I’d like to press pause this month and add a little drama to the proceedings. (I also like the elegance of 2017 having numbers 30 through 21, 2018 with 20 through 11, and now 2019 will give you the top ten. Today, like June’s “Halftime Report,” serves as needed pacing.) I’ll quickly recap what we’ve covered, update the clues for who might be in the top ten, and then give you some close calls who didn’t make the cut.
The Ranking So Far
March: #30 (tie). Plato and Aristotle
April: #29. Philip the Fair
May: #28. Nicolaus Copernicus
June: #27. Joan of Arc
July: #26. Peter the Great
August: #25. Gregory Pincus
September: #24. Thomas Jefferson
October: #23. Constantine the Great
November: #22. Voltaire
December: #21. Charlemagne
January: #20. Henry Ford
February: #19. Queen Elizabeth I
March: #18. Thomas Edison
April: #17. Adolf Hitler
May: #16. Napoleon
June: Halftime Report
July: #15. Charles Darwin
August: #14. George Washington
September: #13. Charles Martel
October: #12. Galileo Galilei
November: #11. Albert Einstein
Word Count Updates
- The intro through #11 totals about 68,000 words. Including images, that’s 152 of a Word document, single-spaced.
- The longest entries so far:
- Napoleon: 4049 words
- Hitler: 4015
- Washington: 3960
- The shortest:
- Plato: 1933
- Einstein: 2087
- Ford: 2263
I’ve completed rough drafts for nine of the remaining ten figures, and the final entry’s rough draft is nearly finished. Three of them (#6, #4, and #3) have word counts in the mid-4000s, which would make them all lengthier than our current leader, Napoleon, who would hate being demoted. One of them (#8) is currently shorter than all but Plato. The rest are between three and four thousand words.
Number one has already shattered the 5,000-word barrier.
- As mentioned before, the list of 31 figures (note the tie at 30) has 11 political and military leaders; 10 scientists, inventors, or both; 7 who are best described as philosophers or thinkers, and three “others.”
- We’ve already listed all 11 leaders: Philip IV, Joan of Arc, Peter the Great, Jefferson, Constantine, Charlemagne, Queen Elizabeth, Hitler, Napoleon, Washington, and Charles Martel.
- We’ve had six scientists/inventors: Copernicus, Pincus, Edison, Darwin, Galileo, and Einstein.
- Three thinkers: Plato, Aristotle, and Voltaire.
- One “other”: Ford
- Therefore, remaining are zero political and military leaders, four scientists/inventors, four thinkers, and two “others.” Who might they be?? Perhaps this will help…
- The list of 31 had five Americans (and 1 German-American); five each from France and England; four from Germany; two each from ancient Greece, ancient Rome, modern Italy, and the medieval Frankish kingdom; and one Scot, one Pole, and one Russian. So far we’ve had…
- all of the Americans: Pincus, Jefferson, Ford, Edison, Washington, and Einstein
- four of the French: Philip, Joan, Voltaire, and Napoleon
- two of the English: Elizabeth and Darwin
- only one German: Hitler
- both Greeks: Plato and Aristotle
- one ancient Roman: Constantine (I’ve revealed the second coming will be Jesus… so to speak)
- one Italian: Galileo
- both Franks: Charlemagne and Charles Martel
- the one Pole: Copernicus
- and the one Russian: Peter the Great
- Therefore, remaining are one person from France, three from England, three from Germany, one Jesus, one Italian, and one Scot.
With so few names remaining, the above two parameters should give you all you need to know about who’s in the top ten, assuming your cross-referencing works. Good luck!
The “No Shots”
Here are some big names who were as quickly dismissed as conjured. All, of course, are extremely important — perhaps they’d be on a list of the hundred most influential Westerners of all time, which is really, really high up there — but at least 60 names are more influential than them on this competitive list.
The comparatively overrated political leaders: Louis XIV, Catherine the Great, Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Franklin Roosevelt
The talented artists/composers/authors who aren’t influential enough: Michelangelo, Raphael, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, The Beatles, Dante, Chaucer, Tolstoy, Dickens
The hugely influential Westerners whose impacts were felt more in non-Western areas: Alexander the Great, Norman Borlaug
Are you really sure they existed and did what you think they did? Abraham, Moses, Homer
Others were on the verge of doing what they did: Wright Brothers, Sigmund Freud, Alexander Graham Bell
Important inventors/scientists with relatively few contributions compared to higher ranked inventors/scientists: Vesalius, Bacon, Kepler, Lavoisier, Van Leeuwenhoek, Marconi
The supremely talented people whose influence was relatively limited: Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla
Still alive: Bill Gates, James Watson of Watson & Crick, my mother
Finally, here’s a list of about 30 names strongly considered for the list, though they did not make the cut. If you were considering them as potential top 10-ers, you can stop being so considerate. The following will be in alphabetical order to avoid any interpretation of how close they were to the top 30, though I will note some who were painful eliminations and probably a part of the “Next 10.”
- Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274, Italian theologian): His introduction of scholasticism allowed classicism, Aristotelianism in particular, back into the good graces of the Catholic Church — and, as a result, back into Western Europe as well. The “recovery of Aristotle” helped bring about the Renaissance.
- St. Augustine (354-430, Roman African theologian): His philosophy ingrained itself into the Roman Catholic Church as it began its ascent as the West’s central authority. He was probably Christianity’s most important thinker between St. Paul (first century) and Aquinas (thirteenth).
- Augustus (63 BC-AD 14, Roman emperor): I’ve seen his name very high on some lists, but, though he was the first Roman Emperor, it’s Caesar who deserves more credit for making the empire possible and so influential. He gets knocked off my list as a result. Next 10 contender.
- Charles Babbage (1791-1871, English inventor): the father of the computer. Considering the modern world, I’d say that’s pretty important. But alas, though he also had a host of other, smaller contributions, none were nearly as impactful.
- Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898, German statesman): He was the mastermind behind assembling the nation of Germany, one of the most important nations in the world since he did so.
- Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC): See Augustus. Definitely a Next 10, Caesar was one of my last cuts from the Top 30 and may in fact have been the first person ranked behind Plato and Aristotle. Consider all the culture (language, calendar, roads, and more) we’ve inherited from Rome, which greatly expanded under Caesar’s leadership across the Mediterranean region. I see him as more important than Augustus, who more solidified many of the reforms and conquests started by Caesar. Still, the responsibility of Rome’s rise is split among so many people that they were all kept off the list.
- Winston Churchill (1874-1965, British prime minister): His leadership of the UK in World War II’s darkest days kept Britain alive until the Allies could wrest back momentum from the Axis. Plus, Dunkirk!
- Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC, Roman statesman and orator): Thanks to his prolific writings and the many cultural influencers that studied him, perhaps no one had a greater impact on the Latin language and the modern Western languages that come from it. Centuries later, Petrarch’s discovery of Cicero’s writings helped catalyze the early Renaissance period. Enlightenment leaders also looked to him for inspiration. Next 10.
- Marie Curie (1867-1934, Polish-French scientist): The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, our earliest breakthroughs in understanding radioactivity are due to her. (Her death, unfortunately, was due to radioactivity.)
- Rene Descartes (1596-1650, French polymath): da Vinci was the prototypical “Renaissance man,” but Descartes embodied the post-Renaissance man. Unlike da Vinci, he left a direct impact on philosophy (classical rationalism) and mathematics (the Cartesian plane, for example).
- Euclid (mid-300s BC-mid-200s BC, Greek mathematician): As the father of geometry, I hate his guts (apologies to my wondrously wise and patient ninth grade geometry teacher, Mr. Lamothe), but I recognize his importance. His book, Elements, was the leading mathematical textbook from the age of Aristotle to the age of Einstein. Next 10.
- Michael Faraday (1791-1867, British scientist): He invented the dynamo, the first machine to generate electricity. He also advanced the field of magnetism.
- Alexander Fleming (1881-1955, Scottish scientist): The inventor of antibiotics, he was a tough omission. We’ll have medicine’s foremost ambassador in the top 10. Next 10.
- Benjamin Franklin (1705-1790, American everything): To Europeans, he was the most famous American colonist of the eighteenth century. He was the colonies’ most notable scientist, and he was important to their independence movement. Though to America I rank him as the sixth most influential founding father, to the world he ranks third. The first two were in the Top 30. (In between are Hamilton, Adams, and Madison.)
- William Harvey (1578-1657, English scientist): He outlined our circulatory system, including the realization that the heart pumps our blood. He can be considered the founder of physiology.
- Henry VIII (1491-1547, English king): He fathered three English monarchs (including the 19th most influential figure in Western history) and created the Anglican Church, which smoothed England’s later decision to ignore the Church’s decree that only Spain and Portugal could colonize the Americas. If you’re a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant living in America (and there’s a lot of you), Henry’s creation of the Church of England is the primary reason why. Next 10.
- Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679, English political philosopher): I’ll have much more to say about him in a Top 10 entry.
- Queen Isabella (1451-1504, Spanish queen): She not only hired Christopher Columbus to cross the Atlantic, which made possible the massive Spanish Empire that eventually spread its language and Catholicism across the globe, but her reign also saw the completion of the reconquista after 800 years of a Muslim presence in Iberia.
- Edward Jenner (1749-1823, English scientist): I’ll have more to say about him in a Top 10 entry as well. It’s been said that his work with immunology and vaccines saved more lives than anyone else in history. Sometimes I wish I made more than 30 spots. Next 10.
- Steve Jobs (1955-2011, American entrepreneur): You won’t see Bill Gates on this list because he’s still alive and not done yet. The late Steve Jobs, however, was considered, and I predict he’ll make the Top 30 when I revise the ranking in a couple centuries after my consciousness is downloaded into an Apple product.
- Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865, American statesman): He saved the United States. A key argument to George Washington (#14) was the importance of the U.S. to the modern world, and though Washington helped birth the nation, it was Lincoln who guided it through adolescence. Still, unlike Washington, Lincoln did not humble the world’s foremost empire, and he was not as contributory to the fundamentals of American government.
- Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527, Italian political scientist): Author of The Prince, the ideology he proposed to his powerful benefactors became a justification for power-hungry politicians who believe the ends justify the means.
- Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521, Portuguese explorer): He was the first circumnavigator of the globe, even if he did die during his expedition’s stop in the Philippines. (He traveled east to southeast Asian islands earlier in his life before traveling west to them in his famous voyage.) Proving the word was round was a pretty big deal, and one might argue it’s the start of modern world history.
- James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879, Scottish scientist): His work with electromagnetism made him the most important physicist of the nineteenth century and paved the way for Einstein (#11) to be the most important of the twentieth.
- Gregor Mendel (1822-1884, Austrian scientist): The founder of modern genetics. Or, rather, the “father” of it. (Your groans make me stronger.)
- St. Paul (c. 5 – c. 64, Roman religious co-founder): I’ll have much more to say about him in the Top 10 entry on Jesus. Next 10.
- Petrarch (1304-1374, Italian poet and humanist): When Petrarch uncovered some of Cicero’s old letters, he was inspired to break away from traditional medieval philosophy and start a new “humanistic” movement, a decision credited by many as the catalyst of the Renaissance. He vocally dissented from the old way of thinking — which he was the first to dub the “Dark Ages” — and helped usher us into the modern age. Next 10.
- Marco Polo (1254-1324, Italian explorer): Before Christopher Columbus sailed west to Fake Asia, Marco Polo traveled east to the real one. In time, his writings about his experiences in China inspired Columbus and others to search for a route there, which led to the accidental discovery of the Americas.
- Wilhelm Röntgen (1845-1923, German scientist): This Nobel Prize winner was the inventor of the X-ray machine, perhaps the world’s most important modern invention.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778, Swiss-French philosopher): His ideas drove the worldviews of many American and French revolutionaries in their struggles against the old regimes. I considered Voltaire (#22) the more influential of the two, however.
- Margaret Sanger (1879-1966, American sex educator): If you read my Gregory Pincus (#25) entry, you know how important I think birth control is. Of the many people critical to the development of realistic and safe birth control, Pincus is the most important, and Sanger, who was discussed in his entry, comes in second.
- Adam Smith (1723-1790, Scottish economist): Karl Marx will be in the Top 10. It might seem odd, considering capitalism is the prevailing Western economic model, that Marx should be ranked so high and Smith, generally regarded as the man who formalized capitalism, is not ranked at all. However, Marx was far more central to modern socialism and communism than Smith was to capitalism, which was already ingraining itself into Western economies.
- Socrates (470 BC-399 BC, Greek philosopher): A Next 10er, he was outranked by his pupil and his pupil’s pupil.
- Urban II (1035-1099, French-Italian pope): Surprisingly, only three popes were even considered for the list. Innocent III, probably history’s most powerful pope, was one, but his influence doesn’t match up to Urban’s. Gregory XIII gave us our calendar, but Caesar had already set up the basic parts of it, and Gregory’s major influence was limited to the calendar alone. Urban, however, gave us the first of the Crusades, a series of wars that reintroduced Roman culture — and introduced Arab ideas and luxuries — to the Western world. When Crusaders, traders, and pilgrims returned from the Middle East, they brought back concepts unheard of to medieval Europeans. Petrarch’s Renaissance followed shortly thereafter. The Crusades also soured relations between Western Christians and the Arab world, a souring which had many effects, including some to this day.
- William the Conqueror (1028-1087, English king): Before 1066, the Anglo-Saxons were German and the French were Latin. William’s Norman Invasion of England merged them. The result was a hybrid English culture that was later exported throughout the world. These French rulers eventually bothered their German subjects so much that many of them rose up and demanded liberties which became a key part of English, and later American, government.
And that’s it. Next month we get to the Top 10. In ten months, this list will finally — FINALLY! — be done. Hallelujah.