How to be remembered forever: some career advice

Here's a little game to play.  Get out a sheet of paper (or open Word, or whatever), and down the side, number lines 1 to 17.

Now on each line, list 3 or 4 people from that century.  So for line number 1, list 3 people who lived anywhere within 100AD to 199AD.  (Yes, I know the 100s are the 2nd century; I'm avoiding ordinals to eliminate confusion)  For line 15, list anyone who lived during the 1500s, & etc.  Do this for all 17 lines.

I did this.  Here are my observations.  If you want to give it a try, stop reading and play the game now!

Some centuries are really hard!  Some are fairly easy.  I deliberately started at 1 because the century 0-99 is way too easy.  Anyone with even a slight knowledge of the Bible or the Roman Empire can whip off lots of names.  It gets trickier from 100AD onwards.  I stopped at 1799 because likewise, the period 1800 to the present is too recent to be a challenge.

I found with the tricky centuries that once I got one famous person located, I could pick off others.  So for example I happen to know Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas day, 800AD.  That instantly gave me the Sultan Haroun al-Rashid, who I know was his contemporary, and Roland his knight, of Song of Roland fame, and Carca, who withstood a siege from Charlemagne and gave her name to Carcasonne.

Have a look at your list.  I'd be willing to bet almost every name you wrote falls into one of these groups:

Is a national leader.
Is an artist.
Is a scientist.
Is a religious figure.
Is a military commander.

That's it!  If you're a chartered accountant, you're fresh out of luck in the fame stakes.  And for all but the popular centuries, such as the Renaissance, it's a struggle to recall more then a few names.

This makes me wonder who a thousand years from now will be remembered from the 20th century.  You might think lots and lots, because so much happened; but much happens in every century, and this little exercise shows the number of people destined for immortality is probably not more than a handful.

 Here are my own suggestions for 20th century immortality.  I've cut ruthlessly, keeping in mind the lesson of trying to name people from a thousand years ago.

Einstein.  The quintessential scientist.
Hitler.  An evil man, but he put his stamp on the century like no other political leader.
Lennon & McCartney. Easily the greatest artists, or if you don't like greatest, then best known.

Who do you think will be remembered from last century?


Stephanie Thornton said...

I'd like to say Theodore Roosevelt, but only because I adore him.

Unfortunately, I have to agree with Hitler. He's worse than Pol Pot, Stalin, and all the other despots from that century combined. And there were a lot of them!

To offer a counter to Hitler, I'd toss in Gandhi. I would add Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela instead, but since they got their ideas from Gandhi (who got them from Henry David Thoreau), we'll just stick with Gandhi.

I'll give you Einstein too, but I'll see your Lennon/McCartney and raise you a Picasso. Lennon did influence the world of protests though. That's a tough one.

Marty said...

Thomas Alva Edison should make this list in the future not as a scientist but as an inventor.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs may make the list too someday, not as inventors - but innovators.

The bottom line is that those that are remembered are those who changed the world for all of mankind.


Plus, where the heck are the WOMAN!

Ricky Bush said...

Muddy Waters. Of course, I'm some kind of blues nut, but he'd come to mind first as the architect of what is known as "Chicago Blues". Guess that makes me a weird duck.

RWMG said...

Freud? Mao? Elvis? Stephen Hawking?

Suze said...

Steve Wozniak. :)

Rebecca Kiel said...

I immediately went to the Beatles. Martin Luther King Jr., of course.

L. T. Host said...

Oh man. I know you said LAST century, but I keep having nightmares about Lady Gaga and her meat dress being the legacy people in the future have of this century.

Let's change that with our writing, shall we?

Gary Corby said...

I think we're probably safe on the meat dresses.

The mega-rich might be very comfortable, but they don't seem to become iconic. Unless, of course, their name is Croessus. Likewise I'm not sure if inventors really stick in the mind above their inventions? How many people would have listed Hero for the steam engine in the first century, above all those Roman Emperors and Biblical figures? Or maybe last century was so inventive that it opened a whole new category of immortals?

Interesting that Martin Luther King is so (very reasonably) a popular choice in the US, because if you asked the 2 billion or so people in the Far East he would never have entered their heads; but Mao Tse Tung and Gandhi would be obvious hits.

I'm going to suggest one other candidate for 20th century immortality: Sherlock Holmes. I'd be willing to bet that a thousand years from now people will be writing vastly erudite papers on whether or not he was a real person. said...

I would have listed Gandhi.

Interesting you put Holmes in the 20th century – I'd have placed him in the 19th by weight of cases – although The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the most famous of them.

I think Hitler clinches it over Stalin - although I disagree with Stephanie Thornton: Stalin did manage to oversee/order the killing/starvation of an estimated 15-30,000,000 people which puts him way and above any of the other 20th century dictators on the victim count. Somehow Stalin looks friendly where Hitler wears his twisted evil heart on his sleeve.

I was born a Beatles fan so no arguments on the Lennon and McCartney score. I'm going to be a near neighbour of Macca's soon – I'm moving a few miles from his East Sussex home. I'm sure he'll be around to borrow a cup of sugar and to play the odd game of monopoly. (I also used to live in Carcassonne, about ten years ago)

There could be someone from the last century whom we have overlooked who will be significant to people 1,000 years from now: Here is the Trudi Smith memorial park. Trudi, inventor of the coffee grounds recycler, was overlooked in her own time whilst being worshiped in ours.

I can't see a database administrator making it - not that I went into database administration thinking it would make me one of the three most famous men of any century.


Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep. My quick and dirty list:
1 Trajan, Rabbi Akiva
2 Diocletian
3 Ammianus Marcelinus, Julian the Apostate, Constantine
4 Alaric, Attila, Augustine, Clovis
5 Justinian, Procopius, Gregory the Great
6 Mohammed
7 Charlemagne, Bede
8 Po Chü-I (T’ang Dynasty poet), Alfred the Great,
9 Otto the Great,
10 William the Conqueror, Avicenna
11 Maimonedes, Alexius I Komnenos
12 Snorri Sturlsson, Marco Polo
13 Dante, Giotto
14 Columbus, Piero della Francesca, Vasco de Gama
15 Montaigne, Raphael, Michelangelo, Elizabeth I, Suleiman the Magnificent
16 Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, Rembrabdt, Velazquez
17 David Hume, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Bach
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, you specified “lived in” a given century rather than spent the bulk of his or her career in that century. In that case, I nominate Cezanne, who painted some of his greatest works in the last years of his life (he died in 1906) and is vastly more influential (and greater) than Lennon and McCartney will ever be.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Gary Corby said...

Peter, Cezanne certainly qualifies!

I loved your list; it's easy to see you're an arts lover. Also you pulled out some names that would never, ever have occurred to me, such as Po Chü-I. It makes me wonder whether these lists tell us something about ourselves? They might be a personality diagnostic.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Gary, there's no doubt the lists tell us something about ourselves. You can tell which are my favorite eras in art and public affairs, for instance.

Some of those great people had an annoying habit of spanning the arbitrary division of centuries. But what would you or I know about that?
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Peter Rozovsky said...

I can't see a copy editor being one of the most famous people of his century. I can't even see a copy editor being one of the most famous people in his own bloody newsroom.

Gary Corby said...

Since I'm a cheat by nature, I figured anyone who crossed a century boundary counted for both centuries.

Here's my list. Notice the way I collapse during the Dark Ages.

100-199 Marcus Aurelius, Trajan, Hadrian

200-299 Valens

300-399 Constantine, Julian, Valerius, Severus, Hypatia

400-499 Hypatia, Attila, Stilicho

500-599 Justinian, Procopius


700-799 Charlemagne, Roland, Carca, Charles Martel, Pepin the Short, Haroun al-Rashid

800-899 Charlemagne, Haroun al-Rashid

900-999 Gerbert (Pope Sylvester), Aethelred the Unready

1000-1099 William the Conqueror, Harold

1100-1199 Henry II, Cadfael (I'm sure he was real), Maud, King Stephen

1200-1299 Roger Bacon, Henry III, Simon de Montfort

1300-1399 Robert the Bruce, William of Ockham, Richard II, Chaucer, Dante

1400-1499 Columbus, Ferdinand & Isabella, Ruy Lopez, Botticelli

1500-1599 Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Francis Bacon

1600-1699 Newton Shakespeare Halley

1700-1799 Napoleon Wellington Lavoisier, Gauss

Yes, I know Waterloo was 1815, but Napoleon and Wellington were both active well before that. Likewise Gauss was predominantly 1800s but he starts in the 1700s.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I thought about Gerbert, but I forgot his damned name. And how about Heraclius for the 600s?
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Gary Corby said...

There's a terrific novel about Gerbert called Ars Magica, which is why I remembered him so easily.

You're dead right on Heraclius, but when I did my list before I wrote the post my mind was a total blank for the 600s.

I disagree with the modern politically correct view that the Dark Ages weren't really a backward step. I'm with Petrarch on this; It might be my classical bias at work, but IMHO they really were dark.