Biography started with a list of 250 people, representing the last one thousand years. Their list has been pared down to one hundred people who have had the most influence (positive or negative) in historical, cultural, political, social, or emotional terms, not just in their lifetime, but on future generations as well. They were presented in a special four hour "Biography of the Millennium" presentation, on A&E, October 10th and 11th.

The Top 100 Most Influential People of the Past 1,000 Years:

  1. Johann Gutenberg
  2. Isaac Newton
  3. Martin Luther
  4. Charles Darwin
  5. William Shakespeare
  6. Christopher Columbus
  7. Karl Marx
  8. Albert Einstein
  9. Nicolaus Copernicus
  10. Galileo Galilei
  11. Leonardo Da Vinci
  12. Sigmund Freud
  13. Louis Pasteur
  14. Thomas Edison
  15. Thomas Jefferson
  16. Adolf Hitler
  17. Mahatma Gandhi
  18. John Locke
  19. Michelangelo
  20. Adam Smith
  21. George Washington
  22. Genghis Khan
  23. Abraham Lincoln
  24. St. Thomas Aquinas
  25. James Watt
  26. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  27. Napoleon Bonaparte
  28. Johann Sebastian Bach
  29. Henry Ford
  30. Ludwig Van Beethoven
  31. Watson and Crick
  32. Rene Descartes
  33. Martin Luther King Jr.
  34. Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  35. Vladimir Lenin
  36. Alexander Fleming
  37. Francois Voltaire
  38. Francis Bacon
  39. Dante Alighieri
  40. Wright Brothers
  41. Bill Gates
  42. Gregor Mendel
  43. Mao Zedong
  44. Alexander Graham Bell
  45. William the Conqueror
  46. Niccolo Machiavelli
  47. Charles Babbage
  48. Mary Wollstonecraft
  49. Mikhail Gorbachev
  50. Margaret Sanger
  51. Edward Jenner
  52. Winston Churchill
  53. Marie Curie
  54. Marco Polo
  55. Ferdinand Magellan
  56. Elizabeth Stanton
  57. Elvis Presley
  58. Joan of Arc
  59. Immanuel Kant
  60. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  61. Michael Faraday
  62. Walt Disney
  63. Jane Austen
  64. Pablo Picasso
  65. Werner Heisenberg
  66. D.W. Griffith
  67. Vladimir Zworykin
  68. Benjamin Franklin
  69. William Harvey
  70. Pope Gregory VII
  71. Harriet Tubman
  72. Simon Bolivar
  73. Princess Diana
  74. Enrico Fermi
  75. Gregory Pincus
  76. The Beatles
  77. Thomas Hobbes
  78. Isabella
  79. Joseph Stalin
  80. Elizabeth I
  81. Nelson Mandela
  82. Niels Bohr
  83. Peter the Great of Russia
  84. Guglielmo Marconi
  85. Ronald Reagan
  86. James Joyce
  87. Rachel Carson
  88. J. Robert Oppenheimer
  89. Susan B. Anthony
  90. Louis Daguerre
  91. Steven Spielberg
  92. Florence Nightingale
  93. Eleanor Roosevelt
  94. Patient Zero (first known hiv carrier)
  95. Charlie Chaplin
  96. Enrico Caruso
  97. Jonas Salk
  98. Louis Armstrong
  99. Vasco Da Gama
  100. Suleiman I

oh...and Tesla is pretty cool...

At first glance I can identify 37 people on this list whose chief contribution to humanity was made in the 20th century. I'm sure there are a few more with whom I am not previously familiar (oh, the shame!).

In view of the fact that the 20th century was its last, I would suggest that this list is not, in fact, comprehensive when it comes to the lives of people throughout the millenium. Rather it is a compilation of people whose past endeavours have a visible impact on how we live our lives today, and how they will be lived in th future.

In addition to that, this list seems to be peculiarly Euro-centric - it is true that Genghis Khan shaped the ethnic and national identity of much of modern day Eastern Europe, but what of Tamerlane, who changed the face of middle Asia for ever? This is just and example - I'm sure a case could be made for why Tamerlane wasn't as important as all that, so feel free to insert the name of your own favourite non-western personage there (the Moguls in India spring to mind).

Of all the indubitabely formidable people in the list above, the one that strikes me as paramount to the advancement of mankind as a whole is Guttenberg - he made the proliferation of the ideas of those who came after him possible. Then again, I'm a bad Eastern schoalr - perhaps the Chinese have known the secret of the press for centuries before Guttenberg came along...

Why are there so many entries from the last 100 years? Were the people of this century so much more interesting or influential? Or are they merely better documented? Perhaps better remembered because so many of us alive now can remember them. I personally doubt the Beatles will be much noted 100 years from now. J. S. Bach is fondly remebered today though he last drew breath over 300 years ago. Even a span of only 25 years blinds some of us to the accomplishments of a great American President like Truman overshadowing him with the less lustrous legacy of Reagan. Lists like these are always skewed. The more recent is considered to be of more import than it really is. Which of our 20th century people would be included on a list of the Second Millenium's most important people if it was compiled in 100 years? Or in the year 2200? Forget the Elvises, Walt Disneys, and Pablo Picassos. I think their contributions are ephemeral. Who will be left? Watson and Crick, Marconi, perhaps Henry Ford. Being a child of my time and place, I can not say who will be there. But I can doubt.

We will inevitably quibble over any list of this sort, but the truth is that the top 20 or so are indisputable. The order is arguable of course, but the names largely are not.

The major failing of this is not so much its undeniable Euro/American-centrism, but its unwillingness to search for obscure (to a Western 20th century audience) choices who actually changed the world in favor of feel-good famous names like Florence Nightingale who, while important, actually accomplished relatively little in millennial terms. Starting off with Suleman the Magnificent got my hopes up, but they were quickly dashed. Where is, as TheLady said, Tamerlane? Pope Urban II? The Emperor Meiji?

The selections of Bill Gates and Stephen Spielberg, who are not even the most accomplished or important names in their own fields, are absolutely inexcusable. Are they smoking crack? Blatant pandering and asskissing of the worst kind. I wonder how many Microsoft commercials A&E got as a result. The people responsible should be sacked.
A bit of (noding) history: Back when people were actually interested in this, I started "The Biography of the millennium reformation node string" (this was still on E1). That has now become redundant, so I'm gathering it together to repost it here. TheLady, Samhunt, and Gamaliel have helped node many of the names in the original string, but there's still work to do! As long as that list is up there at the top of this node, we need the addendum down here at the bottom.

No matter what the dufuses over at A&E might imagine, The Beatles were absolutely not one of the most influential persons of the last thousand years. They were not even four of the most influential persons of the last thousand years. Nor was Elvis. We deserve a better list.

Here's some I want to get rid of... This is not the whole list. I haven't added anyone to this list unless I knew something about them.

Steven Spielburg

James Joyce

Ronald Reagan

Charles Darwin (Alfred Russel Wallace also came up with natural selection, as did Patrick Matthew)

Dante Alighieri

William Shakespeare

Thomas Jefferson


St. Thomas Aquinas

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Johan Sebastian Bach

Princess Diana took me completely by surprise. Did she do something that I don't know about?

And here are a few people to add.

Stanislav Petrov

Alfred Nobel

Blaise Pascal

James Clerk Maxwell

John Harrison (The chronometer, cased ball bearings, and the bi-metalic strip.)

Leonardo Fibonacci (Introduced Indo-Arabic numerals to Europe)


Hernando Cortes

Sun Yat-sen

Henri Dunant

Viktor Zhdanov

Norman Borlaug

Grace Hopper

And, of course, Nikola Tesla.

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