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The Globe and Mail
The Millennium 100


Our readers' choice: Einstein

In response to our invitation to submit 20 names of individuals who had the most impact in the past 1,000 years, readers most consistently listed the German-born mathematician and physicist. His character - an iconic mix of science and soul - reflects the makeup of our list of the 100 most influential people.

Saturday, January 2, 1999
By: SALEM ALATON
Special to The Globe and Mail


1Albert Einstein (1879-1955)JewishGerman-U.S. physicist described relativity
2Martin Luther (1483-1546)Catholic; LutheranGerman founder of the Reformation
3-4 (tie)Karl Marx (1818-1883)Jewish; Lutheran;
Atheist; Marxism/Communism
German economic theorist of communism
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)Catholic; AnglicanEnglish playwright and poet
5Isaac Newton (1642-1727)Anglican (rejected Trinitarianism, i.e., Athanasianism;
believed in the Arianism of the Primitive Church)
English scientist promulgated laws of motion
6Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)Nazism; born/raised in, but rejected CatholicismAustrian-German dictator responsible for the Second World War and Holocaust
7Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)CatholicItalian discoverer of the New World
8Johannes Gutenberg (1400-68)CatholicGerman inventor of printing
9Charles Darwin (1809-82)Anglican (nominal); UnitarianEnglish naturalist theorized evolution
10Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)CatholicItalian astronomer described solar system
11Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948)Hindu (mother was a Jain)Indian leader; advocate of nonviolent dissent
12Thomas Edison (1847-1931)Congregationalist; agnosticU.S. inventor of gramophone, light bulb
13-14 (tie)Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)Catholic (nominal)French emperor, military innovator
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)CatholicItalian artist, architect and engineer
15Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)UnitarianScottish-U.S.-Canadian inventor of the telephone
16Henry Ford (1863-1947)ProtestantU.S. car maker pioneered assembly line
17Mao Tsetung (1893-1976)Communist; Maoist; atheistChinese leader of Communist revolution
18Louis Pasteur (1822-95)CatholicFrench chemist developed bacteriology
19Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543)Catholic (priest)Polish astronomer described solar system
20Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)Jewish; atheist
Freudian psychology/psychoanalysis
Austrian neurologist created psychoanalysis
21Winston Churchill (1874-1965)AnglicanBritish leader in Second World War
22Genghis Khan (1162-1227)Mongolian shamanismMongol ruler created vast empire
23James Watt (1736-1819)Presbyterian (lapsed)Scottish engineer developed steam engine
24-25 (tie)Wolfgang Mozart (1756-91)CatholicAustrian composer; the "golden child of music"
William the Conqueror (1027-87)CatholicEnglish king implemented feudalism
26Marie Curie (1867-1934)Catholic (lapsed)Polish-French physicist developed radiography
27Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)LutheranGerman composer developed polyphony
28Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)Russian Orthodox;
Atheist; Marxism/Communism
Russian leader of Communist revolution
29Abraham Lincoln (1809-65)Regular Baptist (childhood);
later ambiguous -
Deist, general theist or
a very personalized Christianity
U.S. president united country, ended slavery
30Elizabeth I (1533-1603)AnglicanEnglish queen presided over growing empire
31Marchese Marconi (1874-1937)Catholic and AnglicanItalian inventor of wireless telegraphy
32-33 (tie)Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)CatholicItalian sculptor, painter
Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)Russian Orthodox; Atheist; MarxismSoviet dictator enslaved, killed millions
34Bill Gates (born 1955)U.S. software developer
35Orville Wright (1871-1948)United BrethrenU.S. pioneer of aviation
36Adam Smith (1723-90)Liberal ProtestantScottish economist described growth of wealth
37Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)CatholicGerman composer of Romantic era
38Marco Polo (1254-1324)CatholicVenetian merchant opened Western eyes to China
39Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)raised Episcopalian; later no specific denomination
held Christian, Deist, Unitarian beliefs
U.S. president drafted Declaration of Independence
40Alexander Fleming (1881-1955)CatholicScottish bacteriologist discovered penicillin
41Rene Descartes (1596-1650)CatholicFrench thinker led modern philosophy
42George Washington (1732-99)EpiscopalianFirst U.S. president; won nation's independence
43Nelson Mandela (born 1918) First black leader of South Africa after apartheid
44Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-68)BaptistU.S. minister led civil-rights movement
45Mother Teresa (1910-1997)CatholicAlbanian nun, missionary to India
46Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)AnglicanEnglish nurse reformed her profession
47Queen Victoria (1819-1901)AnglicanEnglish monarch extended empire
48Joan of Arc (1412-31)CatholicFrench martyr ended English occupation
49Wilbur Wright (1867-1912)United BrethrenU.S. pioneer of aviation
50Thomas Aquinas (1225-74)CatholicItalian theologian stressed human knowledge
51Jean J. Rousseau (1712-78)born Protestant;
converted as a teen to Catholic;
later Deist
French thinker described democracy
52-53 (tie)Henry VIII (1491-1547)AnglicanEnglish king contested Roman Catholic Church
King John (1167-1216) English monarch signed Magna Carta
54Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)CatholicSpanish modernist painter, cubist
55-56 (tie)Alfred Nobel (1833-96) Swedish chemist invented dynamite, founded prize
Emmeline Pankhurst (1857-1928) English suffragette leader won rights for women
57Robert Oppenheimer (1904-67)JewishU.S. physicist led development of atom bomb
58Benjamin Franklin (1706-90)Presbyterian; DeistU.S. statesman, inventor, described electricity
59-61 (tie)Frederick Banting (1891-1941) Canadian physiologist co-discovered insulin
Otto von Bismarck (1815-98) Prussian leader unified German states
Walt Disney (1901-66)CongregationalistU.S. film-television producer and animator
62Peter the Great (1672-1725)Russian OrthodoxRussian czar extended nation's power
63-65 (tie)Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) Portuguese prince developed scientific navigation
John Locke (1632-1704)raised Puritan (Anglican); Liberal ChristianEnglish philosopher described empiricism
Elvis Presley (1935-77)Assemblies of GodU.S. singer popularized rock 'n' roll
66-70 (tie)Edward Jenner (1749-1823)AnglicanEnglish physician pioneered vaccination
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)CatholicItalian diplomat, political philosopher
Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521)CatholicPortuguese navigator explored Pacific
Jonas Salk (1914-95)JewishU.S. virologist discovered polio vaccine
Voltaire (1694-1778)raised in Jansenism; later DeistFrench thinker advanced the enlightenment
71-72 (tie)Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)EpiscopalianU.S. president during Depression, Second World War
James Watson (born 1928)U.S. biologist described DNA
73Gregor Mendel (1822-84)Catholic (Augustinian monk)Austrian botanist developed genetic theory
74Mikhail Gorbachev (born 1931)Russian OrthodoxSoviet leader liberalized state
75Michael Faraday (1791-1867)SandemanianEnglish physicist described electromagnetism
76-77 (tie)Francis Crick (born 1916)English biologist described DNA with Watson
Pope Urban II (1035-99)CatholicFrench pontiff initiated First Crusade
78Neil Armstrong (born 1930) U.S. astronaut was first human on moon
79Samuel Lister (1815-1906) English inventor developed textile machinery
80Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69)Dutch ReformedDutch painter redefined art
81-83 (tie)Simon Bolivar (1783-1830)Catholic (nominal); AtheistSouth American revolutionary drove out Spanish
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)LutheranGerman philosopher defined critical idealism
Mary Wollstonecraft (1797-1851)UnitarianEnglish writer and women's-rights reformer
84-85 (tie)Wernher von Braun (1912-77)LutheranGerman-born U.S. rocket engineer developed Explorer
Diana Spencer (1961-97)AnglicanEnglish princess won popular appeal
86James Cook (1728-79) English navigator explored Pacific, Antarctic
87-88 (tie)John F. Kennedy (1917-63)CatholicU.S. president; assassinated
John M. Keynes (1883-1946) English economist championed full employment
89Charles Dickens (1812-70)AnglicanEnglish novelist decried class injustice
90Alan Turing (1912-54)JewishEnglish mathematician developed computer science
91-92 (tie)Alighieri Dante (1265-1321)CatholicItalian poet wrote Divine Comedy
Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556)CatholicSpanish founder of Jesuits
93Pope John Paul II (born 1920)CatholicPolish pontiff returns orthodoxy
94Louis XIV (1638-1715)CatholicKing of France when French influence spread throughout Europe
95-97 (tie)John Baird (1888-1946) Scottish engineer developed television
Rachel Carson (1907-64)EnvironmentalistU.S. naturalist inspired environmentalism
Saladin (1138-93)IslamEgyptian sultan founded a dynasty
98-99 (tie)Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)Puritan (Protestant)English soldier overthrew monarchy
Pope John XXIII (1881-1963)CatholicItalian pontiff had modernizing influence
100Suleyman the Magnificent (1494-1566)IslamOttoman sultan expanded empire

A vast confrontation between the spiritual and the material has marked a millennium that took us from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance, through the Industrial Revolution and into the global dominance of Microsoft. As that millennium is nearly ended, we can report that soul and science have both prevailed in the estimation of our readers.

Focus & Books asked readers several weeks ago to submit their lists of the 20 most influential figures of the past 1,000 years, promising to compile and publish the names today in a ranking of the top 100.

We were delighted by an outpouring of more than 1,000 enthusiastic responses, many by E-mail, others by fax and post. Individuals, families, groups of friends, even school classes wrote from across the country and abroad, describing how they had deliberated on their choices.

Tackling the challenge at his pre-Christmas social gathering, explained a reader from Winnipeg, were "a historian, an artist, a librarian/art historian/artist, an ESL teacher/bookbinder, a clothing and textiles professor/costume artist and a physicist."

In what became an unusually intimate connection with our readers, we learned how one man compiled his list with the help of workers renovating his home; we received a submission from people at a church dinner who voted for their selections; and we heard from a Toronto family that debated their selection on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day before finally sending the darn thing in. A trade-school student in Ukraine sent us a list, while a reader in Australia protectively kept tabs on our progress throughout.

Correspondents' two most commonly expressed themes were how hard it was to be held to such few names ("My God, is that 20 already?" groaned Douglas Hicton in his letter to us) and how much fun people had pursuing the task. We also received our share of informative and witty criticism on the inherent ambiguities of history and the admittedly imprecise exercise we had created.

Without fear or favour, we have simply counted up the submitted references to each historic or living person and ranked each name accordingly. There were significant areas of agreement. The 10 top names on our list were each cited by nearly half or more correspondents. And Einstein, the first-ranking individual, was named in a sizable majority of the lists.

Which brings us back to the point about the spiritual and the material. Albert Einstein, the most-frequently listed person, so widely deemed one of history's greatest explainers of the universe, wrote, "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. . . ." He also declared that, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

We won't say that Einstein (1879-1955), the German-born mathematician and physicist, is the most influential person of the millennium -- even choosing 100 such names was controversial enough -- but his elevation here does speak to his profound impact and iconic status.

He is the 20th-century's epitome of genius; in the years after he published his theory of relativity, it was said only a handful of people in the world could even understand it. Einstein, who won a Nobel prize for his work, rewrote physics. His perceptual coup is deservedly compared to those of two other scientific giants among our first 10 names, Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).

Einstein's life also dramatically frames key tensions of the modern age. A Jew who left Germany when Hitler -- another of our top 10 influences -- came to power, he would resettle in the United States, reluctantly writing to president Franklin Roosevelt that the U.S. should build an atomic weapon in anticipation that Germany was doing the same. In the wake of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he campaigned for international control of atomic arsenals and rued his own role: "If only I had known," said the one-time Swiss national, "I would have become a watchmaker."

Overall, the final list of 100 lives divides roughly into one-third political, military and religious leaders; one-third scientists and inventors; and one-third thinkers, artists and explorers. Of course, many individuals belong in more than one of these categories.

Whatever the field of activity, not surprisingly, revolutionaries abound. The first 10 names alone include Martin Luther (1483-1546), founder of the Reformation; Karl Marx (1818-83), author of the Communist Manifesto; and Charles Darwin (1809-82), whose evolutionary theory jostled the heavens.

The Austrian birth of the aforementioned Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) notwithstanding, you'll notice that a remarkable five of our first eight figures are German.

Hitler specifically was a source of struggle for many correspondents. "I omitted all the monsters, i.e. Hitler," declared reader Judith Roe, while Peter J. Strachan cited the impact of Hitler's global conflagration in generating technology, changing the role of women and so on. Hitler may or may not be in a class of his own, but there's no scarcity of ferociousness on our list. Robert Orr prefaced his submission with Lord Acton's observation that "great men are almost always bad men."

Of the 100 individuals named a quarter are British, a fifth American. Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) doesn't really qualify as a Canadian, but we'll note the historic work he did here and salute his placement at No. 15. Ontario-born Sir Frederick Banting (1891-1941), co-discoverer of insulin, is our only truly Canadian entry, at No. 59, while Pierre Trudeau, Lester Pearson, Jacques Cartier and Marshall McLuhan landed not too far below our leading 100 names. The top woman was Marie Curie (1867-1924) at No. 26, followed by Elizabeth I (1533-1603) at No. 30 and Mother Teresa (1910-97) at No. 45.

We had expected the Eurocentric orientation of our result, along with a preponderance of males and a dominance of 20th-century personalities. And so it turned out: Our list of 100 includes but half a dozen non-Westerners, 10 women and no First Nations person, while nearly half of the cited individuals were alive at some point in this century.

Trevor Bartram of Toronto was among a number of readers who sought to address these issues:

"No women appear on this list, a list dominated by European and North American males," Mr. Bartram wrote on his submission. "This merely reflects the historical fact that men dominated the public affairs of the human community in the last 1,000 years, as well as the extraordinarily creative and aggressive civilization of Europe and its heir in North America.

"The list is also weighted very strongly to the latter years of the millennium; this also reflects the historical fact that the early centuries of the millennium were essentially static; great events occurred, but perceptions of man's place in society and nature were unchanged."

Others tackled this state of affairs differently, with several readers submitting all-female lists, including Rick Zeeman of Aurora, Ont., who offered the provocative boast that, "I have thought of a list that may well be the equal of any list that a feminist could think up." (We concede it was an impressive selection and wonder if our correspondent is harbouring feminist tendencies of his own.)

Some readers went against the grain in other ways, offering lists dominated by Ukrainian leaders or Indian spiritual mentors. And we had a number of single-entry submissions eloquently extolling the importance of such figures as Baha'i founder Bha'u'llah, Pax Britannica enforcer William Pitt the Younger and rock and jazz great Charlie Parker. One creative lover of art offered the name of Marcel Duchamp 20 times, while another reader soberly observed that "one of the most influential people of the past 1,000 years must be [Grateful Dead guitarist] Jerry Garcia. Martin Luther King, Black Elk, Sitting Bull and Mother Teresa also come to mind."

As for the widespread (and understandable) moaning that 20 names was simply not enough, some of our correspondents just ran riot and gave us 100 names outright. To be fair to all concerned, we had to set these entries aside, excepting instances where several people sent in a composite list.

We also disqualified submissions from an apparently organized write-in campaign on behalf of the founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), with homeopaths from around the world E-mailing us his name and his alone.

The suggestions that fell below the top 100 included an erudite range of inventors and thinkers who are hardly household names. But some omissions and near-omissions were no less intriguing, such as a paucity of references to, say, Carl Jung or Kublai Khan. Hardly a dozen artists made the list; and aside from the inventors of the technology, we have only Walt Disney to represent the entire realms of cinema and television.

Outside the credulity-straining election of Princess Diana to the final 100, there was considerable restraint in elevating transient figures of popular culture. A lively scattering of single votes were accorded, however, to such epochal personalities as Margaret Trudeau, Howard Cosell and Chuck Berry.

All in all, reader Peter Jull of Brisbane, Australia, probably summarized our millennial exercise best: "Of course, the whole thing is impossible, on one level, but worth the conversation, no matter what."

As promised, we picked the names at random of three contributors to receive a prize (a copy of The Globe and Mail Style Book). The three are: Ronjit Soniassy, Yellowknife, Alan MacInnis, Wolfville, N.S., and Anna Krief, Petrolia, Ont.

In our list of The Millennium 100, dates and other references are from the centenary edition of Chambers Biographical Dictionary.


Contributors to the Millennium 100 often added comments to their 20 names:

To the People Compiling the Names of the Millenium: Happy New Year, and we trust these lists get through to you on time. From Peter Fraser, New Glasgow, Nova Scotia (actually he's in hospital in Halifax with a broken hip but he had compiled this before the accident).

I must state at the outset that I object to your requirement that only individuals be nominated. In most, if not all, cases, an accomplishment was built upon the work of others. Greatness rarely bursts forth spontaneously, as Athena did from the head of Zeus.

Our list as compiled by 13 friends on Boxing Day . . . Thanks for at least one passionate, beer-lubricated, round-table discussion.

I opted . . . in favour of people whose ideas represented a sea change in social beliefs or direction, on the assumption that without these people's ideas, our world would be a very different one. For example, if Columbus had not discovered America, somebody else very likely would, but if Newton & Leibniz had not invented calculus, it might never have been invented. (It probably would have, but that's the position I'm taking.)

I notice that most of my choices are related to my vocation, the Catholic priesthood . . . One realizes how insignificant one is in the scope of the millennium, especially in the last century when so much changed in comparison to the previous nine centuries.

The Globe would not be in business if it weren't for this fellow. The Protestant church may never have emerged and Oprah Winfrey would never have attained her full potential without him: Johannes Gutenberg.

Evil people like Hitler, Stalin, Bonaparte and others who were responsible for wholesale death and destruction do not influence people in the context of the millennium. They are but passing boils and sores on the great body of humanity.

This was fun! It reminds me of another exercise (I can't remember exactly where I saw it) in which you are asked to name the 10 people from history you would invite to a dinner party. The most common response I saw was, not surprisingly, Jesus, though I did also see a list that included Kurt Cobain (what does one serve a grunge star for dinner?).


Women of the millennium

Only 10 of the top 100 are women, though many entrants tried to recognize at least one female in their list of 20. One man included "my wife." And a few readers submitted all-women lists. Here's a submission of 19 names from Marie Sternberg [a devotee of Feminism] of Barrie, Ont.

To The Globe and Mail:


On Saturday, Dec. 5, 1998, The Globe and Mail asked for submissions to the list they are compiling of the "20 most influential people who lived in this millennium."

You point out that "we don't propose to engage in any affirmative action here." Damn right. That's why I haven't included any men in my list.

1. Margaret Sanger (1883-1966) American founder of birth-control movement (Humanist)

2. Petra Kelly (born 1947) German-born U.S. civil-rights activist

3. Rachel Carson (1907-1964) U.S. biologist, author of Silent Spring

4. Marilyn Waring (b. 1953) Youngest member, at 22, of New Zealand parliament

5. Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) French feminist, author of The Second Sex (Catholic)

6. Germaine Greer (b. 1930) Australian feminist, championed sexual freedom (Catholic)

7. Betty Friedan (b. 1921) American feminist, author of The Feminine Mystique (Jewish; Humanist)

8. Gloria Steinem (b. 1934) American feminist, founder of Ms. magazine (half-Jewish; Feminist, Humanist)

9. Nellie McClung (1873-1951) Canadian suffragist

10. Alice Walker (b. 1944) American author of The Colour Purple (Buddhist, Vegan)

11. Margaret Mead (1901-1978) American anthropologist (Episcopalian)

12. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) English author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (Unitarian)

13. Catherine MacKinnon (b. 1946) American writer and antipornography theorist

14. Sheila Copps (b. 1952) Canadian Member of Parliament (Catholic)

15. Agnes Macphail (1890-1954) First woman elected to Canadian parliament

16. Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) English queen (Anglican)

17. Queen Victoria (1840-1901) English queen; reigned for more than 60 years (Anglican)

18. Marie Curie (1867-1934) Polish-born French physicist, discovered radioactivity (lapsed Catholic)

19. Margaret Atwood (b. 1939) Canadian poet, novelist, critic (Humanist)


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