Nobel Prize


PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2007, 12:00am


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Whta the movers and shakers are reading

Bruce Schlein

Citi Vice-president of environmental affairs

I like to read whenever I have spare time. This includes reading on my way to work and when travelling overseas. Books provide fascinating insights into the world around us.

Although my job position is global in nature, I like to read about Asia, especially China, where I have lived for many years. A book I recently thoroughly enjoyed was Oracle Bones, by Peter Hessler, which looks at events in China through the eyes of his students. Hessler was a member of the National Peace Corps and spent time in China teaching. His book is insightful and entertaining.

Daniel Yergin's wonderful Pulitzer-winning The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, is another firm favourite that I would recommend to anyone interested in the development of the modern world.

The book is full of anecdotes about the social and economic benefits of the oil industry, as well as the downside of the development. The reader learns, for example, that the discovery of mineral oil probably saved the world's whale population from being decimated; previously, whale oil was used for many of the purposes that mineral oil is used for today.

I also enjoyed the story behind the Nobel prize: how a bungled obituary in a French newspaper may have prompted 'dynamite king' Alfred Nobel to set up one of the world's most respected endowment funds. Apparently, the paper had published an article headed Le marchand de la mort est mort ('the merchant of death is dead') that went on to say that 'Dr Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, had died'. In fact, it was Alfred's brother Ludwig who had died, but the reporter had got the names mixed up. It is believed the article was an eye-opener for Alfred who, on realising that posterity would remember him as the man who built his fortune based on the invention of materials used for blowing up things (and people), then decided to leave a legacy that would benefit humanity.

Jared Diamond's Collapse, one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in a while, examines factors that have led societies to flourish and gain ascendancy over one another. He shows how one culture can die out from a lack of resources, while another can live on indefinitely in the same environment.

Recently I have also been reading early studies on environmentalism, such as Rachel Carson's famous book, Silent Spring, written in the early 1960s. Ms Carson, a scientist, writer and pioneer in the environmental movement, was one of the first people to link the effects of pesticides on wildlife to human health. She was also one of the first to highlight the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to environmental health.

High on my list of recommendations is E.F. Schumacher's best-selling Small Is Beautiful, an excellent book that looks at how standards of living are measured by consumption patterns. Mr Schumacher developed the principles of what he termed 'Buddhist economics' after travelling to Burma as an economic consultant in the 1950s. He was also a pioneer in 'appropriate technology' - technology appropriate to the environmental, cultural and economic situation it is intended for.