History, socio-cultural

History’s 100 Greatest Men


100 greatest men

The brouhaha over Sam Becile’s movie, purportedly titled Innocence of Muslims, reminded me of the book of Michael H. Hart. It was first published in the 1970s and was even featured in TIME magazine.  Hart considered the Muslim prophet as the greatest man ever. This is a stark contrast from the idiotic movie of (im)Becile who portrayed the prophet as the worst man ever.

From Michael H. Hart’s The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, Revised and Updated for the Nineties. (New York: Carol Publishing Group/Citadel Press; first published in 1978, reprinted  with minor revisions in 1992.)

Rank   Name                                                 Influence

1         Muhammad                       Prophet of Islam; conqueror of Arabia;

Hart recognized that ranking Muhammad first might be controversial, but felt that, from a secular historian’s perspective, this was the correct choice because Muhammad is the only man to have been both a founder of a major world religion and a major military/political leader

2         Isaac Newton                        physicist;

theory of universal gravitation;

laws of motion

3         Jesus Christ                          founder of Christianity

4         Buddha                                 founder of Buddhism

5         Confucius                             founder of Confucianism

6         St. Paul                                  proselytizer of Christianity

7         Ts’ai Lun                               inventor of paper

8         Johann Gutenberg              developed movable type printing;

9         Christopher Columbus       explorer;  led Europe to Americas

10       Albert Einstein                     physicist; relativity;

11       Louis Pasteur                       scientist; pasteurization

12       Galileo Galilei                      astronomer; heliocentric solar system

13       Aristotle                                influential Greek philosopher

14       Euclid                                    mathematician; Euclidian geometry

15       Moses                                   major prophet of Judaism

16       Charles Darwin                    biologist, evolution theory

17       Shih Huang Ti                      first Chinese emperor

18       Augustus Caesar                  Roamn emperor

19       Nicolaus Copernicus           astronomer,  heliocentricity

20       Antoine Laurent Lavoisier   father of modern chemistry

21       Constantine                           Roman emperor

22       James Watt                            developed steam engine

23       Michael Faraday                    physicist; chemist; discovery of magneto-electricity

24       James Clerk Maxwell            physicist; electromagnetic spectrum

25       Martin Luther                        founder of Protestantism / Lutheranism

26       George Washington             first president of United States

27       Karl Marx                               founder of Marxism, Marxist Communism

28       Wright Brothers                   inventors of airplane

29       Genghis Khan                       Mongol conqueror

30       Adam Smith                          economist;  capitalism;

31       William Shakespeare           literature;

32       John Dalton                           chemist; physicist; atomic theory

33       Alexander the Great             conqueror

34       Napoleon Bonaparte            French conqueror

35       Thomas Edison                      inventor

36       Antony van Leeuwenhoek   invented microscope

37       William T.G. Morton               pioneer in anesthesiology

38       Guglielmo Marconi                inventor of radio

39       Adolf Hitler                             conqueror; led Axis Powers in WWII

40       Plato                                        founder of Platonism

41       Oliver Cromwell                      British political and military leader

42       Alexander Graham Bell           inventor of telephone

43       Alexander Fleming                  penicillin;  bacteriology and immunology

44       John Locke                               philosopher and liberal theologian

45       Ludwig van Beethoven           composer

46       Werner Heisenberg                quantum mechanics;

47       Louis Daguerre                       an inventor/pioneer of  photography

48       Simon Bolivar                          National hero of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia

49       Rene Descartes                        Rationalist philosopher and mathematician

50       Michelangelo                           painter; sculptor; architect

51       Pope Urban II                           called for First Crusade

52       ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab              Second Caliph; expanded Muslim empire

53       Asoka                                        king of India who converted and spread Buddhism

54       St. Augustine                            Early Christian theologian

55       William Harvey                        circulation of blood;  modern embryology

56       Ernest Rutherford                    physicist; pioneer of subatomic physics

57       John Calvin                               Protestant reformer; founder of Calvinism

58       Gregor Mendel                         Mendelian genetics

59       Max Planck                                physicist; quantum dynamics

60       Joseph Lister                             discoverer of  antiseptics

61       Nikolaus August Otto               built first four-stroke internal combustion engine

62       Francisco Pizarro                      Spanish conqueror in South America; defeated Incas

63       Hernando Cortes                      conquered Mexico for Spain; destroyed Aztec civilization

64       Thomas Jefferson                     3rd president of United States

65       Queen Isabella I                        Spanish ruler

66       Joseph Stalin                             revolutionary and ruler of USSR

67       Julius Caesar                             Roman emperor

68       William the Conqueror            laid foundation of modern England

69       Sigmund Freud                         founded Freudian school of psychology /psychoanalysis

70       Edward Jenner                          vaccination for smallpox

71       Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen       discovered X-rays

72       Johann Sebastian Bach             composer

73       Lao Tzu                                        founder of Taoism

74       Voltaire                                        writer and philosopher

75       Johannes Kepler                         astronomer; planetary motions

76       Enrico Fermi                                initiated the atomic age; father of atom bomb

77       Leonhard Euler                           physicist; mathematician;

78      Jean-Jacques Rousseau              French philosopher and author

79       Nicolo Machiavelli                       wrote The Prince

80       Thomas Malthus                         economist; wrote Essay on the Principle of Population

81       John F. Kennedy                          U.S. President

82       Gregory Pincus                           endocrinologist; developed birth-control pill

83       Mani                                             founder of Manicheanism,

84       Lenin                                            Russian ruler

85       Sui Wen Ti                                   unified China

86       Vasco da Gama                           navigator; discovered route from Europe to India

87       Cyrus the Great                          founder of Persian empire

88       Peter the Great                           forged Russia into a great European nation

89       Mao Zedong                               Ruler of modern China

90       Francis Bacon                             philosopher , scientist

91       Henry Ford                                 developed automobile;

92       Mencius                                      founder of a school of Confucianism

93       Zoroaster                                    founder of Zoroastrianism

94       Queen Elizabeth I                       British monarch;

95       Mikhail Gorbachev                     Russian premier who helped end Communist power in USSR

96       Menes                                          unified Upper and Lower Egypt

97       Charlemagne                              created Holy Roman Empire in 800 AD

98       Homer                                         epic poet

99       Justinian I                                    Roman emperor; re-conquered Mediterranean empire;

100     Mahavira                                     founder of Jainism


The Runners-up:

St. Thomas Aquinas; Archimedes; Charles Babbage; Cheops; Marie Curie; Benjamin Franklin; Mohandas Gandhi ; Abraham Lincoln; Ferdinand Magellan; Leonardo da Vinci. The other runners-up are simply listed, without further details or discussion.


I have read Hart’s book a long time ago. If I remember correctly, the foremost criterion he used was the IMPACT of the man on humanity.

The Prophet Muhammad’s impact on 1 billion Muslims is quite obvious.

Jesus Christ was only number 3 because he has to share the glory with St. Paul (Saul of Tarsus), whose persistent proselytization spread the Christian faith all over the Middle East, Asia Minor and Rome. Constantine (No. 21), through the Council of Nicaea, has made Paulinian Christianity the dominant form of Christianity today.

From the list, one can infer that Religion (Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, etc.), Science (Newton, Einstein, Galileo, etc.) and War (Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, etc.) have the greatest impact on humanity.

Mr. Hart obviously relied heavily on Western history. If he knew more of the Islamic civilization, he would have included Ali ibn Abu Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad. He is not only the 4th Caliph, he is also the “Great Martyr” and Symbol of the Shi’a people – the people of Iran and millions more in Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

There are also the philosophers Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). Without Ibn Sina and the other Muslim philosophers, the philosophy of Aristotle would have been forever lost to the Europeans.

Ibn Sina’s (Avicenna’s) magnum opus The Book of Healing is considered the largest work of its kind ever written by one man. It covered Mathematics, Logic, Psychology, Natural Sciences, Astronomy and Music. His Canon of Medicine re-introduced the scientific works of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers-physicians to Medieval Europe, which eventually paved the way for Europe’s Renaissance. These Muslims brought back Greek thought to Europe which ended the 1000 years of European Dark Ages and ushered in the Enlightenment.

It must be duly noted that after the fall of the Roman Empire, the barbarians and the Christians were against Science and Learning and closed down Plato’s Academy and all schools of learning in Europe. The Muslims, whom the Christians used to call Heathens and Infidels, were the ones who re-introduced ancient Greco-Roman thought to medieval Europe.

And there is Ibn Khaldun whose masterpiece The Muqaddimah , his introduction to his main book Universal History, laid down the foundations of modern sociology.

Of course, everyone would have his/her idea of the Top 100 Great Men. I would have a very different list.

I would put Leonardo da Vinci equal to or greater than Michelangelo (No. 50). And I certainly would put more literary writers. Their ideas filter down to the people much more than the philosophers’.

Also, I think Copernicus (No. 19) is highly over-rated. First, he was not the original proponent of a heliocentric solar system. Second, and more importantly, he did not fight for it. He was so afraid of the Catholic Church that he refused to have his book published until after his death.

Unlike Copernicus, Galileo fought for his beliefs.

And so did Rene Descartes (no. 49), who deserves a higher rating. He introduced the basics of the “Scientific Method”, which is still considered as scriptural by many social scientists in the world. The Cartesian worldview – ontology, epistemology and axiology – still predominates.

We still live in a materialist (Cartesian) world even though 20th century Physics had already made Galileo (No. 12) and Newton (No.2) passé.

The great importance given to the 17th-century gentlemen (Newton, Galileo, Copernicus and Descartes) means that 20th century humans still live under centuries-old beliefs and ideas. But Science had already advanced way beyond these thoughts.

Hopefully, in the 21st century, the ideas of Einstein (No. 10), Heisenberg (No. 46), Planck (No. 59), and Fermi (No. 76) would take root and take over the ideas of the 17th-century gentlemen named above. By taking root, I mean that the people’s concept of the nature of reality, of an individual’s relationship to the Universe, etc. would be based on scientific principles like Relativity Theory, Quantum Mechanics, Uncertainty Principle and even beyond like Super strings theory and M-theory.

Lastly, for the 21st century, three men have the greatest impact on a more practical level. Steven Jobs (Apple) brought the computer to people’s homes. Before Jobs, people (including those at IBM, HP, etc.) thought that computers were made for big corporations and universities and not for individuals. Jim Clark (Netscape) made the Internet and World Wide Web accessible to everyone. And of course, the world’s richest man, Bill Gates. His Microsoft is simply indispensable to almost everyone using a computer.

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