Its the Nobel season of the year. So far the Nobel's for Medicine and Physics have been announced. Nobel prize has done itself great proud with its unimpeachable standards over 100+ years. Of course something of this kind of prestige and glamour has had its share of controversies too.
Mostly the science prizes have been devoid of any blatant controversy. The most politicized prize is the Peace prize, the more controversial, on merits, is the prize for literature. I guess one reason could be that a far wider population feels pretty qualified to comment on these prizes as the judges panel itself. Only a fraction of the world population has the intellectual heft to comment on a prize for the sciences. Whereas, almost everyone, depending on their political stripe feels free to opine on the choice of Yasser Arafat for the Peace prize.
Irving Wallace wrote a gripping book "The Prize" about Nobel Prize based on some 14 years of research. For whatever reason the movie version, starring Paul Newman, is billed as action. Irving later wrote a book on how he wrote "The Prize". "The Prize", has an interesting character, Count Jacobsson, whose prime duty is to serve as channel to voice arcane trivia and insider secrets of past prize winners.
W.B. Yeats practically lobbied the Nobel comittee to award Tagore the prize for "Gitanjali". Anti-semitism in the judges panel made them award the Physics prize to Einstein for his theory on photoelectric effect and NOT for the theories of Relativity. Note that Einstein recieved the prize in 1922, Eddington in the most famous experiment in 1919 had proved the General Theory of relativity. By the time he recieved the prize Einstein had seperated from his wife Mileva Maric, in his divorce papers, he confidently stated that when he gets the Nobel Prize he will give the money to her. Hmmm egoistic or confidence. Beholders eye.
The most notable exception in Physics was Edison. Nobel is given primarily to theoretical physicists and not experimental physicists. Justifiably so.
The literature prize is notable for omitting Leo Tolstoy, Sigmund Freud was passed over for medicine. The most unforgivable is omitting Gandhi for Peace prize. Gandhi is anyway to large for any prize. When the comittee found Martin Luther King Jr they made amends later. MLK was deeply influenced by Gandhi who in turn was inspired by America's Henry David Thoreau.
India's Chandrasekhar won the Nobel for his work on death of stars (Chandrasekhar limit), as American citizen. America later honored its adopted son by naming a satellite after Chandra. Indian satellites are named......why go there.
Bernard Shaw when awarded the prize, commented typically, "its a life belt thrown to someone who reached the shore".
Try finding Irving Wallace's "The Prize" in some used-book store or online at www.abebooks.com (excellent place to look for out of print books).
The preponderance of Jews and very sparse women Nobel laurates are topics of veritable controversies. The preponderance of Jews is non-issue because they are mostly winners of science prizes which are very open to scrutiny and nobody has ever questioned a prize in the sciences on merit. Nobel comittee is notorious for waiting too long until concrete proof emerges to award a science prize, some actually lose out because the prize is never given posthumously. The fact that a paltry number of women are winners is fodder for debate. I refrain from saying that they are not "represented" enough. This is a prize not an election. That goes for diversity too.