From the horrific Nuremberg trials to the Founding Fathers, here are five people who influenced the writing of history.
Since the 1960s, the history of racism, feminism, democracy, women’s rights, the environment, the civil rights movement, nuclear disarmament, the nuclear arms race, and the arms race in the Middle East have been on the receiving end of radical change. At the same time, understanding the historical roots of radical change takes time, and thinking about history can sometimes be even longer than the actual history.
It’s nice to celebrate people on a yearly basis, and many different people and groups will likely find themselves on the list of 100 Most Influential People (35 named in the first batch). But this list is focused on those people who have made a particularly significant contribution to human history, whatever that may be. This list includes four people who can potentially be declared the most influential and lasting person in history:
4. Joseph Stalin
It would be wrong to write off Stalin as a bad man. In fact, those were pretty fine words to use when writing about the man’s history. If we had to single someone out for the possible accomplishment of influencing our history more than any other individual, it’s most likely going to be Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
Stalin amassed an extensive legacy of horrific and unjust deeds over a majority of the 20th century, and in death he remains entrenched in the debate on whether or not he was a villain. He has inspired countless biographies of both real and fictional figures, and countless historians have been criticized for studying him and his legacy too much.
However, his most important legacy may have been that of staying in power for decades without any major threats to his authority. This triggered political and psychological changes that later reshaped the world and caused significant upheaval within the Cold War rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States.
3. Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci lived three very different lives. One was his own — he was a Renaissance genius and a man of unparalleled creative genius. He created the techniques for sketching and outlined the principles of light, space, and man’s ability to understand the world. Still, for many people, he’s a mystery. It took a 500-year gap after his death before the Renaissance was immortalized in art.
The Renaissance lasted 500 years because that’s how long it took Leonardo to create a catalogue of ideas that would eventually be documented and understood by countless individuals and societies of the future. Unfortunately, he kept most of his ideas to himself for most of his life. Yet, because of that, he created one of the most definitive portraits of humanity. It is impossible to describe the genius of da Vinci, but his work can be studied at a microscopic level in a similar way to how physics can be studied at a microscopic level.
2. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a man dedicated to a single goal: ending the institutional racism that plagued the nation. He came from a poor, black middle-class family that often faced ridicule and harassment, and he became a prominent leader against racism through non-violent means. He was associated with the Civil Rights Movement for decades, but when he was assassinated in 1968, the legacy of racial discrimination would likely have carried on without him, even if he had lived to see it.
It’s difficult to speculate how many lives were saved by the efforts of King and his fellow civil rights leaders. It’s impossible to say. But we can look back on the Civil Rights Movement and say that King’s activism and sacrifices to end discrimination did have a large impact on the lives of countless individuals. He is undeniably one of the greatest political figures of the 20th century.
1. John Lennon
John Lennon had a singular talent for musical creativity, and he worked hard to live up to the expectations of the Beatles. He started out as an unknown musician, but he was soon surrounded by a rotating cast of talented songwriters who eventually decided he should lead the band. Over the course of the next few years, Lennon brought in eight new members, improved the sound, and developed the songs of a young group known as the Beatles.
Along the way, Lennon changed the course of music history. He wrote the immortal “Imagine” and introduced an up-and-coming form of pop music to the world. Over the last few decades, people have changed the way they think about art and artisanship, and that revolution to some extent continues to this day.