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What did the Nobel Prize laureates read when they were young?

In their autobiographies, Nobel Prize laureates reveal their reading habits: how they got started, who spurred them to read on, and where they spent their time losing themselves between the pages of a book. Find out and compare with your own experience, or simply get inspired!

Eric A. Cornell

Latest book

“Indeed in elementary school I often kept my desktop slightly open and affected an alert-looking pose that still allowed me to peek into the desk where I kept open my latest book …”

Read the autobiography of Eric Cornell


Robin Warren

The encyclopaedia

“Both before and after starting university, I always read widely, including numerous scientific books and medical history books. Astronomy was a particular interest of mine at the time. I remember reading Fred Hoyle’s books about the universe. I read the Oxford Junior Encyclopaedia, all 12 volumes.”

Read J. Robin Warren’s autobiography

Ilya Prigogine

Musical scores

“According to my mother, I was able to read musical scores before I read printed words.”

Read the autobiography of Ilya Prigogine



Czeslaw Milosz

A Nobel Prize laureate

“One of the Nobel Prize laureates whom I read in childhood influenced to a large extent, I believe, my notions of poetry. That was Selma Lagerlöf.”

Read Czeslaw Milosz’ Nobel Prize lecture


Kenzaburo Oe

The Adventures of Nils

“Half a century ago, while living in the depth of that forest, I read The Adventures of Nils and felt within it two prophecies. One was that I might one day become able to understand the language of birds. The other was that I might one day fly off with my beloved wild geese – preferably to Scandinavia.”

Read Kenzaburo Oe’s Nobel Prize lecture Japan, The Ambiguous, and Myself

Martin L. Perl


“Along with my parents insistence, soon internalized, that I do very well in school, went my love of reading and my love of mechanics. I read everything: fiction, history, science, mathematics, biography, travel.”

Read Martin L. Perl’s autobiography

Carlo Rubbia

Almost everything

“As a boy, I was deeply interested in scientific ideas, electrical and mechanical, and I read almost everything I could find on the subject.”

Read the autobiography of Carlo Rubbia


Peter C. Doherty

Anything and everything

“My Irish genetic heritage gave me a very fair skin, making me totally unsuited for life in a city that is known as the melanoma capital of the world. This limited my participation in the outdoor-oriented Australian way of life, and caused me to spend a great deal of time reading anything and everything.”

Read the autobiography of Peter C. Doherty

Ronald Coase

Maybe not the best

“Lacking guidance, my reading (in books borrowed from the local public library) was undiscriminating and, as I now realize, I was unable to distinguish the charlatan from the serious scholar.”

Read Ronald H. Coase’s autobiography

Paul J. Crutzen

Bridges and tunnels

“I read widely about travels in distant lands, about astronomy, as well as about bridges and tunnels.”

Read Paul J. Crutzen’s autobiography


George D. Snell

Boyhood classics

“Science and mathematics were my favorite subjects. In spare time I read books on astronomy and physics as well as the usual boyhood classics.”

Read George D. Snell’s autobiography


Nadine Gordimer

Inscribed in the library

“… by the time I was six I was inscribed in the children’s library /- – -/ and without that library I don’t think I would ever have been a writer.”

Watch or read the interview with Nadine Gordimer


Barry Marshall

A children’s encyclopaedia

“My favourite book as a child was an old Newne’s Children’s Encyclopaedia which my grandfather had bought just before World War II and donated to our family after seeing how interested we were in it.”

Read the autobiography of Barry J. Marshall


Wladyslaw Reymont

The Bible

“I fed my soul on organ music and the sight of religious ceremonies. It was there, too, that I read Augustine, the Bible, and the Church Fathers, for days on end.”

Read Wladyslaw Reymont’s autobiography


John B. Fenn

A good book

“Sterling Library, then said to be the largest in the world with open stacks, became a favorite haunt where I spent many winter weekend afternoons with a good book and an apple or a candy bar.”

Read John B. Fenn’s autobiography


Hans G. Dehmelt

Physics books from the library

“While physics was taught at the Kloster only in the later grades, in the public library I read books with titles such as “Umsturz im Weltbild der Physik” and learned about the Balmer series and Bohr’s energy levels of the hydrogen atom.”

Read Hans G. Dehmelt’s autobiography

Harry M. Markowitz


“I also enjoyed reading. At first, my reading material consisted of comic books and adventure magazines, such as The Shadow , in addition to school assignments.”

Read the autobiography of Harry M. Markowitz


Roy J. Glauber

Great adventure stories

“My first salvation was reading. I visited the local public library regularly and began reading the great adventure stories of Jules Verne, Alexander Dumas and Walter Scott.”

Read Roy J. Glauber’s autobiography


Konrad Lorenz

Nils Holgersson

“This success alone might have sufficed to determine my further career; however, another important factor came in: Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgersson was read to me – I could not yet read at that time. From then on, I yearned to become a wild goose and, on realizing that this was impossible, I desperately wanted to have one and, when this also proved impossible, I settled for having domestic ducks.”

Read the autobiography of Konrad Lorenz

Gerardus 't Hooft

Late in reading

“I was well over two years old before I started to speak. Was it because there were so much more interesting things I wanted to understand than to communicate with people? I was also late in reading and writing. This, I remember, was because I thought reading meant being able to decipher my mother’s handwriting.”

Read Gerardus ‘t Hooft’s autobiography

Rosalyn Yalow

An early reader

“I was an early reader, reading even before kindergarten, and since we did not have books in my home, my older brother, Alexander, was responsible for our trip every week to the Public Library to exchange books already read for new ones to be read.”

Read Rosalyn Yalow’s autobiography

Steven Chu

Many books by the same author

“I also fondly remember several of my English courses where the assigned reading often led to binges where I read many books by the same author.”

Read the autobiography of Steven Chu


Gary Becker

Stock quotations

“There were only a few books in our house, but my father kept up with the political and financial news, and my older sister read a lot. After my father lost most of his sight, I had the task of reading him stock quotations and other reports on financial developments. Perhaps that stimulated my interest in economics, although I was rather bored by it.”

Read Gary S. Becker’s autobiography

Carl E. Wieman

Library visits

“Although I was unaware of it at the time, my parents must have made special arrangements for their children to use the library since we lived far outside the region it was supposed to serve. The librarians would also overlook the normal five-book limit and allow me to check out a large pile of books each week that I would then eagerly devour. That experience has left me with a profound appreciation for the value of public libraries.”

Read Carl E. Wieman’s autobiography

Richard Axel

Years of illiteracy

“On other days, I would read in a most beautifully appointed place, the Reading Room of the Central New York Public Library on 42nd Street. One passes the pair of sculpted lions, ascends a flight of stairs into a huge high-ceilinged room of impressive silence where I read incessantly without direction but with a newfound fascination that made up for years of illiteracy.”

Read Richard Axel’s autobiography

George A AkerlofBooks about animals

“I remember enjoying reading books about animals that talk, such as the Freddy books about Freddy the Pig, and Thornton Burgess’ animal stories. I also remember being terminally bored when there was no such book available and my brother was engaged in his multifarious projects. I participated as the person who would look for the hammer when it was needed (and also who invariably would not find it, so he had to go for it anyway).”

Read the autobiography of George A. Akerlof

Donald J. Cram

The beginnings only

“By the time I was four and a half, I was reading children’s books. My mother, steeped in English literature, cultivated incentive by reading to me only the beginnings of tales that involved heroes, heroines, hypocrites, and villains. When we reached the exciting part, she left me with the story to finish by myself.”

Read Donald J. Cram’s autobiography

William D. Phillips

Regular library visits

“I grew up surrounded by family and friends, church and school, and physical and mental activity. I clearly remember the value my parents placed on reading and education. My parents read to us and encouraged us to read. As soon as I could read for myself, walking across town to the library became a regular activity.”

Read the autobiography of William D. Phillips

 James A. MirrleesA time to read

“While at primary school I was apparently quite quick at mental arithmetic, and also acquired glasses. If you need glasses it is hard to enjoy football (association football is the main sport in the area). Without them, I was not good at guessing where the ball was. That, and various childhood illnesses, gave me time to read, which suited me fine. To tell the truth, I would not have been very good at football anyway. I once took a catch in the annual cricket match.”

Read the autobiography of James A. Mirrlees

To cite this section
MLA style: What did the Nobel Prize laureates read when they were young?. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Sun. 4 Jun 2023. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/lists/what-did-the-nobel-laureates-read-when-they-were-young>