Alfred Nobel's library
In one of his many memorable sayings, Alfred Nobel remarked that "A single person without books and ink is already in this life a dead man." He was single - and often lonely - during most of his adult life. Books therefore meant a great deal to him, and his private library helps to shed light on his personality and on what influenced him intellectually.
Nobel's book collection contains over 1,950 volumes under about 1,200 titles. It was a relatively large private library by the standards of the time. Literature and studies in the humanities account for 59% of the titles, technology and natural sciences for 26%, and geography and travel for 8%, while the remaining 7% consist of books on peace, economics and patents. By dividing the publications up by languages, we can form an impression of Nobel's cosmopolitan orientation: 37% are in French (he lived in Paris for a long time), 28% in German, 18% in English, 12% in Swedish and 5% in other languages, including Russian, Norwegian and Danish.
One person who allowed herself to be impressed by the book collection was the Austrian author Bertha von Kinsky (later better known as Bertha von Suttner). In her memoirs she writes that when she first visited Alfred Nobel at home, in Paris in 1875, she was greatly impressed by his "well-stocked library, which seemed capable of meeting any reading wishes". Bertha in due course gave him several of her own publications, including a first edition of the famous anti-war novel Die Waffen nieder!
The book collection shows that Nobel must have taken the keenest interest in western civilisation's great writers and thinkers. Among the philosophers we can find everyone from Plato to Auguste Comte. To judge by the number of titles, he seems to have taken a special interest in Leibniz, Kant, Kierkegaard, Mill, Schopenhauer and Spencer.
© Photo: The Nobel Foundation
For further information, see Åke Erlandsson, Alfred Nobels bibliotek. En bibliografi (Stockholm 2002: Atlantis).
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