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Female Nobel Peace Laureates, three books about poets, our reviews of Pulitzer prize winners, and readers' picks.

By / April 24, 2007

Champions for Peace, by Judith Hicks Stiehm

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The Nobel Peace Prize was established by the inventor of dynamite. Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist, felt that his explosive would be so destructive to humanity that nations should give up war entirely. To promote peace, he provided support in his will for an annual prize to be given to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

Since its introduction in 1901, 12 women have won the Nobel Peace Prize. The paths and pursuits of these individuals make a remarkable study in Champions for Peace. In chronological order, each chapter is devoted to a different winner. What they have in common is their gender. All were female in a century in which more women entered the public sphere and globalization sent out its first shoots. But their circumstances and efforts are unique. Stiehm's compelling profiles reveal lives that span national boundaries, religious beliefs, and economic backgrounds. These women, at the sacrifice of their own comfort, extended the olive branch instead of the sword.

They are as follows: Bertha von Suttner, an Austrian aristocrat turned prolific and fearless peace activist; Jane Addams, a social worker and founder of Chicago's Hull House for poor women; Emily Greene Balch, a New England professor and peace activist committed to teaching her students to think globally; Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, an Irish Protestant and an Irish Catholic who reached across a violent divide to spark a peace movement; Mother Teresa, a nun from Macedonia who worked tirelessly to care for the forgotten and shunned in India; Alva Myrdal, a Swedish politician and champion for nuclear disarmament; Aung San Suu Kyi, who lived for years under house arrest for protesting the military's long rule in Burma; Guatemalan Rigoberta MenchĂș Tum, who stood up for victimized Mayans; Jody Williams, an American working against the global use of land mines; Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian defense lawyer committed to human rights; and Wangari Muta Maathai, a Kenyan who birthed a tree-planting movement.

If you seek inspiration for instigating change, Stiehm's book will deliver. The earlier profiles are especially insightful, with the advantage of historical perspective. But the examples of all of these healers, writers, and peacemakers prove once again how one individual committed to goodness can lead civilization forward.

Three books about poets

T.S. Eliot is sometimes known the most enigmatic of English-language poets, but in a new biography scholar and poet Craig Raine finds unity and coherence throughout his works. T.S. Eliot is the eighth book in Oxford University Press's "Lives and Legacies" series, examining the lives of great writers.

He was a shy man, child of a wealthy Maine family and today he is often overlooked. But in his time (he lived from 1869 to 1935) Edwin Arlington Robinson was considered one of America's finest poets. In Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet's Life, literary biographer Scott Donaldson relies on newly available personal correspondence of Robinson's to assemble a perceptive portrait of this reticent literary figure.