The Ten Greatest of Everything – To Me Anyway

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What does it mean to be the “Greatest?”  Is the “Greatest” the same as the “Best?”  I tried rolling both off my lips in sentences as follows, “He was the best person in the world.”  “She was the greatest person in the world.”  “Would you rather be the greatest or the best?”  “Usain Bolt is the greatest 100-meter sprinter who ever lived.”  “Usain Bolt is the best 100-meter sprinter who ever lived.”

I give up.  They seem different but I cannot tell why.  Let’s see what the good old dictionary has to say about this conundrum.  (Definitions from Oxford Languages.)

Best:  of the most excellent, effective, or desirable type or quality.

Great:  of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average.

As Winnie the Pooh says, “It hurts my head.”  Somehow I like “Great” better than “Best” so I will leave the distinctions and arguments to the linguistic experts.  For now, my list will be looking at people and things that I find are the “Greatest” to have ever existed.  I would hazard that if they were the “Greatest” that they are also the “Best.”

One further caveat before we dive or is it delve into my list.  No one is expected, must, should, or probably will agree with me.  That is fine.  You should create your own list.  Variety is what makes life interesting.

For each of my “Greatest”, I will list the criteria that I use in making my selection.  I presume that there are many different criteria that one could use.  Some of my criteria will be very subjective posing grounds for wonderful arguments.  As Tevye (in Fiddler on the Roof) said, “Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!  And it won’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.  When you’re rich, they think you really know!”

So here goes.

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  1. Greatest Prophet – Jesus Christ
  • Criteria: Most followers
    • 2.1 billion followers worldwide
  • Honorable Mention: Muhammed
    • 1.5 billion followers worldwide

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  1. Greatest Book – The Bible
  • Criteria: Most sold
    • 3.9 billion copies over the last fifty years
  • Honorable Mention: Quotations from the Works of Mao Tse tung
    • 820 million copies sold

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  1. Greatest General – George Washington
  • Criteria: Most Heroic Activity
    • Passed on the offer to be crowned king or ruler for life
  • Honorable Mention: Simon Bolivar
    • A great military leader. He took the title of dictator but voluntarily resigned after leading numerous battles to liberate South America from Spain

Okay, go ahead and scream over my picks.  Tell me that computers, rating experts, number of battles and so on would show that Napoleon, Caesar, Hannibal, Alexander, Genghis Khan, Khalid Bin Walid or Subutai were the greatest.  However, I challenge you to show me one of these Generals who after winning battles against great odds and then becoming the country’s leader also voluntarily stepped down and did not take the mantle of dictator that his nation wanted to crown him with.

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  1. Greatest Empire – Egypt
  • Criteria: Longevity
    • From 3100 BCE to 30 BCE
  • Honorable Mention: The Pandyan Empire
    • This society of Southern India is considered by some to be the longest-lasting empire in history.

A criteria based on land mass would have yielded, The Mongol Empire, The British Empire, and the Roman Empire.  However, I think longevity is a better criteria of greatness than size.

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  1. Greatest Leader – Mahatma Gandhi
  • Criteria:  Most admired
    • Almost every list of greatest leaders has Gandhi on it. He might not always be in first place but if you averaged his position out, he would easily be number 1 as most admired leader in the history of the world
  • Honorable Mention: Nelson Mandela
    • Easily the second most admired leader in history. President Mandela’s struggles are epic as was his sense of forgiveness and charity.

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  1. Greatest Writer – Shakespeare
  • Criteria: Most influence on literature
    • In the English language, no one outside the Bible is quoted more than William Shakespeare
  • Honorable Mention: Plato
    • This is a difficult pick. Many would choose Homer, Dostoyevsky, Twain, Richard Wright, Kant, Goethe, Machiavelli, or Karl Marx.

So here is how I resolved Honorable Mention:  I typed in Google each of the following names to see how many hits I would get.  These are my results:  Plato, 185 million; Goethe, 69 million; Marx, 24.4 million; Homer, 80 million; Dostoyevsky, 6.2 million; Thomas Paine, 4.1 million; Twain, 60 million; Richard Wright, 3 million; Machiavelli, 12 million. Plato won by a long stretch.

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  1. Greatest Philosopher – Confucius
  • Criteria: Most impact on human thought/behavior
    • Tricky here to distinguish between a writer and a philosopher since they are obviously two sides of the same coin. However, given the population of Chinese in the world and the number of times that Confucius is quoted, I have to give the mantle of greatest to Confucius.  My sentimental favorite is Socrates, but I am not sure that he had the same impact on humanity.
  • Honorable Mention: Gautama Buddha
    • Leader of the fourth largest religion in the world.  The influence of Buddhism is felt in every genre of literature, in every religion and in the daily lives of every person living on the planet earth.  Some might see it as an esoteric religion since it is so different than the monotheistic religions.  However, it is just this difference which provides for so much of its influence on the world.  I cannot conceive of a world not balanced by both God and Non-God religions.

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      8.  Greatest Scientist – Albert Einstein

  • Criteria: Most lists of the greatest scientists
  • Honorable Mention: Marie Curie
    • Madame Curie comes up on almost all the lists of greatest scientists. She is one of the few people to ever win two Nobel Prizes in Science.  She is the only person to ever win two Nobel Prizes in two different scientific disciplines: Physics and Chemistry.

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  1. Greatest Athlete – Alexander Karelin
  • Criteria: Most wins by an individual, not a member of a team.  Over the period of his active wrestling, Karelin won 887 matches and only lost 2.
  • Honorable Mention: Serena Williams
    • To date, Williams has won 346 of her tennis matches. She is the winner of 23 major singles titles, most of any man or woman in the Open Era of tennis.

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     10.  Greatest Composer – Bach or Beethoven

  • Criteria: Most pieces composed, or most pieces played
    • I really could not decide on this one. Neither man had the most composed pieces but when you look at most played and how many each composed, there is little question that the two composers are the greatest of all time.
  • Honorable Mention: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    • I personally like Mozart better than any other composer in the history of the world. I like Verdi, Puccini, and Bizet a great deal, but they are nowhere near as prolific or popular as Mozart.

Well, there you have it folks.  My list of the “Greatest” in the world.  I had fun doing this list.  It was a real challenge.  Too many choices making it very difficult to pick.  Looking up the criteria to use and looking at all the different opinions made it a very interesting task.

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” — Wilma Rudolph

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nancykkkkk
    Sep 09, 2021 @ 12:58:39

    Well John, your list certainly is man-centered. Were there any women who deserved to be labeled the Best or Greatest. Like, how about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Not sure he would rank without her birthing him. Actually, NONE of your greatest and bestest men would have been anything without a woman to bring them into the world. How about Mother Nature? She might deserve a mention or two? Are there no female authors, philosophers, or leaders that you would consider best or greatest? Just because an author is read by lots of people, doesn’t mean they’re greatest or bestest. I’d like you to re-think this one. You’ve left out over 50% of the world’s population.

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Sep 09, 2021 @ 15:54:10

      Nancy, I used my criteria and did not discriminate based on gender. I started with 10 categories and with criteria that I think reflected the issue of greatness. I then researched to see who best met the criteria irrespective of race, ethnicity or gender. I also noticed that women were not in my top ten, nor were Blacks. However, I think it would be more discriminatory to select criteria just to put a woman in. You could argue that all ratings are heavily dominated by White men which I would agree with. History itself is dominated by White men but there is no way to reinvent what is recorded. For instance, Einstein or Galileo or Newton were easily every top scientist’s major pick for most influential scientist. I found Madame Curie to be in most top ten lists and thought she deserved better. I did not see that she ever ranked number 1 but I would not argue that history has been less kind to her than for instance Einstein. Allyson Felix is perhaps the greatest athlete of all time if I went by medals or events but I could not find any number of races won and my criteria for greatest athlete was “events won.” As for being a mother or behind a “Great Man” I am not sure how you would measure that. I am not sure how much Martha Washington influenced George but it would be difficult to call her the “Greatest General” of all time as I did George. 100 years from now perhaps things will be a lot different. It was only 48 years ago when Kathleen Graham became the first woman to brake the “Glass Ceiling.” Today there are 41 women who are CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies. Still that is only 8 percent, so equality and equity have a long way to go for women. Maybe in a 100 years, my next list will be very different. John

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      • Jane Fritz
        Sep 10, 2021 @ 14:09:27

        Of course, history has also been recorded by men … and by the winners. And, my, what a good job they’ve done! 😏

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        • Dr. John Persico Jr.
          Sep 12, 2021 @ 09:34:25

          I am all for women recording the next thousand or more years of herstory. I was watching the movie “The Butler” the other night. It made me think how slow change is but we did get some change in attitudes and biases towards racism. We are now seeing a new line of efforts to erase even more of the bigotry that exists in US culture. It sure seems a long slow battle to overcome something so odious that I cannot see how anyone would defend it.

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  2. nancykkkkk
    Sep 11, 2021 @ 12:06:31

    John. Agree that women are underrepresented in history. Why is this? Could be that lots of history has been written by men. Wonder what herstory would look like? There are also many different versions of history. I’m sure indigenous people would take issue with much of how they have been represented in ‘history.’ There are also many oral history traditions that have many women characters.
    I’m just not sure that quantity is a replacement for quantity. It looks like you’ve tried to equate the two, i.e.; most readers = best author. Other great generals might be Attila the Hun, or Hannibal. Just saying, that yes, you were upfront that this is your subjective take on greatest and best, but all looks yellow to a jaundiced eye.
    Love the dialog. NK

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  3. jeanmoe
    Sep 11, 2021 @ 14:18:16

    I enjoyed your list and I recognized all but the Russian athlete I am sorry to say. I feel that I should have know him, but I do know Serena Williams and although I am not a big fan of any sport, I can appreciate watching a “great” athlete play!! Whether it is golf, baseball or ping pong, there are experts that can make the most boring game exciting.
    Interesting blog. You have chosen very wisely!!

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  4. Trackback: The greatest ___________ (fill in the blank); how do we decide who or what is most important to count? | Robby Robin's Journey

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