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The number is not a ranking.

The 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century
1 Albert Einstein
2 Pablo Picasso
3 Bob Dylan
4 Adolph Hitler
5 Joseph Stalin
6 Franklin Rooseveldt
7 Andy Warhol
8 Mikhael Gorbachaev
9 Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
10 V.S. Naipaul
11 Bell Engineers -- the transistor:  Walter Houser Brattain, John Bardeen, and William Bradford Shockley.
12 Elvis Presley
13 John Lennon
14 Groucho Marx
15 Charlie Chaplin
16 Mary Pickford
17 Jean Paul Sartre
18 Albert Camus
19 Mohandas Gandhi
20 Robert Frost
21 Herman Hesse
22 Winston Churchill
23 Mao Zedung
24 William Randolph Hearst
25 Charles Lindbergh
26 Orville & Wilbur Wright
27 Stephen Hawking
28 Vladmir Lenin
29 Pope John XXIII
30 Martin Luther King Jr.
31 J. Edgar Hoover
32 Sigmund Freud
33 Thomas Edison
34 Henry Ford
35 George C. Marshall
36 Guglielmo Marconi
37 Edward Teller
38 Niels Bohr
39 Ingmar Bergman
40 Akira Kurosawa
41 John Ford
42 Sen. Joseph McCarthy
43 Richard Nixon
44 Margaret Thatcher
45 Betty Frieden
46 Simone de Beauvoir
47 Graham Greene
48 Frederico Lorca
49 Magaret Sanger (Planned Parenthood)
50 John Kenneth Galbraith
51 Marshall McLuhan
52 Ernest Hemingway
53 D.W. Griffith
54 T.S. Eliot
55 George Bernard Shaw
56 Gloria Steinem
57 George Orwell
58 Aldous Huxley
59 Benjamin Spock
60 Tim Berners-Lee (creator of World Wide Web)
61 Francis Crick and James Watson: 1953 discovery of the double helix
62 Walt Disney
63 Andre Gide
64 Andre Malraux
65 Arturs Rimbaud
66 Frank Lloyd Wright
67 Leni Riefenstal
68 Arnold Toynbee
69 Claude Monet
70 Admiral Doenitz
71 Reinhold Niebuhr
72 Frederick Winslow Taylor  (efficiency expert)
73 Werner Von Braun
74 Henry Kissinger
75 Karl Popper
76 John Dewey
77 Frederico Fellini
78 Yuri Gugarin
79 Jackie Robinson
80 Salvador Dali
81 Charles De Gaulle
82 Paul McCartney
83 Bill Gates
84 Paul Joseph Goebbels
85 Franz Kafka
86 Igor Stravinsky
87 Rachel Carson
88 Jacques Cousteau
89 Isaac Assimov
90 Robert Capa
91 Woody Guthrie
92 Ray Kroc
93 Robert Crumb (artist)
94 Leonard Cohen
95 John Steinbeck
96 Elie Wiesel
97 James Joyce
98 Oscar Wilde
99 John Humphries (declaration of human rights)
100 Zhou Enlai
101 Jack Kerouac
102 Allen Ginsberg
103 Duke Ellington
104 Billie Holiday
105 Robert Johnson (blues guitarist)
106 Miles Davis
107 Louis Armstrong
108 Marlon Brando
109 Nietzsche, Friedrich
110 Nikola Tesla real inventor of electricity, radio.
111 Gary Kildal, real inventor of DOS (CP/m)




Time is compiling its list of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.  No doubt, it will feature their usual selection of celebrity dips and rich dweebs, as well as a sprinkling of genuinely important people.  So, out of my own idle curiosity, and to kill some time myself, I thought I'd compile my own personal list.  I expect to make a few controversial selections too, but all in good fun. I expect to focus more on people who were genuinely influential, and not merely famous or successful, and especially not famous for being famous or successful at being rich.  Princess Diana, for example, is possibly the most monumentally insignificant person who ever lived, based on the ratio of news coverage to actual achievement. On the other hand, Andy Warhol was also an oversized  dweeb, but almost everybody has seen his soup cans and his Marilyn Monroe prints, and has probably given a thought or two to the idea of deconstructing advertising logos as a result, so he makes the list.   I can't, off hand, think of a single athlete who should make the list as an athlete-- can you?    What importance does it have that a young boy dreams of growing up to play basketball (and make money) like Michael Jordan?  How will he have changed the world as result?  But Time will undoubtedly find space for a Jordan, DiMaggio, or Ruth.  After all, Time's sister publication, People, rated Tiger Woods as one of the most interesting people of the past 25 years.  Interesting?  Good grief.  Babe Ruth is interesting, Pete Rose is not.  Bobby Hull is interesting, Wayne Gretzky is not.  Oksana Baiul is interesting; Nancy Kerrigan is not.

If any athlete should be in, how about Jackie Robinson?  But then, probably, we should include Branch Rickey.  How about Babe Dedrickson?  Roger Bannister?

A few thoughts about the top 100:

  • of course there is a Western, English language bias.  Acknowledged and admitted.   The Chinese will have a different top 100 list.  I'd love to get together and argue about who, in the two lists, should be on both.
  • Candidates must be three things: important, interesting, and influential.
  • Of course J. Edgar Hoover, Joseph McCarthy, and others were despicable.  The question is, were they influential?  Yes.
  • No tokenism allowed: not many women on the list, and, unfortunately, justly so.   Individual women should have played a bigger role in the 20th Century, and it was unfair that they didn't, but it is a fact that they didn't.  And I don't buy the argument that they really were more influential than they appeared to be, but were simply unacknowledged.  If that were true, then it wouldn't matter that women finally did move into positions of influence, in what was, perhaps, the most significant "movement" of the century.
  • Influence must have depth, as well as width.  No to Princess Diana, no to Warfield Wallace Simpson, no to Michael Jackson, no to Monica Lewinsky (!), and no to Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe.
  • The U.S. will have the largest representation in the Time Magazine top 100.  That doesn't just reflect nationalist bias-- the 20th will be remembered as America's century.  The result of the two world wars was the ascendancy of U.S. military and economic might, and America's vast material prosperity has given it the resources for significant achievements in commerce and industry.  Culturally-- it's a different story.
  • in some cases, a listing is credited partly as a representation of a certain movement or set of ideas, because no single individual stands out as singularly deserving the rank.   Charles Lindbergh was really no more courageous or audacious than, say, Amelia Earhart, but he was the first to cross the Atlantic alone, and he serves as a representative of the technology, aircraft, that had such a great impact on this century.   In the same sense, there is no single person who can be credited with the rise of feminism, so a few important representatives are listed.

In the arts, the U.S. most resembles the ancient Roman Empire, which accrued vast economic power, but depended on the Greeks for its culture.  No U.S. writer this century has achieved the world-wide importance of Sartre, Camus, or Greene.  No U.S. director has astonished the way Kurosawa astonishes, both the eye and the mind, or the way Bergman astonishes the soul.  F. Scott Fitzgerald?  Oh, please.

Who will be on Time's List but Shouldn't Be:

Bill Gates -- as an innovator, he is a complete dud.  As a marketer, he was successful, but again, he didn't invent anything new.  He just heads a company that is exceptionally ruthless, and exceptionally incompetent.  No, Windows 95 does not multi-task.  Several other OS's, including OS/2 and Unix, have been multi-tasking for years and years.  The makers of those operating systems just weren't ruthless or bright enough to shove their product down everyone's throats. 

Well, he might still grudgingly make the list, because the world wide web runs on the personal computer, and Gates owns the company that makes the software that runs most of the world's personal computers.

Lucille Ball -- popular and famous... how deep is Lucy's influence?  Well, how did she change your life?  Frankly, Tuesday Weld had more influence on me than Lucy ever did, in 1/100th the time.

Frank Sinatra -- come on... for what?!  His fashion sense? 

Michael Jordan-- Time Magazine will claim that Jordan is the greatest professional athlete of the 20th century.  Not so.  Wayne Gretzky exceeds the benchmark of outstanding performance in hockey by a far greater margin than Jordan does for basketball.   The point is that neither are really "influential" or important.

Billy Graham-- and how did he influence you?  The trouble with Graham is that he has dedicated his life to separating religion from politics, thus ensuring that our politics are amoral and our religion irrelevant.  But it worked as he planned: he's still around, still famous, and still gets invited to the White House.  Now start over.

Stephen Spielberg-- his movies -- including Schindler's List, are so utterly conventional and shallow, he can hardly be considered an intellectual influence on anyone.

What I Learned about the 100 Most Influential People

It's harder than you might think to come up with a list of 100.  The first 60 or 65 are relatively easy, but the last 40... you find you have to start including people you rejected the first time around.  But you also start poking into disciplines you might have forgotten about, like architecture and physics. 

 


The News Stories of the Century: Series

World War I

World War II

Russian Revolution

Chinese Revolution

The Depression

Fall of Communism

The News Stories of the Century: Incidents

Kennedy Assassination

Sinking of the Titanic

Landing on the Moon


Best Book
Beautiful Losers (Leonard Cohen)


Best Album
Highway 61 Revisited (Bob Dylan)

Copyright 1998 Bill Van Dyk