Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century

Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century

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Encyclopedia
Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century is a compilation of the 20th century's 100 most influential people, published in Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

 magazine in 1999.

The idea for such a list started on February 1, 1998, with a debate at a symposium at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., United States. The panel participants were former CBS Evening News
CBS Evening News
CBS Evening News is the flagship nightly television news program of the American television network CBS. The network has broadcast this program since 1948, and has used the CBS Evening News title since 1963....

 anchor Dan Rather
Dan Rather
Daniel Irvin "Dan" Rather, Jr. is an American journalist and the former news anchor for the CBS Evening News. He is now managing editor and anchor of the television news magazine Dan Rather Reports on the cable channel HDNet. Rather was anchor of the CBS Evening News for 24 years, from March 9,...

, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin
Doris Kearns Goodwin
Doris Kearns Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American biographer and historian, and an oft-seen political commentator. She is the author of biographies of several U.S...

, former New York governor Mario Cuomo
Mario Cuomo
Mario Matthew Cuomo served as the 52nd Governor of New York from 1983 to 1994, and is the father of Andrew Cuomo, the current governor of New York.-Early life:...

, then–Stanford Provost Dr. Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice is an American political scientist and diplomat. She served as the 66th United States Secretary of State, and was the second person to hold that office in the administration of President George W. Bush...

, publisher Irving Kristol
Irving Kristol
Irving Kristol was an American columnist, journalist, and writer who was dubbed the "godfather of neoconservatism"...

, and Time managing editor Walter Isaacson
Walter Isaacson
Walter Isaacson is a writer and biographer. He is the President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. He has been the Chairman and CEO of CNN and the Managing Editor of TIME...

.

In a separate issue on December 31, 1999, Time recognized Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

 as the Person of the Century.

List categories


The list contains a total of 100 people, with 20 each in five broad categories: Leaders & Revolutionaries, Scientists & Thinkers, Builders & Titans, Artists & Entertainers, and Heroes & Icons.

Person of the Century


Of the 100 chosen, Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

 was crowned the Person of the Century, on the grounds that he was the prominent scientist in a century dominated by science. The editors of Time believed the 20th century "will be remembered foremost for its science and technology", and Einstein "serves as a symbol of all the scientists—such as Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
Werner Karl Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist who made foundational contributions to quantum mechanics and is best known for asserting the uncertainty principle of quantum theory...

, Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

, Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman
Richard Phillips Feynman was an American physicist known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as in particle physics...

, ...who built upon his work".

The cover of the magazine featured the famous image of Einstein taken in 1947 by American portrait photographer Philippe Halsman
Philippe Halsman
Philippe Halsman was an American portrait photographer.-Life and work:Born to a Jewish family of Morduch Halsman, a dentist, and Ita Grintuch, a grammar school principal, in Riga, Halsman studied electrical engineering in Dresden....

. It was during this photo session that Einstein recounted to Halsman his despair that his special theory of relativity and his letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 had led the United States to create the atomic bomb. It was at this point of immense sadness for Einstein that Halsman took the picture.
Runners-up:
It was debated whether Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

, German Chancellor and Führer
Führer
Führer , alternatively spelled Fuehrer in both English and German when the umlaut is not available, is a German title meaning leader or guide now most associated with Adolf Hitler, who modelled it on Benito Mussolini's title il Duce, as well as with Georg von Schönerer, whose followers also...

 responsible for World War II and The Holocaust
The Holocaust
The Holocaust , also known as the Shoah , was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews and millions of others during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi...

, should have been made Person of the Century for his impact on the twentieth century. The argument was based on Times explicit criterion that the person chosen should have the greatest impact on this century, for better or worse. In the same December 31, 1999 issue of Time, essayist Nancy Gibbs addressed the topic with the article The Necessary Evil?. In the article, she argues that Hitler "was simply the latest in a long line of murderous figures, stretching back to before Genghis Khan. The only difference was technology: Hitler went about his cynical carnage with all the efficiency that modern industry had perfected" and presents several rhetorical questions
Rhetorical question
A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in the form of a question posed for its persuasive effect without the expectation of a reply. Rhetorical questions encourage the listener to think about what the answer to the question must be. When a speaker states, "How much longer must our people...

 such as "Evil may be a powerful force, a seductive idea, but is it more powerful than genius, creativity, courage or generosity?"

The only people to shape both the 20th century and the early 21st


Of Time magazine's 100 most influential people of the 20th century, only the following four had the distinction of being honored again when in 2004, Time began publishing an annual list of the 100 people who continue to change the world:

Gates was considered influential in the 20th century for his role in the computer revolution, and then later recognized in the 21st century for his philanthropic influence. Pope John Paul II was recognized in part for his role in ending communism in Eastern Europe. Nelson Mandela was recognized for his role in ending South African apartheid in the 20th century, and as a symbol of forgiveness in the 21st. Winfrey was considered influential in the 20th for creating a more intimate confessional form of media communication, unleashing confession culture, and popularizing and revolutionizing the tabloid talk show
Tabloid talk show
Tabloid talk shows are a genre of American television programming talk shows that achieved peak viewership during the late 20th century. Airing mostly during the day and distributed mostly through broadcast syndication, this genre originated with The Phil Donahue Show and was popularized by the...

 genre pioneered by Phil Donahue
Phil Donahue
Phillip John "Phil" Donahue is an American media personality, writer, and film producer best known as the creator and host of The Phil Donahue Show. The television program, also known as Donahue, was the first to use a talk show format. The show had a 26-year run on U.S...

, which a Yale study claimed broke 20th century taboos and allowed gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people to enter the mainstream. In the 21st century she was considered influential as an inspirational role model, for the impact of her book club in making literature accessible to the masses, and for helping to elect the first African-American president
Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of Barack Obama
Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama was one of the most widely covered and studied developments of the 2008 presidential campaign. Winfrey has been described as the most influential woman in the world for her impact on the culture and her proven record as a taste-maker and trend-setter,...

.

Criticisms


The list has been criticized for being too U.S.-centric. Time magazine representative Bruce Handy responded to the criticism this way:
Hey—it's the American century. Clearly, the Europeans were the great innovators in terms of high modernism. But when it comes to popular culture this century has been all American. American popular culture is really the arts story of the century's second half. The music the world listens to, the movies the world watches, the junk food the world eats are all American—or largely American influenced.


The list of the top 20 Artists and Entertainers, in particular, was criticized for not including Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
Elvis Aaron Presley was one of the most popular American singers of the 20th century. A cultural icon, he is widely known by the single name Elvis. He is often referred to as the "King of Rock and Roll" or simply "the King"....

, a decision Handy initially defended in the following way:

One of the most important, innovative things about rock is the whole notion of songwriters singing their own works, of the immediacy of expression. Since Elvis didn't write his own material, unlike The Beatles
The Beatles
The Beatles were an English rock band, active throughout the 1960s and one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed acts in the history of popular music. Formed in Liverpool, by 1962 the group consisted of John Lennon , Paul McCartney , George Harrison and Ringo Starr...

 or Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter, musician, poet, film director and painter. He has been a major and profoundly influential figure in popular music and culture for five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when he was an informal chronicler and a seemingly...

 or Robert Johnson, who's also someone who could have been included, maybe that cut against him… I think the Beatles pushed the envelope a lot further. Elvis' most original recordings were his first. The Beatles started out as imitators, then continued to grow throughout their years together.
Handy was also asked to defend Time’s decision to include the fictional character Bart Simpson
Bart Simpson
Bartholomew JoJo "Bart" Simpson is a fictional main character in the animated television series The Simpsons and part of the Simpson family. He is voiced by actress Nancy Cartwright and first appeared on television in The Tracey Ullman Show short "Good Night" on April 19, 1987...

 from The Simpsons
The Simpsons
The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie...

 television series among the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, and he did so as follows:

I don't see how you can look at this century and not include cartoons. They're one of our great contributions, along with jazz and film. (I know, I know. The movies were a 19th-century invention. But we 20th century folks really put them to good use.)… To some extent, too, we wanted people who also represented important 20th century trends or developments. That would help account for the Barts and Oprahs... What Bart, or really the Simpsons, have done is merge social satire with popular animation in a way that hasn't really been done before.

Be it as it may, in a questions and answers conference by the then Editor in Chief of Time magazine, Walter Isaacson, the decision not to include Presley was said to have been a mistake. This is what Isaacson said, as per the online transcript, published by TIME on December 27, 1999: "Let me make right here an admission: we made a mistake not making him one of our top contenders"

The list also received criticism for its inclusion of Lucky Luciano
Lucky Luciano
Charlie "Lucky" Luciano was an Italian mobster born in Sicily. Luciano is considered the father of modern organized crime in the United States for splitting New York City into five different Mafia crime families and the establishment of the first commission...

 who was chosen in part because “he modernized the Mafia, shaping it into a smoothly run national crime syndicate focused on the bottom line”. New York mayor Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani
Rudolph William Louis "Rudy" Giuliani KBE is an American lawyer, businessman, and politician from New York. He served as Mayor of New York City from 1994 to 2001....

 accused Time of "romanticizing" gangsters and stated, "The idea that he civilized the Mafia is absurd. He murdered in order to get the position that he had, and then he authorized hundreds and hundreds of murders." The selection was called an “outrage” by Philip Cannistraro, a Queens College professor of Italian-American studies, and Thomas Vitale, the New York State vice president of Fieri, an Italian-American charitable organization, criticized Time for "perpetuating myths" about Italian-Americans. However Time business editor Bill Saporito defended the selection by calling Luciano as "kind of an evil genius" who had a deep impact on the underground economy. "We're not out there to heap glory on these people," he explained. "We're out to say these are people who influenced our lives." Saporito further noted that "every piece of merchandise that came out of the Garment District had a little extra cost in it because of organized crime."

See also

  • The Time 100
    Time 100
    Time 100 is an annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, as assembled by Time. First published in 1999 as a result of a debate among several academics, the list has become an annual event.-History and format:...

    . TIME magazine's list of currently influential people, published annually beginning in 2004, following the success of 1999's "20th century" list.

External links