Maybe I Just Haven’t Watched Enough National Geographic Specials, But Notice of Some of History’s Most Influential Persons Seems to Have Passed Me By.

Buying books for our online bookstore the other day, I crossed paths with a book called The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History. What’s not to like about such an audacious effort at picking and choosing?

The author is one Michael H. Hart, an astronomer. Obviously, Dr. Hart (Ph.D. from Princeton, Class of ’72) has a passion for reading about famous people and then ranking them according to his opinions of their impact on the world at large.

Checking with Wikipedia, I soon learned that Dr. Hart’s book was reprinted in 1992 (the version I have is the original edition, printed in 1978) and his rankings revised a small bit. But what fascinated me about his listing in the first edition was how many these luminaries I’d never heard of.

Nearly all of those whose names were a mystery to me were produced by Eastern or Middle Eastern cultures, and therein lies an important clue.

I assume that this blog is largely read, to the extent that it is read, by persons civilized, to the extent that we are civilized, in the West and not the East, as am I. And that the people I’d never heard of, you may not have heard of either. We can put that theory to the test easily enough. Here are the personalities I’d never heard of from Michael Hart’s original list of The 100 and a few words about why he awarded them such a distinction:

Ts’ai Lun: A Chinese believed to have invented paper about 100 A.D.

Shih Huang Ti: A Chinese emperor (238-210 B.C.) who augmented sweeping anti-feudalistic reforms influential right down to modern times.

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab: Perhaps the greatest of the Moslem caliphs. First opposed to Mohammad, he suddenly embraced him in a Saul of Tarsus-like conversion.

Asoka: Probably the most important monarch in the history of India (ascended to the throne about 273 B.C).

Sui Wen Ti: The Charlemagne of China in that he reunited the country in the sixth century after hundreds of years of division.

Mani: Founder in the third century of Manichaeism, a religion synthesizing ideas from other religions that spread worldwide and held influence for about a millennium.

Mencius: Born about 371 B.C., a philosopher who was the most important successor to Confucius.

Mahavira: A contemporary of Gautama Buddha who developed the nonviolence-oriented Jainist religion, which strongly influenced Gandhi.

As for changes in Hart’s 1992 edition, Wikipedia notes, “Chief among these revisions was the demotion of figures associated with Communism, such as Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong, and the introduction of Mikhail Gorbachev. Hart took sides in the Shakespearean authorship issue and substituted Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford for William Shakespeare. Hart also substituted Niels Bohr and Henri Becquerel with Ernest Rutherford, thus correcting an error in the first edition. Henry Ford was also promoted from the “Honorary Mentions” list, replacing Pablo Picasso. Finally, some of the rankings were re-ordered, while no one listed in the top ten changed position.”

Hart’s book (which is now rare and pricey) can be ordered here: The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History

Go here for the Wikipedia item: The 100

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