NORDLINGER: That’s a toughie. They were all just about equal. Fridtjof Nansen, the 1922 winner — whata mensch. Athlete, scientist, explorer, author, professor, diplomat, executive, humanitarian. A real-life Indiana Jones, but maybe more impressive. One of the most talented men of the 20th century.
LOPEZ: Who would you like all readers to walk away from your book really getting to know a bit and why?
NORDLINGER: Well, in a way, the more obscure ones are more important than the famous ones — because they’re obscure, and deserve to be known better (many of them). I found Ludwig Quidde, a German pacifist who won in 1927, very, very impressive.
But frankly, I prefer to think of the Nobel peace laureates as a class — men and women who had a lot to do with the making of the 20th century, and reflected that century. And now, of course, we’re more than a decade into the 21st.
Honestly, the laureates are all interesting, every one. As I was writing the book, some of my friends said, “Concentrate on the interesting ones; skip over the uninteresting ones.” But, really, there’s not a dullard in the bunch. Dullards tend not to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
LOPEZ: Explain how Nobel had a “child-like hopefulness and brute tough-mindedness.” Is the “mixture” something noble?
NORDLINGER: Like most of us, Nobel had moments of optimism and idealism, and moments of pessimism and cynicism. Some days, he had great hope for humanity. Other days, he said, “We’re doomed.” Very human.
I think Nobel had a grasp on the slippery nature of the world. His experience of the world was very broad — exceptionally broad — and he made good mental use of his experience.
LOPEZ: Is there a laureate whose life you’d most like to emulate or see emulated?
NORDLINGER: I think I’ll again mention Sakharov — the soul of self-sacrifice. He had it made, at the top of the Soviet heap: a leading scientist who had won every award in the Kremlin’s treasure chest. And he threw it all away to appeal for human rights and democracy. He suffered intensely for his convictions, but would have it no other way. A toweringly great man.
So were other laureates, including Carl von Ossietzky, a political prisoner of the Nazis.
LOPEZ: Which laureate would you have loved to interview? What would you ask?
NORDLINGER: Oh, gee, all of them. Let me name someone contemporary. One day, I hope to interview the 2010 laureate, Liu Xiaobo, who now sits in a Chinese prison. I would like to ask him how, in his opinion, Free World governments — particularly the American government — should deal with the Chinese government.