In my ongoing quest for new and interesting topics for this weekly column, I came across lists of several top ten people and events of the Second Millennium in a recent edition of The World Almanac that I think you’ll find more than just a little engaging. This list of “top tens” covers the period from the year 1000 A.D. to 1999 A.D. While you may not agree with all the people and events chosen for these lists, one has to admire anyone with the courage to identify just ten people or ten events over the course of one thousand years that changed the world in a major historic way, not all of them good. What’s even more provocative is the commonly held belief by people born since 1990 that very little of significance could possibly have happened before they were born! Well, let’s take a look!
The first list is the ten most influential people of the Second Millennium, as compiled by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the Pulitzer-prize-winning historian and writer. The following people are listed in the order of their importance. See how many of them you recognize and why Schlesinger might have chosen them. 1. William Shakespeare. 2. Isaac Newton. 3. Charles Darwin. 4. Nicolaus Copernicus. 5. Galileo Galilei. 6. Albert Einstein. 7. Christopher Columbus. 8. Abraham Lincoln. 9. Johann Gutenberg. 10. William Harvey. Most of us, I think, have probably heard of most of the individuals on this Top Ten list. The guy in 10th place, however, was completely new to me. It turns out that William Harvey was an English physician who lived from 1578 to 1657. He was the first man to describe in detail the circulation of the blood being pumped by the heart through the body. His most famous writing was a book published in 1628 titled “On the Motion of the Heart and Blood.” Early in his book, to point out the difficulty of his research, he wrote, “...I found the task so truly arduous... that I was almost tempted to think... that the movement of the heart was only to be comprehended by God. For I could neither rightly perceive at first when the systole and when the diastole took place by reason of the rapidity of the movement....” During his life, Harvey developed several principles that are still followed in hospitals today - that’s how far he advanced the art and science of medicine.
Our second list of Top Ten is the most significant events of the Second Millennium compiled by David Herbert Donald, historian, author, and professor emeritus at Harvard University. Listed chronologically, they are 1. The invention of gun powder in the early 1300s. 2. The Black Death that devastated Europe from 1347 to 1351, (The Black Death was another name given to The Plague which killed millions during that period). 3. Johann Gutenberg use of movable type to print early Bibles around 1455. 4. Columbus reaches America in 1492. 5. James Watt perfects the steam engine in 1775. 6. The American Revolution from 1775 to 1783. 7. Charles Darwin publishes the book “Origin of Species” in 1859. 8. Henry Ford begins the commercial development of the automobile in 1903 - (Bill Ward probably remembers that as part of “The Good Old Days”). 9. The First World War, 1914-1918. 10. Dropping the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945. Isn’t it ironic that, of those Top Ten most significant events, three of them have to do with warfare - rather a sad commentary on the nature of significant world events.
The third list of Top Tens of the last one thousand years is the most significant inventions. Again, these inventions are listed chronologically. 1. The magnifying glass invented in 1250 and the precursor to all optical instruments. 2. The printing press, invented around 1450, led to the spread of general knowledge. 3. The electric battery, invented in 1800, was the beginning of battery-operated devices. 4. The refrigerator, invented in 1850, as a way of keeping food edible. 5. The invention of the gasoline engine in 1885, which freed humans from the horse. 6. The invention of the airplane in 1903 marked the beginning of high speed transportation. 7. The invention of frozen food in 1923 made long-term storage of perishable food possible. 8. The invention of the transistor in 1948 made modern communication and computation possible. 9. The invention of the artificial satellite in 1957 made global communication possible. 10. The invention of the minicomputer in 1960 made computing for every desk possible.
The last list is a little more erudite. It’s the list of the ten greatest works of literature of the last one thousand years, compiled by famed American novelist John Updike, in chronological order: 1. “Summa Theologica” by Thomas Aquinas around 1265 to 1273. 2. “The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri around 1307 to 1321. 3. “Don Quixote” by Cervantes between 1605 and 1615. 4. The works of William Shakespeare first published in 1623. 5. “Candide” by Voltaire in 1759. 6. “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Edward Gibbon in 1788. 7. “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy in 1869. 8. “The Possessed” by Dostoyevsky in 1872. 9. “Remembrance of Things Past” by Marcel Proust between 1913 and 1927. 10. “Ulysses” by James Joyce written in 1922. I have to admit that I’ve read only two of the books listed and some of William Shakespeare.
Nevertheless, lists of “top ten” people and things can be, at least, interesting and, at most, enlightening for all of us.
That’s -30-for this week.