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 has some major problems. For one, the biblical character Moses appears on the list. There is no historical evidence that Moses ever existed. If we include Moses, why not include Noah, or better yet, Adam and Eve? There were some other strange decisions as well. 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.
You're Going to Hate My ListTop 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
The Top 100 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 this is hard.
Existing Lists are Bad
In addition to Michael Hart's book, there are a couple other different 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 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 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.
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.