümmel

By Birgitta Lemmel

Alfred Nobel established his first overseas company in Krümmel, Germany.

Dynamite cartridging

Alfred Nobel in Scotland

By John E. Dolan

Alfred Nobel turned his sights to Scotland when Great Britain proved to be a difficult place to establish an explosives factory.


Alfred Nobel in Sevran

By Birgitta Lemmel

Looking for a suitable location for his experiments near his home, Alfred Nobel found Sevran, 16 kilometers northeast of Paris.

Old building

Alfred Nobel’s Dynamite Companies

By Ragnhild Lundström

Alfred Nobel established the first international holding company in the world, the Nobel Dynamite Trust Company.

Alfred Nobel’s Home in Björkborn

Towards the end of his life, Alfred Nobel acquired the company “AB Bofors” in Karlskoga, Sweden. At Björkborn, a property on the Bofors estate, Björkborn Manor became his last home in Sweden.

Björkborn Manor is now a museum where visitors can go back in time and imagine what it was like when Alfred Nobel spent his summers here. Apart from the manor, another point of interest is the laboratory where Nobel continued with his experiments before his death in 1896.

Bjorkborn manor in Karlskoga, Sweden

Read more about Björkborn Manor at the web site of the Nobel Museum in Karlskoga, Sweden

Aphorisms by Alfred Nobel

Literature occupied a central role in the life of Alfred Nobel. He regarded various literary forms of expression as opportunities to achieve a greater understanding of our own thoughts, lives and relationships with other people and our surroundings. Alfred Nobel had an extensive library, which included important European literary works. Inspired by Shelley and Byron, he wrote poems in English as a young man. Toward the end of his life, he wrote the tragedy Nemesis. His best literary form of expression was probably the aphorism, where he often expressed himself drastically.

“A heart can no more be forced to love than a stomach can be forced to digest food by persuasion.”

“Second to agriculture, humbug is the biggest industry of our age.”

“Contentment is the only real wealth.”

“We build upon the sand, and the older we become, the more unstable this foundation becomes.”

“The truthful man is usually a liar.”

“Justice is to be found only in the imagination.”

“It is not sufficient to be worthy of respect in order to be respected.”

“Worry is the stomach’s worst poison.”

“The best excuse for the fallen ones is that Madame Justice herself is one of them.”

“Self-respect without the respect of others is like a jewel which will not stand the daylight.”

“Hope is nature’s veil for hiding truth’s nakedness.”

“Lying is the greatest of all sins.”

“Home is where I work and I work everywhere.”

Books in a bookshelf

The Private Library of Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel’s huge interest in literature and writing is reflected in his book collections. After his death he left a private library of over 1500 volumes, mostly fiction in the original language, works by the great writers of the 19th century, but also the classics and works by philosophers, theologians, historians and other scientists. The major part of Alfred Nobel’s private library was moved in stages from Paris to San Remo and, by way of different locations in Stockholm, to the present Alfred Nobel Museum at Björkborn Manor, near Karlskoga, Sweden.

Books on Alfred Nobel

This a selection of standard works about the life and work of Alfred Nobel.

Alfred Nobel. Networks of Innovation
by U. Larsson
Nobel Museum Archives; 10, published by the Nobel Museum, Stockholm, 2008, distributed in the USA and Canada by Science History Publications, USA

ISSN 1404-7586
ISBN N-0-88135-399-X
In English

Alfred Nobel
by T. Frängsmyr
Published by the Swedish Institute, 2004
Translation by Judith Black

Presents the life of Alfred Nobel, not only tracing his scientific and entrepreneurial achievements from the earliest days, but also focusing on the private individual behind them.ISBN 91-520-0417-I
ISSN 1101-6353
31 pages

Alfred Nobel

by Thomas Hellberg and Lars Magnus Jansson
Publisher: Alno Production, KB, Stockholm, 1984
1986 updated edition; Publisher: Lagerblads Förlag, AB, Karlshamn, English version.

The authors have researched Alfred Nobel’s life for more than ten years, primarily for material for a drama-documentary TV film. This richly illustrated book about Alfred Nobel’s inventions, career and personal life was published to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s birth.

ISBN 91-7260-977-X
141 pages

The Legacy of Alfred Nobel
by Ragnar Sohlman
Authorized by the Nobel Foundation
Publisher: The Bodley Head, London, 1983
Translation by E. Schubert

First published in Swedish (Ett Testamente) in 1950 and tells the full, dramatic story of the establishment of the Nobel Foundation. Written by Ragnar Sohlman, Alfred Nobel’s secretary and assistant whom Alfred Nobel appointed as one of the executors of his will. The English translation was published in 1983, in association with the Nobel Foundation, to mark the 150th anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s birth.

ISBN 0-370-30990-I
144 pages

Ett Testamente. Hur Alfred Nobels dröm blev verklighet
by R. Sohlman, published by Bokförlaget Atlantis AB, Stockholm, 2001, in Swedish, ISBN 917486-529-3 (originally published as Ett Testamente. Nobelstiftelsens tillkomsthistoria och dess grundare by R. Sohlman, published by P.A. Norstedt & Söners Förlag, Stockholm, 1950. Out of print).

– Zaveshchanie Alfreda Nobelja, translated by D. E. and E. M. Leykin, published by MIR Publishers, Moscow, 1993, in Russian.
Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prizes
Published by the Nobel Foundation

Brochure containing information about Alfred Nobel – his life and work; Nobel’s will and estate; the Nobel institutions; nomination and selection of the Nobel Laureates and the presentation of the Nobel Prizes.12 pages

Nobel. The Man and His Prizes
by Schück, H. et al.
Edited by the Nobel Foundation
Publishers: Solhmans Förlag, Stockholm, 1950
University of Oklahoma Press, 1951
Third revised, updated and enlarged edition published by American Elsevier Company, Inc., New York, N.Y. 1972

First published in 1950 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Nobel Foundation. Contains a summary of Alfred Nobel’s life and work; an account of the establishment of the Nobel Foundation; and surveys of outstanding achievements in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace.

The third revised edition brings the history of the awards up to 1970. It contains a sketch of Alfred Nobel’s life, an account of the initial difficulties and later development of the Nobel Foundation, and an extensively revised description of seventy years’ progress in the five Prize categories, viewing in historical perspective the work of the Nobel Laureates.

ISBN 0-444-00117-4
659 pages


– Los Premios Nobel y su Fundador, authorized by the Nobel Foundation, published by Aguilar S.A. de Ediciones, Madrid, 1959, in Spanish.

– Nobel, l’uomo e i suoi Premi (abbreviated), authorized by the Nobel Foundation, published by Fratelli Fabbri Editori, Milano, 1963, in Italian.

– Nobel, o homen e seus Prèmios (abbreviated), authorized by the Nobel Foundation, published by Editóra Delta, Rio de Janeiro, 1964, in Portuguese.

– Nobel, l’homme et ses Prix (abbreviated), authorized by the Nobel Foundation, published by Presses du Compagnonnage, Paris, 1965, in French. Abbreviated Japanese version published by Shufunutomo Co., Tokyo, 1972.

– Alfred Nobel, der Mann und seine Preise (abbreviated) authorized by the Nobel Foundation, published by Coron Verlag GmbH, Stuttgart/Zürich, 1972, in German.
Alfred Nobel. Mannen, Verket, Samtiden
by Sigvard Strandh
Publisher: Natur och Kultur, 1983

The author expounds on how Alfred Nobel built up his industrial empire as well as his enormous wealth, and views his inventions in the light of industrial, historical and political perspectives. The book is peopled with strong personalities – from Alfred Nobel’s brothers to his co-workers, competitors, friends and relatives.

ISBN 91-27-01283-2
340 pages
In Swedish
The Russian Rockefellers. The Saga of the Nobel Family and the Russian Oil Industry
by R. W. Tolf
Publisher: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford CA, 1976

Contains the first fully documented history of the Nobel family and the first comprehensive survey of the oil industry in pre-Bolshevik Russia.

ISBN 0-8179-6581-5
269 pages

Alfred Nobel och hans släkt
by H. Schück and R. Sohlman, published by Almqvist & Wiksells Boktryckeri AB, Uppsala, 1926, in Swedish. Out of print.

Alfred Nobel
by E. Bergengren, published by Gebers Förlag, Stockholm, 1960, in Swedish.


– Alfred Nobel. The Man and his Work, authorized by the Nobel Foundation and published by Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., Edinburgh, 1962, in English.

– Alfred Nobel, authorized by the Nobel Foundation, published by Bechtle Verlag, Munich, 1963, in German.

– Alfred Nobel, authorized by the Nobel Foundation, published by Hakusuisha Publ. Co., Tokyo, 1968, in Japanese.

– Alfred Nobel. L’homme et son oeuvre, authorized by the Nobel Foundation, published by Sequoia-Elsevier, Paris- Brussels, 1970, in French.
by S. Tjerneld, published by Albert Bonniers boktryckeri, Stockholm, 1972, in Swedish, ISBN 91-0-037341-1.
Alfred Nobel som internationell företagare
by R. Lundström, thesis at Uppsala University 1974, printed by Tofters Tryckeri AB, Östervåla 1974, in Swedish, ISBN 91-554-0197-X.
Nobel a Sanremo
by G. Lotti, published by Officina Grafica della Sagep S.p.A., Genoa, 1980, in Italian.

Nobel och hans tid. Fem essayer
by G. Brandell, T. Browaldh, G. Eriksson, S. Strandh and S.Tägil, edited by P. Sörbom, published by Bokförlaget Atlantis AB, Stockholm, 1983, in Swedish, ISBN 91-7486-315-0.
Alfred Bernhard Nobel
by K. Fant, published by Norstedts Förlag AB, Stockholm, 1991, in Swedish, ISBN 91-1-919072-7.


– Alfred Nobel, published by Arcade Publishing Inc., New York, 1993, in English, ISBN 1-55970-222-2.

– Alfred Nobel, published by Birkhäuser Verlag AG, Basel, 1995, in German, ISBN 3-7643-5059-8.

– Also translations by Estonian (Vilnius), Latvian (Tallin), Bulgarian (Sofia), Japanese and Swiss publishers.
Chère Baronne et Amie. Cher monsieur et ami. Der Briefwechsel zwischen Alfred Nobel und Bertha von Suttner
by Edelgard Biedermann, published by Georg Olms
Verlag, Hildesheim (Germany), 2001, in German, ISBN 3-487-11492-5.