Who’s Biggest? The 100 Most Significant Figures in History

A data-driven ranking. Plus, have former TIME People of the Year been predictive?

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Who’s bigger: Washington or Lincoln? Hitler or Napoleon? Charles Dickens or Jane Austen? That depends on how you look at it.

When we set out to rank the significance of historical figures, we decided to not approach the project the way historians might, through a principled assessment of their individual achievements. Instead, we evaluated each person by aggregating millions of traces of opinions into a computational data-centric analysis. We ranked historical figures just as Google ranks web pages, by integrating a diverse set of measurements about their reputation into a single consensus value.

Significance is related to fame but measures something different. Forgotten U.S. President Chester A. Arthur (who we rank as the 499th most significant person in history) is more historically significant than young pop singer Justin Bieber (currently ranked 8633), even though he may have a less devoted following and lower contemporary name recognition. Historically significant figures leave statistical evidence of their presence behind, if one knows where to look for it, and we used several data sources to fuel our ranking algorithms, including Wikipedia, scanned books and Google n-grams.

To fairly compare contemporary figures like Britney Spears against the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, we adjusted for the fact that today’s stars will fade from living memory over the next several generations. Intuitively it is clear that Britney Spears’ mindshare will decline substantially over the next 100 years, as people who grew up hearing her are replaced by new generations. But Aristotle’s reputation will be much more stable because this transition occurred long ago. The reputation he has now is presumably destined to endure. By analyzing traces left in millions of scanned books, we can measure just how fast this decay occurs, and correct for it.

We don’t expect you will agree with everyone chosen for the top 100, or exactly where they are placed. But we trust you will agree that most selections are reasonable: a quarter of them are philosophers or major religious figures, plus eight scientists/inventors, thirteen giants in literature and music, and three of the greatest artists of all time. We have validated our results by comparing them against several standards: published rankings by historians, public polls, even in predicting the prices of autographs, paintings, and baseball cards. Since we analyzed the English Wikipedia, we admittedly measured the interests and judgments of primarily the Western, English-speaking community. Our algorithms also don’t include many women at the very top: Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) [at number 13] is the top ranked woman in history according to our analysis. This is at least partially due to women being underrepresented in Wikipedia.


Each year since 1927, TIME Magazine has selected an official Person of the Year, recognizing an individual who “has done the most to influence the events of the year.” Our rankings provide a way to see how well these selections have stood up over time. Adolf Hitler [7] proves to be the most significant Person of the Year ever. Albert Einstein [19] was the most significant modern individual never selected for the annual honor, though TIME did name him Person of the Century in 1999. Elvis Presley [69] is the highest ranked figure that has been completely dissed: no author or artist has ever so been honored.

The least significant Person of the Year proves to be Harlow Curtice [224326], the president of General Motors for five years during the 1950s who increased capital spending in a time of recession, which helped spur a recovery of the American economy. Other obscure selections include Hugh Samuel “Iron Pants” Johnson [32927], who Franklin Roosevelt appointed to head the depression-era National Recovery Administration, and fired less than a year later. John Sirica [47053] was the District Court Judge who ordered President Nixon to turn over tape recordings in the Watergate Scandal. David Ho [66267] is credited with developing the combination therapy that provided the first effective treatment for AIDS. His contributions to human health arguably deserve a better significance rank than our algorithms gave him here.

The 100 Most Significant Figures in History

1 Jesus

2 Napoleon

3 Muhammad

4 William Shakespeare

5 Abraham Lincoln

6 George Washington

7 Adolf Hitler

8 Aristotle

9 Alexander the Great

10 Thomas Jefferson

11 Henry VIII of England

12 Charles Darwin

13 Elizabeth I of England

14 Karl Marx

15 Julius Caesar

16 Queen Victoria

17 Martin Luther

18 Joseph Stalin

19 Albert Einstein

20 Christopher Columbus

21 Isaac Newton

22 Charlemagne

23 Theodore Roosevelt

24 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

25 Plato

26 Louis XIV of France

27 Ludwig van Beethoven

28 Ulysses S. Grant

29 Leonardo da Vinci

30 Augustus

31 Carl Linnaeus

32 Ronald Reagan

33 Charles Dickens

34 Paul the Apostle

35 Benjamin Franklin

36 George W. Bush

37 Winston Churchill

38 Genghis Khan

39 Charles I of England

40 Thomas Edison

41 James I of England

42 Friedrich Nietzsche

43 Franklin D. Roosevelt

44 Sigmund Freud

45 Alexander Hamilton

46 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

47 Woodrow Wilson

48 Johann Sebastian Bach

49 Galileo Galilei

50 Oliver Cromwell

51 James Madison

52 Gautama Buddha

53 Mark Twain

54 Edgar Allan Poe

55 Joseph Smith, Jr.

56 Adam Smith

57 David, King of Israel

58 George III of the United Kingdom

59 Immanuel Kant

60 James Cook

61 John Adams

62 Richard Wagner

63 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

64 Voltaire

65 Saint Peter

66 Andrew Jackson

67 Constantine the Great

68 Socrates

69 Elvis Presley

70 William the Conqueror

71 John F. Kennedy

72 Augustine of Hippo

73 Vincent van Gogh

74 Nicolaus Copernicus

75 Vladimir Lenin

76 Robert E. Lee

77 Oscar Wilde

78 Charles II of England

79 Cicero

80 Jean-Jacques Rousseau

81 Francis Bacon

82 Richard Nixon

83 Louis XVI of France

84 Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

85 King Arthur

86 Michelangelo

87 Philip II of Spain

88 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

89 Ali, founder of Sufism

90 Thomas Aquinas

91 Pope John Paul II

92 René Descartes

93 Nikola Tesla

94 Harry S. Truman

95 Joan of Arc

96 Dante Alighieri

97 Otto von Bismarck

98 Grover Cleveland

99 John Calvin

100 John Locke

Steven Skiena and Charles B. Ward are the authors of Who’s Bigger? Where Historical Figures Really Rank, Cambridge University Press, 2013. The views expressed are solely their own. 


MIcheal Faraday isn't in this. What the hell?


This list raises some questions. Why are two fictional persons in the list: Jesus and King Arthur?

Second, it is all viewed from modern day perspective. If Jesus and Muhammed are that high on the list, why are not Zeus and Thor? And George W. Bush higher ranked than Genghis Khan? Come on.

It is hard for me to see 5 or 6 US presidents in a list of 100 most influential persons, while a person like Gorbatsjov in not on it.

Great thinkers like Confucius, writers like Dostojevski, and artists like Rembrandt or maybe less populair in the US, but that does not mean they are less influential.


Alan Turing single-handedly invented computers and revolutionized our lives. You would not be reading this if it wasn't for him. He broke the german codes during WW2 and saved more than 14 million lives by shortening the war by two years. All he ever got in return was too little too late posthumous recognition and forced chemical castration because he was gay. He committed suicide out of desperation after two years of "treatment".


How are neither Confucius or Lao Tsu on this list?

Seriously - could this list be more white-centric?


Maybe better to have Lionel Messi at the top of the list because he is the only one who won the title of best player in the world four times in a row this except Cups titles to meet the won, and in other middle ranking Cristiano Ronaldo, the two most famous in the world.


this list is 50% about USA and not about world. thats bad


Muhammad S.A.W should be on no.1...... There is no person in history who is more influencing than HIM. He is a  role model for all human beings. 


Martin Luther King Jr. And Nelson Mandela, those two are no brainers.


Norman Borlaug should be on this list, he is credited with saving over 1 billion lives. 


Prophet muhammad peace be upon him is number 1 !

You know this list is off when you dont mention osama bin laden before a majority of those people on that list.


MOHAMMAD P.B.U.H was , is , and will be remain at the top of the list.I don't know others.


I'd like to see the top 10,000. Time...we're waiting.


Julius Caesar should be in the top ten it is a shame that an idiot like lincoln is there and someone like Caesar is not!


And who knows Napolean in east? Why its on number 2 ? How many knows about napolean in china,pakistan,bangladesh ,india,afghanistan,and middle east ?? And south america ?? Which makes more than half of the population.

Hitler is more influential than napolean.


Quran is the most memorized book

Quran is the most readed book

More than 1.7 billion muslims have one book the Quran

Islam is the fastest growing religion.

Islam amd muslims are in almost every international news.

Makkah is the center of the earth.

Hajj is the biggest religious ceremony . Where millions of millons of muslims stay.

Islam is the biggest threat for big bankers. (Evil)

Islam is the most influential religion.

Islam is considered evil by almost all the non believers. As all the followers and messengers of God considered evil and Violent by non believers of their time . See stories of Prophets and their followers and how did they survived and struggle and got so many blames by non believers according to Bible,Quran and Torah.


It is changed, my Uncle have the orignal book which was banned because Mohammad s.a.w was on the top of the list and Jesus pbuh was on number 3 . That book was written by a christian.

And why not Mohamad s.a.w ?

Islam is the fastest growing religion

Quran is the most readed book

Islam is considered evil by all the non muslims. And all the news is about islam

Gaza,palestine,iraq,syria,lebannon,saudi arabia, sunni, jhad, ises, qaeda etc etcmore than 1.7 billion muslims believe in one Book and have the same beliefs that make us the most biggest religion.

Tell me who is a christian?

Some say Jesus is god

Some say jesus is son of god

Some say jesus is trinity

Some say jesus is messenger

Bible j

Have so many versions and there are more than 30 to 50 to 70 books of christians!!


It is changed, my Uncle have the orignal book which was banned because Mohammad s.a.w was on the top of the list and Jesus pbuh was on number 3 .


There's zero evidence that Jesus ever actually existed, therefore he should not be included in this list. If you're going to include Jesus then you may as well also include Superman and Batman.


From the perspective of a woman, I find this list very sad. Skimming through it I only picked up on Queen Elizabeth I, and Joan or Arc.  But, I realize trying to rank the "top 100 most significant figures" in history would be difficult, and history is a mans world. What about Cleopatra, or Mother Theresa?

The only thing that should've been different is think was that maybe it would've been helpful to more specifically define what you meant by "the most significant figures". Because as some could interpret that "figures" means potentially fictional characters such as Jesus who one could argue did not exist. This opens the door to a ton of characters who would not be considered in the poll before hand.

I think that conducting a survey to get an actually accurate, globalized estimate of who the top 100 figures are in history, would be pretty impossible. But I would need to know ore about the details this research was conducted in, in a step by step breakdown. Is that provided somewhere?

Anyways, it seems that there are enough complaints advocating for specific figures not mentioned in the comments below...


it is not fair....i think jesus and buddha are two equally famous person but jesus is ranked as 1st while buddha is ranked as 52th no......its totally unfair....people who have no knowledge to judge the person is better to no judge the person....


Ulysses S Grant? Grover Cleveland?

A pretty weak list all around.  Not enough scientists/inventors (Pasteur, James Watt, Faraday, Maxwell, Clausius, Lavoisier, Kepler, Hutton, Heisenberg, for starters).  Way too many presidents and heads of state who didn't do anything unique.  Not enough non-Europeans.  Where is Confucius?  Probably influenced more people than any human being in history, Jesus and Mohammed (possibly) excepted - and as someone pointed out below, Zoroaster influenced both of them... 


Hart's well-known list as revised in 1992 notes a number of scientists and an inventor or two who are missing here. Why are Maxwell, Faraday, Heisenberg and the Wright Brothers and others on the Hart list, but missing here. For that matter, why are Watson and Crick missing here and from the Hart list as well?


That's not the proper way to conduct a research. The list is clearly listed in western perspective.

The list is not stable because today we live in a western dominated world. For example if China became a world super power, Chinese figures would be significant to much of the world population. Or if we lived in an Islamic dominant world, the list would have been mostly notable Islamic figures. And so on. It's all about perspectives. 


Michael Jackson, Malcolm X, Michael Jordan, Beatles, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates


@Martijn Jesus as a real human being was definitely not fictional. King Arthur might have a been a real person, his existence is unclear, but his legend was drawn upon in English arts for centuries. I do agree though, that if he is not a confirmed human being he should not be on the list. 

Zeus and Thor however are gods, not men, and are not even depicted as such.

Regarding George W. Bush over Genghis Khan, I completely agree completely also. George W. Bush will soon be relegated to a small page in history, but Genghis Khan changed a vast portion of the world over the course of centuries and his legend remains to this day.


His influence still and always will be above all humans


@SeemabShoukat he is on the top of the list already bro.. this list is not recignizd.. go and see wikipedia ,," 100 most influential people in history"  


@SyedTariqAli Napoleon was very important in South America. His incursion in Spain allowed the Spain colonies in the new continent to gain freedom because Spain was busy trying to stop him. Also, he spread the legacy of the French Revolution in Europe and South America


@SyedTariqAli 1. Inconclusive 2. incorrect. 3. correct 4. correct 5. incorrect. 6. correct. 7. incorrect 8. inconclusive (Though one wonders, if Islam is the most influential religion, what is the newly created state of Israel doing bang in the middle of the Muslim world?)


How does Islam rid me of my sin?


@SyedTariqAli HAHAHA..the reason why islam and muslims are in the news almost everyday is beaucuse they bomb eachoder in the middle east and try to make nuclear


@SyedTariqAli The Bible is the most readed and bought book, 2.1 billion people have read the bible 400 million more than the quran. Islam will always remain the second biggest religion - copying and stealing from christianity. Jesus will always be remembered as the greatest human being. 


@SyedTariqAli Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist is the true face of Islam. A corrupted and hateful religion!


Dude are you serious? Do research there are plenty historical documents that talk about him, the Pliny the younger.


@byrnzie28 The historian Josephus who lived around the time of Jesus Christ wrote much about him. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus  

Also the Bible although a religious text is also historical. Much of what we learn in History classes about the Assyrian, Chaldean, and Persian empires and their conquests comes from the Bible. Whether or not you believe the Christian account of Jesus's mission is your own opinion, but to say he never lived is ignorant and you might as well say anyone in Ancient History who's actions have been recorded never existed.


@byrnzie28 then there is zero evidence that columbus existed. 

there are actual recorded historic facts of Jesus's existence. the new testament also act as "accounts" for the existence of jesus as there is evidence it was written around his time period. however the general problem is whether to believe their accounts or not. so go do some research before you throw out your "zero" evidence thing next time. what evidence do you have of columbus's existence apart from written accounts in the form of letters,etc? very little.


@byrnzie28 u are wrong because jesus is not only a religous figure but also a historical figure... before speaking u have to look for information. i have seen a lot lot scientific documentals about jesus... according scientists jesus lived about more than 2000 years ago and and he was probably a preacher because there are a lot of quotes of people who speak about the jesus who was very mentioned at this time because he was a "headache" for the Roman Empire. 


How does a man who weighs over 600 lbs have the balls to teach ppl about self discipline?