A List Of The Hundred Most Important People In History (Or Are They?)

3D front cover of The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined by David Friedrich StraussCambridge University Press has just published Who’s Bigger? Where Historical Figures Really Rank, by Steven Skiena and Charles B. Ward. The authors have an article in Time magazine explaining the rationale of their analytical process in ranking historic movers and shakers, with a list of the 100 people they calculate to be the most important in history.Gratifyingly, we have published works by or about quite a lot of them (except the 20th-century ones, for obvious reasons). The list is below, with links to the books we would modestly propose – some connections are more tangential than others. But do you agree with the authors’ choice and ranking order? A good Christmas parlour game beckons!


1 Jesus: Strauss’s life, translated by George Eliot

2 Napoleon: his life by Sir Walter Scott

3 Muhammad: an unusual account of an Islamic female saint

4 William Shakespeare: the famous biography by Sidney Lee

5 Abraham Lincoln: a moving account of the experience of slavery

6 George Washington: his official letters to Congress

7 Adolf Hitler: I’d rather suggest a better era in Germany!

8 Aristotle: a still important edition of the ‘Politics’

9 Alexander the Great: vols. 6–7 of Thirlwall’s history cover his life and achievements

10 Thomas Jefferson: his writings, including his autobiography

11 Henry VIII of England: an outsider’s view of Henry and his court

12 Charles Darwin: where to begin? With his most influential work!

13 Elizabeth I of England: Froude’s survey of her reign

14 Karl Marx: well, almost!

15 Julius Caesar: No. 4’s version!

16 Queen Victoria: her own musings …

17 Martin Luther: the Reformation and all that

18 Joseph Stalin: the long tradition of exile in Siberia

19 Albert Einstein: an influential predecessor

20 Christopher Columbus: in his own write…

21 Isaac Newton: a classic nineteenth-century biography

22 Charlemagne: crowned at Rome on Christmas Day, 800

23 Theodore Roosevelt

24 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: his life by Jahn

25 Plato: translated by Jowett

26 Louis XIV of France: and the origins of the French Revolution

27 Ludwig van Beethoven: a classic life

28 Ulysses S. Grant

29 Leonardo da Vinci: his knowledge of anatomy

30 Augustus: in his context

31 Carl Linnaeus: and his system

32 Ronald Reagan

33 Charles Dickens: the truly inimitable

34 Paul the Apostle: and the church of Jerusalem

35 Benjamin Franklin: his autobiography

36 George W. Bush

37 Winston Churchill

38 Genghis Khan: as seen by an Indian historian

39 Charles I of England: a feminist viewpoint

40 Thomas Edison: his inventions

41 James I of England: and his son

42 Friedrich Nietzsche: his most famous work?

43 Franklin D. Roosevelt

44 Sigmund Freud: Mesmer, the great-grandfather of psychiatry

45 Alexander Hamilton: a Founding Father

46 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

47 Woodrow Wilson

48 Johann Sebastian Bach: in context

49 Galileo Galilei: and other astronomers

50 Oliver Cromwell: edited by Carlyle

51 James Madison: the fourth President

52 Gautama Buddha: his followers

53 Mark Twain: a literary encounter

54 Edgar Allan Poe: his tales

55 Joseph Smith, Jr.: the City of the Saints

56 Adam Smith: and the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’

57 David, King of Israel: and his land

58 George III of the United Kingdom: and his chief scientific advisor

59 Immanuel Kant: and many others

60 James Cook: his life

61 John Adams: his letters to his wife

62 Richard Wagner: any day now…

63 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

64 Voltaire: and the French Revolution

65 Saint Peter: his later successors

66 Andrew Jackson

67 Constantine the Great: and all the rest

68 Socrates: and his companions

69 Elvis Presley

70 William the Conqueror: came, saw, conquered

71 John F. Kennedy

72 Augustine of Hippo: and the Manichees

73 Vincent van Gogh

74 Nicolaus Copernicus: or his ancient counterpart

75 Vladimir Lenin: an influence, allegedly

76 Robert E. Lee: the Civil War from a British viewpoint

77 Oscar Wilde: his mother writes

78 Charles II of England: Restoration society

79 Cicero: on the nature of the gods

80 Jean-Jacques Rousseau: one of his admirers

81 Francis Bacon: his works

82 Richard Nixon

83 Louis XVI of France: memoirs of his god-daughter

84 Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor: his diplomacy as perceived by the Venetians

85 King Arthur: and the story of England

86 Michelangelo: one of the ‘Makers of Florence’

87 Philip II of Spain: his first marriage

88 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: his life and works

89 Ali, founder of Sufism: a Western account of Islamic spiritualism

90 Thomas Aquinas: not yet, but while we’re on scholasticism…

91 Pope John Paul II: no, but some earlier popes

92 René Descartes: no, but we do have the less famous Desargues?

93 Nikola Tesla: no, but we do have some electricial engineers

94 Harry S. Truman

95 Joan of Arc: her trial

96 Dante Alighieri: his shadow…

97 Otto von Bismarck: the new German empire

98 Grover Cleveland

99 John Calvin

100 John Locke: in educational mode

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