The Most Important People in History

Once upon a time, we had a quiz on our site called "The Most Important People in History". It was based on a book by author Michael H. Hart. And while it was one of our most popular quizzes, I didn't like it. In my opinion, Hart's list of history's 100 most influential people had some major problems. For one, the biblical character Moses appeared on the list. There is as much evidence that Moses ever existed as there is for Noah (or Adam and Eve) for that matter. There were some other strange decisions as well. For example, John F. Kennedy appears in his top 100 while Abraham Lincoln was left out. In any case, I thought we could do better. So I made my own list.

JetPunk's 100 Most Important People in History

You're Going to Hate My List

Top 100 lists get a lot of hate. For example, here are some of the comments on our Top 100 NBA Players Quiz:

I have no problem with Steph Curry being up here, but above Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen and Wade this early in his career? Come on now ESPN...

OHHH the disrespect on this list!

this quiz is an outrage how is LeBron so damn high he is a bum he is basically the smartest kid on the shortbus. nobody in this era should be on the list period nothing but overrated bums

And the top NBA players list was compiled by a panel of experts. People think they know better than a panel of experts. Now imagine it was just one person who wrote the list. It's easy to find some "flaw" in the ranking, but making a list like his is hard.

Existing Lists are Bad

In addition to Michael Hart's book, here are a couple other lists of most influential people.

Who's Bigger. This website (and book) used computer algorithms to make a list of the most influential people in history. The results are predictable. We learn, for example, that George W. Bush was the 36th most important person in the entire sweep of world history. Pity Mao Zedong who only ranks 151st.

Ranker.com. This list pools the wisdom of the internet more directly by allowing people to vote. It's not the worst list ever, but we still get the Moses problem (#17), and fan favorite Nikola Tesla shows up at (#19) just ahead of Buddha.

In any case, the state of the art in these lists is not that great.

My List is Bad Too, and Wrong

While I firmly believe that my list is a lot better than the three other lists mentioned, it's still bad and wrong. It is impossible to make an objectively correct list. I am sure that I overlooked some people and rated others too highly. The list will be revised over time as I acknowledge and correct my mistakes.

Anticipated Criticism #1

Your list has too many mass murderers

This is a list of the most influential people in history, good or bad. Genghis Khan and Adolf Hitler were not good people. But they majorly changed the course of history. That's what influential means.

Anticipated Criticism #2

Only four women?

Throughout history, women were denied the chance to participate in the public sphere. It's hard to start a religion or conquer Asia if society expects you to stay home and raise kids. This list is most definitely not an honor roll, it's a list of people who changed the world, for better or worse. And to change the world, you need to have the opportunity to do so. If Columbus hadn't been born in a specific time and place, he never would have sailed across the Atlantic.

Anticipated Criticism #3

There are too few people from Africa / South America on the list

See the above. To change the world, you need to be born at the right time and place. A person born in the United Kingdom in 1800 had a much better chance than a person born in Kenya in 1500. It doesn't mean one person is better than another. Keep in mind that many people on this list were terrible people.

Anticipated Criticism #4

What about mothers / wives of historical figures?

In 2014, Kevin Durant (#22 on our list of greatest basketball players) was named MVP of the NBA. When given the award, he thanked his mom saying "You da real MVP".

Everyone is who they are because of their parents and loved ones. But if we were to include them on the list, it would be ridiculous. With a few symbolic exceptions, my list only includes the people who directly effected change. Otherwise #1 on the list would surely be Mitochondrial Eve, the African woman who lived 150,000 years ago and that all humans are Earth are descended from.

Anticipated Criticism #4

Your list is too Western, too anglo-Centric

This is probably true. Like most Westerners, I know comparatively little about Chinese and Indian history.

That said, the current world we live in has been massively shaped by European, and especially English-speaking culture. Scientists living in Europe and the United States made huge advances in the 19th and 20th centuries while there were few significant discoveries in other parts of the world. This isn't because Westerners are smarter, it's because they had the opportunity to make these discoveries.

In Conclusion

Please try to be charitable. I did the best I could in making this list and I know it's not perfect. I hope you enjoy the quiz, and try to remember that complaining on the internet almost never makes the world a better place.

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level 68
Jan 12, 2019
Am I missing something, or did you not include a link to your list?
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level ∞
Jan 12, 2019
Lol, it has now been added
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level 68
Jan 21, 2019
Thanks!
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level 46
Jan 13, 2019
Those complaints you encounter in this blog shouldn't be complaints to your list, but complaints to history. You can't make a list of the most influental People of history and include only "good" people or include as many men as women. I think it's a good list though, as you mentioned, there can be no "correct" list.
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level 55
Jan 14, 2019
How about Ada Lovelace who invented a lot of coding? That's the foundation of much of our economy today.
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level 51
Jan 19, 2019
Hi, you wrote 'making a list like his is hard'.
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level 75
Mar 16, 2019
I was considering making a quiz like this myself, based on subjective opinion. About greatest people, or most atrocious empires, or more important inventions. I anticipated all of the same criticisms you have. This is one reason why making a quiz based on something objective, or at least with some attributable source, is often much more attractive. But I still might do one of those quizzes some day.
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level 75
Mar 16, 2019
Is the original quiz gone now? Pity. It had one of the more lively debates going in the comments section of all the quizzes on the site.
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level 75
Mar 16, 2019
I'd say the amount of evidence *for* Noah, Moses, and Adam and Eve is actually exactly the same as the amount of evidence *for* Jesus. (none)

However, in the case of Noah, Moses, and Adam we have evidence *against* all of these people. We know for a fact that humans do not share a common genetic ancestor who lived only 6,000 years ago. We know for a fact that there was never a Biblical worldwide flood (or not 4500 years ago, at any rate). And we know with a high degree of certainty that there were never any Hebrews enslaved in and later freed from Egypt as described in Exodus. So we have evidence against these characters. The evidence against Jesus is not as strong. But the evidence *for* Jesus is precisely the same. Jack and squat.
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level 63
Mar 16, 2019
Now, I may be wrong, but I am fairly sure that no scholars seriously believe that Jesus wasn't real. Whether or not he did all the Bible miracle stuff is up for debate, but I think there has to have been a man who affected massive change to the Jewish faith.
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level 55
Mar 16, 2019
They are rare but they do exist. Whether they are right or not probably depends on what the definition of Jesus is. If you are just talking about anyone called Jesus, then of course Jesus existed. If you are talking about a man who was the son of God and also God, who was born of a virgin, who performed miracles and then died and came back to life again, Jesus didn't exist. Somewhere in between you will have a definition that fits one and only one real person. But will that be "Jesus"? It depends on what you think that means.
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level 75
Mar 17, 2019
Yan you're mistaken, nad TWM that's not entirely accurate, either. There are serious scholars who believe that Jesus was entirely mythical. They're currently in the small minority but, for example, Richard Carrier lays out a pretty compelling case in his books on the subject.

The current broad scholarly consensus is that the historical Jesus was an itinerant Jewish rabbi who lived in 1st century Palestine and was crucified by the Romans, most likely for subversive activities.

Even if we accept the broad scholarly consensus that there was a historical Jesus, the fact would remain that it was not he who affected "massive change" to the Jewish faith. According to the gospels Jesus said he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. He wasn't trying to start a new religion. There were people who came after Jesus who, using his story, went about creating a new religion in his name. Jesus didn't have much to do with it, even if he was a real person.
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level 63
Mar 17, 2019
Kalbahamut, it sounds like you pretty well just described Jesus, as far as I can tell - a rabbi who was crucified by the Romans for subversive activities? That sounds a lot like Jesus to me. And yes, I'm well aware that Jesus did not set out to start a new religion and that much of the change came from his followers after his death, but that doesn't mean he didn't instigate massive change.
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level 75
Mar 18, 2019
I'm having trouble understanding your point but it seems to me like you think I said something I didn't say.
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level 75
Mar 18, 2019
To reiterate: while most scholars believe in a historical Jesus (as a flesh and blood man who did nothing at all miraculous but nonetheless inspired some popular stories), there ARE in fact scholars who believe that Jesus was entirely mythical and never existed at all. And to those scholars, the definition of Jesus does not matter. They believe he was entirely fabricated. This is a minority view, but it is not without basis and there are those who hold it. Richard Carrier probably being the most currently well-known.
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level 55
Mar 19, 2019
What was inaccurate about my comment? I don't really see how the definition can not matter.
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level 75
Mar 19, 2019
Because there are scholars who believe that Jesus didn't exist at all. Not even an ordinary rabbi upon whom the later myths were based. Professor Carrier believes that early Christians understood Jesus to be a celestial figure only; not a flesh and blood man.
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level 55
Mar 19, 2019
Hmm... OK. The definition still matters. The statement that the stories about Jesus in the New Testament were based originally on hallucinations and not on a real person is a well-defined statement, and this seems to be what Carrier believes. There are few sensible definitions under which anyone could be considered Jesus if this is true. But there are many other possibilities that would result in one or many people having reason to be considered Jesus. What I'm saying is that it may not be possible to say if there was a historical Jesus, even in principle, because the question may not be well-defined.
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level 75
Mar 21, 2019
If the question is: "was there a historical Jesus?"

Then how you define Jesus matters very much. Most scholars believe Jesus was at least partially based on a real person, but they disagree on who that person was and most do not believe his life was much at all like the man described in the Gospels.

If the question is: "are there scholars who believe that Jesus is entirely mythical?" (and in this case, it is)

then your definition of Jesus doesn't matter. You can define him as the living son of god, as a great religious reformer, as an unremarkable itinerant rabbi, or as a Bavarian midget and cheese enthusiast.... and it doesn't matter. Because the answer to this question is yes, yes there are scholars who believe that Jesus never existed, no matter what definition you are using, they don't believe in any of them because they think that Jesus was fabricated like Xenu, Mormon, Thor, or Harry Potter.
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level 55
Mar 22, 2019
Great, so what I said was correct. ( "Whether they are right or not probably depends on what the definition of Jesus is.")
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level 75
Mar 26, 2019
No... no, it doesn't.

Situation A:
Scholar believes there was no historical Jesus. (he is a mythicist)
Reality: Jesus was an unremarkable rabbi.
Definition of Jesus used: unremarkable rabbi.
Scholar is wrong.

Situation B:
Scholar is a mythicist.
Reality: Jesus was an unremarkable rabbi.
Definition of Jesus: son of God.
Scholar is still wrong.

Situation C:
Scholar is a mythicist.
Reality: Jesus was son of God.
Definition of J: unremarkable rabbi.
Scholar is wrong.

Situation D:
Scholar is a mythicist.
Reality: Jesus was son of God.
Definition of J: son of God.
Scholar is wrong.

Situation E:
Scholar is mythicist.
Reality: Jesus is myth
Definition of J: unremarkable rabbi
Scholar is right

Situation F:
Scholar is mythicist.
Reality: Jesus is myth.
Definition of J: son of God.
Scholar is still right
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level 75
Mar 26, 2019
It is immaterial if we define Jesus as the son of god or not, this is totally irrelevant to the mythicist position. The only definition of Jesus we could use that would matter to a mythicist is if we defined Jesus as a fictional character. But that's not what you said. Jesus mythicists believe that no flesh and blood person existed upon which the Jesus myth was based, not a normal rabbi with no supernatural powers, not the messiah, not anything.
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level 75
Mar 26, 2019
you say "whether they are right"... the they in this sentence refers to your previous sentence where you say "they are rare but do exist." The "they" in this sentence refers back to the previous comment by YantheMan who says "no scholars seriously believe Jesus wasn't real." So we can conclude that "they" = scholars who believe Jesus wasn't real. The Jesus mythicists. NOT the scholars who debate the historicity of the gospels and what the real Jesus was like. Whether or not these particular scholars (the mythicists) are correct or not has nothing to do with whether or not you define Jesus as "a guy who existed" or "son of God." They believe in none of the above.

What's going on here TWM? I know you're a smart guy. I feel like I'm being condescending with how explicitly I'm spelling out something very very obvious... but... that's not my intention... either this is necessary because you still don't get it or you're just being difficult.
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level 55
Mar 30, 2019
The problem is with situation B. If the scholar doesn't believe in Jesus the son of God and Jesus was an unremarkable rabbi, the scholar is right. I take your point that if the scholar is also a mythicist, they are wrong. The definition of Jesus is important because it is used in Yan's original clause "believe Jesus wasn't real". I take your point completely. My problem is with the fact that you seem to think that this means what I said was wrong. Definitions do always matter. If they don't then any statement is completely meaningless.

I am not trying to be difficult or to misrepresent your position. This is primarily an argument over definitions and I am not especially interested in continuing it. I think we actually agree on the important issues and I only came back because you said that what I had said was wrong. Without contradicting what I wrote to begin with, I can agree with your primary point.
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level 55
Mar 30, 2019
Though you are also right that I wasn't "getting it", mainly because you wrote above that my question was "are there scholars who believe that Jesus is entirely mythical?", and it wasn't.
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level 55
Mar 30, 2019
Your actual explanation of what you thought was wrong with my statement only came in your most recent set of posts.
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level 75
Apr 3, 2019
Yan said no scholar seriously believes that Jesus wasn't real.

You said that these scholars exist, but whether they are right or not depends on if we define Jesus as the son of god or just a man.

I pointed out that there are scholars who don't believe Jesus was real (mythicists), and to these scholars the definition of Jesus does not matter. Define him as the son of god, define him as just a man, they still believe that there was no Jesus. And it doesn't matter at all what definition you are using of Jesus. They don't believe in Jesus, by any definition, and whether or not they are correct depends on whether or not a Jesus - any Jesus - existed. Your definition of Jesus doesn't change whether or not a real Jesus existed. Therefore these scholars (the mythicists, the only ones we've been talking about) are not concerned with what definition you are using.
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level 57
Mar 18, 2019
But getting back to the point, without a Moses character who unified the Jews, there could be no Jesus character to change Judaism. Both characters should therefore be either placed on this list or absent from this list considering that neither can be confirmed to have truly existed.
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level 75
Mar 27, 2019
yes. The "Mosaic laws", ten commandments, and exodus story are an absolute cornerstone of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We know that this story is false, but we also know that the story about Jesus rising from the dead is false. Even if that story would go on to be just as influential.
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level 65
Mar 18, 2019
I appreciate that you went to these lengths and also provided and accepted criticism on your list. That said, I do not understand the reasoning at including John Lennon over Michael Jackson. If you want to have the Beatles on the list as a group, that makes sense, but Lennon as a solo musician does not hold nearly as much sway over pop music as Mike.
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level 63
Mar 28, 2019
Not over music, but I think Lennon was huge figure socially and politically, which Jackson never was.
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level 67
Mar 19, 2019
This is a good list. You did very well, Quizmaster. One change I would personally make is Benjamin Franklin in place of someone--I don't know who.
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level 63
Mar 21, 2019
"JetPunk's 100 Most Important People in History" is one of the quizzes that almost completely ignore women. I made my own quiz about just women, which thankfully got featured. I also made a second one which unfortunately seems to be too obscure for the public audience.
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level 55
Mar 22, 2019
It's not ignoring women, just acknowledging the fact that for the vast majority of history they have been less influential than men, owing to the fact that they were not given the opportunity to be as influential.
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level 75
Mar 26, 2019
I think that, even given the same opportunities as men, you're going to end up with more men influencing the world than women. It's not that women aren't capable, or that individual women are not smart or talented, but rather than in a large population of people there are certain trends that emerge among humans. First, while men and women have the same average intelligence, there are more outliers with men - there are more men who are either very stupid or who are geniuses. While there are certainly brilliant women, there aren't as many of them. Many of the men on the list are there because they were brilliant. Additionally, to get involved in something like politics or business you almost have to be a psychopath. Men are more often psychopaths than women. Many men on the list are there because they were politicians, business leaders, inventors or great warriors. Men are also more physically capable than women. They can do things like climb Mt Everest or win the World Cup more easily.
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level 75
Mar 26, 2019
All that being said, I do think the original list, which QM borrowed a lot from, was pretty sexist. The most obvious example of this IMO, as I've pointed out, is the inclusion of Pincus over Margaret Sanger. That makes no sense at all.

Margaret Sanger was fighting for political reform from an early age as early as the 1910s. She started publishing a newsletter pushing for women's issues. At the time, even discussing contraception, of any kind, was illegal in the USA. She started smuggling contraceptives into the country and opened the first birth control clinic in the country in New York where she gave out contraceptives and information to women. She and her associates would go to jail for these activities multiple times, but she used the court cases to raise awareness about these and other issues, significantly shifting moral attitudes. She founded Planned Parenthood which became the 1st and largest international organization of its kind ...
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level 75
Mar 26, 2019
... promoting sexal education, birth control, and reproductive health all over the world. She led this organization until she was 80 years old, all the while always fighting for various women's issues. Though she had already succeeded through endless persecution in getting various birth control methods and information to women all over the world, methods and information that had previously been illegal or unavailable, she also convinced philanthropist Katharine McCormick to fund research into oral contraceptives. With this funding, a team of researchers was able to develop the birth control pill. Sanger pushed for a variety of liberal social reforms including advocating for the idea that women should be able to enjoy sex without fear of it leading to reproduction - extremely forward thinking for a woman born in the 1800s. She also spoke out against prejudice toward homosexuals and was a strong advocate for free speech. She is credited for inspiring the comic book character Wonder Woman
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level 75
Mar 26, 2019
She was named Humanist of the Year in 1957 and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 31 times. There have been innumerous works done about her life and parks, clinics, statues, buildings, awards, etc. named in her honor.

What did Pincus do? Well... he took the money that Margaret Sanger was able to procure for research, and with it he recruited some other researchers notably gynecologist John Rock, and became the CO-inventor of combined oral contraceptives. He was one guy in a team of researchers who looked in to something that Sanger fought to get funding for. and that's it. He was not involved in politics or social reform (Rock was). He has no other notable inventions to his name. And he can't properly be credited with inventing the pill because he didn't even conduct the research in to it himself.
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level ∞
Mar 27, 2019
Interesting. I'll take another look when I update the quiz. If he didn't actually invent the pill, then I don't think he deserves to be on the list.
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level 75
Mar 27, 2019
He worked on it, but others did most of the important research, McCormick funded the research, Sanger secured funds for the research, Sanger pushed for the research to be done, Sanger pushed for the social reforms that made it possible for women to know about and take the pill, Sanger was among those pushing for social change in the decades leading up to the pill that made such research even possible.

Anyway point is, if you believe that the sexual revolution, the availability of contraception to women, or changing attitudes about sexuality, feminism, and women's rights in the 20th century is important, that's all well and good, but give credit where credit is due. Sanger deserves that credit more than probably anyone else. Not the co-inventor of one of the above birth control methods (that she funded).
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level 35
Mar 30, 2019
Can you make a blog or something of how to know how many subscribers you have?
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level 73
Apr 4, 2019
I was quite hoping the blog showing how many people are at each level comes back.
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level 75
Apr 7, 2019
Find it here ... https://www.jetpunk.com/user-ranks