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

My Four Best of Everything – Part 1

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Have you ever gone to a concert where the performers asked you to join in?  Well, I am asking you to join in today and contribute to my blog.  This week I am doing what I call my four best of everything.  Everything that matters to me anyway.  Perhaps I should say it is my four favorites of everything because best is such a qualitative term.  There may be little difference between the word favorite and the word best, however, using the term best is more provocative and usually ends up in arguments or debates.  Since I do not want to be judgmental, I will use the term favorites in the text of this blog.

I am going to share with you my four favorite fiction writers, my four favorite non-fiction writers, my four favorites writings/stories (both fiction and non-fiction) and my four favorite ideas.  After I list each of my favorites, I will provide a short explanation of why I like this writer or selection so much.  Each of my favorites are listed in no order or preference.  Asking me to pick the “best” of any of these would be impossible.

I am sure that each of you reading this will have some ideas concerning your favorites in these areas.  Like the concert performer inviting you to join in on song, I invite you to put your ideas or thoughts concerning your favorites in my comment sections.  The more the better.  Don’t be shy.  Use any language you want to share your ideas with the rest of the world.  Let us know what you like and why you like it.  Plenty of room in the blogosphere.

My Four Favorite Fiction Writers:

Mark Twain: I started reading Mark Twain when I was in grade school and fell in love with his short stories.  Later I graduated to his novels and then some of his commentaries.  I love his ability to combine satires with humor.  He had the ability to send a message about life while still making his reader laugh.

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“O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst…”  — Mark Twain, “The War Prayer”

Kurt Vonnegut: My first book of Kurt’s was the novel “Cats Cradle”.  I am not sure if you would call it simply satire or more nihilism, but I was 18 when I found his pick and was just doing into the military.  I could not wait to read the other novels that he wrote, and I binged on Kurt for the next year or so.  I think I may have co opted many of his ideas as they became my ideas for much of my life.

“Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.”  — Kurt Vonnegut, “Cat’s Cradle”

Anatole France: I discovered France about five years after Vonnegut.  A very different writer but also with a keen sense of social justice and injustice.  I loved “Penguin Island”, “The Revolt of the Angels” and “Thais.”  How these stories shaped my thinking about life, I will never know but I am sure that they fueled my already growing skepticism about life, good, evil and truth.

“No, let us not conquer the heavens. It is enough to have the power to do so. War engenders war, and victory defeat. God, conquered, will become Satan; Satan, conquering, will become God. May the fates spare me this terrible lot!‎” — Anatole France, “The Revolt of the Angels”

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Edgar Allen Poe: Yes, it is true, sometimes I do read material that is simply escapism.  My favorite genres for many years were science fiction, science fantasy, horror and murder mysteries.   I am pretty sure that I read everything that Poe wrote.  I found many other fiction writers that entertain me but only Poe could blend horror, mystery and the foibles of humanity to create the strange stories that he wrote.

“He did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.”  — Edgar Allan Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado”

My Four Favorite Non-Fiction Writers:

Thomas Jefferson: Call him a Founding Father.  Call him a hypocrite.  Call him a racist.  Call him whatever you want, but no one has ever in my mind approached his depth of intellectual vigor in terms of delineating the necessities for a truly just society.  You need to separate the man from the message.  The message that Jefferson left us was sublime.  The man himself was not up to the message but that does not diminish the message one iota. 

“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” — Thomas Jefferson, “A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge”W. E. Deming:

Dr. W. E. Deming:  Dr. Deming is the only one of my favorites that I have had the pleasure to not only meet but to also work along side of.  He was cantankerous, irascible and cynical.  He was also brilliant, compassionate and a true humanist.  His vision for humanity was a workplace that embraced both the scientific method with a love for all employees.  Dr. Deming spent most of his teaching and consulting life dedicated to making his vision a reality.  I had the privilege of working alongside Dr. Deming several times.  He taught me most of what I now know about organizations and how to continuously improve them.

“To manage, one must lead. To lead, one must understand the work that he and his people are responsible for. Who is the customer (the next stage), and how can we serve better the customer? An incoming manager, to lead, and to manage at the source of improvement, must learn. He must learn from his people what they are doing and must learn a lot of new subject matter.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

00oshoOSHO: His given name was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.  OSHO was a religious teacher from India.  He wrote numerous books on life, religion and spirituality.  He also gave talks and started several communities for his followers.  His books and talks were full of insights and stories to make you think and question your own life.  OSHO became infamous when he tried to start a community of acolytes in a rural area of Oregon.  The town OSHO started was called Rajneeshpuram.  It became a target for locals who thought that their community was being taken over by a bunch of cultists.  Things went south when some of OHSO’s devotees exceeded authority and tried to retaliate against the local community.  This is perhaps another case, where the man did not live up to his message.  Nevertheless, I have never found any spiritual writings that are as profound and thought provoking as OSHOs.

“Never belong to a crowd; Never belong to a nation; Never belong to a religion; Never belong to a race. Belong to the whole existence. Why limit yourself to small things? When the whole is available.” — OSHO

Daniel Kahneman: I first read Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s book “Judgement Under Uncertainty” in 1982.  Twenty years later Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for Economics.  Tversky had died in 1996.  Their research and work challenged the very bedrock of economic decision making since they attacked the assumption of human rationality that prevailed in modern economic theory.  I completed my Ph.D. degree and went into management consulting.

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One of the key foundations of my consulting was based on the work into heuristics and biases that were described in “Judgement Under Uncertainty.”  Corporations could make some brilliant decisions but too often they were guided by fallacies and misconceptions that relied more on emotions and prejudice than good data and facts.  Today, economics has taken a giant leap forward in understanding human decision making based on the work of Kahneman and his many followers.

“Searching for wisdom in historic events requires an act of faith—a belief in the existence of recurrent patterns waiting to be discovered.” — Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, “Judgment Under Uncertainty”

I hope you have enjoyed or at least found my list of favorites interesting.  I will follow up with Part 2 which will deal with my four favorite “Writings” and my four favorite “Ideas.” 

Now it is your turn to list some of your favorite authors or speakers or books in the comments section.  I am looking forward to hearing what some of you have found interesting and why you found them interesting.

 

 

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