THINK ON THESE: People who changed the world

“History is a jangle of accidents, blunders, surprises and absurdities, and so is our knowledge of it, but if we are to report it all we must impose some order upon it.” – Henry Steele Commager, American historian


It’s past noon and I’m still at the working station here in The Henry apartment in Sanford, Florida. I have written a travel feature. I went out, took the much-needed rest, and had some hot chocolate.

When I returned to the room, I saw some books but nothing took my interest. I went to sort of a sala and found some magazines. I looked at them and there was Life Magazine, which featured “100 People Who Changed the World.”

“History never stops moving,” said the introduction of the publication. “It evolves. It is fluid. What history looks like today is different from what it looked like, say, a hundred years ago; and what today’s history-in-the-making looks like now may look very different just 20 years from now.”

The publication took a closer look at the people – from the past and the present – who have changed the course of history. The 100 people featured were divided into four categories: philosophy (including religion), politics (including the politics of war or dominion), invention (including scientific innovation), and culture (in its broadest sense).

I think I know most of those featured in the publication. I have heard some of them but mostly I have read their biographies. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of meeting one of them personally: Nelson Mandela. I came across him when I covered the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

Mandela was one of the 23 leaders (mostly elected although there were some who were not). On top of the list were King Khufu, Alexander the Great, Cleopatra VII, Constantine the Great, Leif Eriksson, Genghis Khan, Queen Isabella, Catherine De Medicis, Queen Elizabeth, and George Washington.

Also in the list were Napoleon Bonaparte, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mikhail Gorbachev. The only living in the list are Lech Walesa and Barack Obama.

There were 13 people listed in the religious figures and philosopher kings: Abraham, Buddha, Confucius, Aristotle, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Pope Urban II, Joan of Arc, Mohandas Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Pope John Paul II, and Osama Bin Laden.

Twenty-five people were listed under the category of scientists, inventors, and innovators. Some of them were recipients of the Nobel Prize. In the top 10 were Johann Gutenberg, Leonardo da Vinci, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Nicephore Niepce, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, and Louis Pasteur.

The remaining 15 people were Wilhelm Konrad Rontgen, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Sigmund Freud, Henry Ford, Marie Curie, Guglielmo Marconi, Albert Einstein, Margaret Mead, Alan Turing, Norman Borlaug, Jonas Salk, Rosalind Franklin, Christian Barnard and Steve Jobs.

The cultural icons category has the most numbers: 39 all in all. At least three Hollywood performers are on the list: Elvis Presley, the king of rock ‘n roll; Charlie Chapin, popularly known as the Tramp; and Oprah Winfrey, a television host who made her first screen appearance in The Color Purple.

Aside from Presley, two singing sensations were in the list: The Beatles, the British band who rose to fame from 1957 to 1970; and Louis Armstong, the master jazz trumpeter who sang well, too.

Familiar names also include Helen Keler, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Coco Chanel, Martha Graham, Charles Lindberg, Benjamin Spock, Ray Kroc, Dr. Seuss, Rachel Carson, Sir Edmund Hillary, Muhammad Ali, and Ted Turner.

From the past, the list included Homer, Marco Polo, Michelangelo Buonarroti, William Shakespeare, Lady Mary Pierrepont Wortley Montagu, Adam Smith, Ludwig van Beethoven, P.T. Barnum, Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Jules Verne, Leo Tolstoy, Mother Jones, Richard Warren Sears, Lewis Hine, Margaret Sanger, Le Corbusier, Igor Stravinsky, and William Levitt.

Although Steve Jobs is included in the list, Mark Zuckerberg never appeared. He founded social media when he launched Facebook in 2004 (although Friendster was way ahead, I think).

The editors offer this explanation: “His impact is huge, and he has made it possible for billions of people to come together; but the social media site has also made it easier to drive society apart, upending the news business and even the way elections are conducted.”

What about Jeff Bezos, the founder, executive chairman, and former president and chief executive officer of Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce and cloud computing company?

“He might be seen as a retailing successor to Richard Sears, one of the 100 in this book (and included despite the fact that his great namesake legacy is now in bankruptcy); but Bezos also rides the wave of technology, and the power and reach of Amazon are frighteningly large,” the editors noted. –

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