There is so much to be on the list of the Most Famous People in the World. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, III, made it to second place on Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2009, and all for the single act of crash landing a plane without killing anyone. If you’re American, then you should remember his name. He made global headlines, so there’s a good chance people abroad from the US remember him. But he didn’t make the Google “top ten most searched for people of 2009.” Michael Jackson did. He still generates 11 million+ monthly searches. But compared to the following entries, Jackson doesn’t come close in terms of number of books written about him. He hasn’t had enough time. Here are the 10 most famous (or infamous), well known people in human history, ranked according to Google searches and approximate number of books written about them. If you travel to Bouvet Island, the most remote land mass in the whole world, how likely is the first person you meet going to know of the following 10 people? (1)
Google searches: 1 million+ per month
Number of books written about this person: c. 400,000
The discoverer of the calculus just over ranked Albert Einstein for the 10th spot. Google searches alone would have placed Einstein a place on the list of Most Famous People in the World, at 6.1 million searches per month, but many more books have been written about Newton. Einstein is on track to break his record in far fewer than 286 years, but even then, Einstein would have had no foundation on which to base his theories of Relativity had Newton not existed. 95% of all classical mechanics is built on Isaac Newton alone.
Google searches: 4 million+ per month
Number of books: c. 600,000
Google searches can be inaccurate, which is why they are only half the criteria for judgment. If you search “leonardo,” you’ll get a lot of pages about ninja turtles and people who drowned on Titanic. But if you type da Vinci’s full name, you’ll quickly see why he is world renowned. He could do anything. He has possibly the greatest resume in history.
da Vinci was an engineer, inventor, anatomist, architect, mathematician, geologist, musician, cartographer, botanist, writer, sculptor. You name it, da Vinci was into it. He invented the sniper rifle, although it was not rifled: he just bolted one of his refracting telescopes onto a wheellock musket and shot people from 1,000 yards. He probably invented the wheellock musket, too. He invented the parachute about 300 years before Louis-Sebastien Lenormand claimed the honor in the late 1700s. Da Vinci’s design is not known to have been tested until 2000. It worked perfectly. he invented the hang glider about 400 years before it really took off. His design was based on a bird’s wings. He gave the helicopter quite the college try, but couldn’t figure out a sufficiently powerful method for getting it airborne. He was the first to understand the concept of spinning helical blades tilted at just the right angle pulling an object up into the air.
8. William Shakespeare – 1564–1616
Google searches: 7.4 million+ per month
Number of books: c. 1 million
The man with the lion’s share of the percentage of votes for greatest writer in English or any language in human history is sure to be the source for quite a few words and phrases now common in his native language. A good 50% of common English phrases come from the King James Bible, and possibly 30% of the rest come from the Bard. If you’ve ever said, “It’s all Greek to me;” “food for the gods;” “all that glitters is not gold;” “a sorry sight;” “dead as a doornail;” “come what may;” “with one fell swoop;” or “all’s well that ends well;” then “by Jove” you’re quoting Shakespeare.
Egil Aarvik, of the Committee for the Nobel Prize, once said that Shakespeare would have been the only person in history to win more than one prize for his literature. There is no rule against this, and had he lived into the 20th Century, his plays would have certainly deserved one, but his sonnets alone are worth the bodies of work for which other laureates have been honored.
7. Adolf Hitler -1889–1945
Google searches: 6.1 million+ per month
Number of books: c. 175,000
We all know that Adolf Hitler remains the primary cause of WWII. He instigated it to suit two profound desires: to become the most powerful person on Earth, preferably in history, if not to rule the whole world; and, for his own enjoyment, to cause as much pain as possible against all those he deemed responsible for Germany’s humiliating and miserable defeat in WWI, and its squalid poverty between the wars. Germany was forced to pay every other nation’s wartime expenses after the First World War, and this utterly destroyed Germany’s economy. The Deutschmark became so worthless that children burned millions of them at once to keep warm in the streets.
Google searches: 3.35 million+ per month
Number of books: c. 7 million
Paul is quite possibly more responsible for the dissemination of Christianity, its ideals, theology, and principles, than anyone else. He is venerated in all branches, as a saint in many, or at least as a profoundly respected teacher, preacher, and the chief Christian apologist. And he did all this via 13 letters to various churches and people throughout Asia Minor.
He was the first person to write anything that was later canonized into what we call the New Testament. He probably wrote his first epistle, to the churches in Galatia, in about A.D. 50, give or take 5 years. Mark wrote his Gospel 5 to 10 years later. Paul’s theological thesis throughout his 13 or so Epistles is a more detailed statement of Jesus’s philosophy of ethics and salvation given in the Gospels. Paul’s central point is that all you have to do is believe that Jesus is the Son of God, Savior of the world, rose again from the dead and ascended into Heaven, and you will not die. Your transition may be painful, but you’ll go to Heaven.
5. Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) – c. 563–c. 483 B.C.
Google searches: 4 million+ per month
Number of books: c. 7 million
You might be surprised to know that most of the people who google Buddha are not Buddhists. In the Western Hemisphere and throughout Europe, Buddhism is not as well understood as the three major monotheisms. A few clarifications:
Gautama was probably born in Kapilavastu or Lumbini, Nepal in about 563 B.C., about 24 years after Babylon sacked Jerusalem. Gautama was a mortal man who attained Nirvana, or spiritual awakening and peace of mind, at the age of 35, while seated under a Pipal tree, now referred to as the Bodhi tree, in Bodh Gaya, India. The tree growing there now was planted in 288 B.C. from a seed of the original. Buddha sat in meditation for 49 days until he attained the knowledge of how to thoroughly end suffering for all people on Earth. The people do have to follow his teaching in order to free themselves from the various griefs of life.
4. Moses – c. 1300–c. 1180 B.C.
Google searches: 2.7 million+ per month
Number of books: c. 8 million
Moses is revered but not worshipped by all three major monotheisms, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as Baha’i. He is regarded as the greatest prophet of the Old Testament; the liberator of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt; their leader into Canaan, the Promised Land; and their lawgiver, who relayed God’s commandments to the Jews, and founded much of Jewish life and tradition.
The Pharaoh’s daughter, usually named Bithiah, found the infant Moses in a basket floating in the Nile and took him as her own son. She named him after the Hebrew verb “to draw,” since she drew him out of the river. No information is given on Moses’s life, except that he was raised in the Egyptian noble household, and that one day he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and saved the Hebrew by killing the Egyptian. He then hid in the wilderness, and met Jethro, who was a follower of the precursor faith to Islam.
3. Abraham – c. 1812–c. 1637 B.C.
Google searches: 9.1 million+ per month
Number of books: c. 2 million
The google searches for Abraham the Old Testament prophet are not as reliable as those for Moses or Adolf Hitler, since quite a few famous historical or fictitious people have been named Abraham. The top three most famous are Abraham of the Bible, Abraham Lincoln, and Abraham van Helsing. But if you were to go, say, the Philippines, and ask the first passerby who Abraham Lincoln was, they might actually not know. Among well over 99% of the world’s cultures and societies, you will not have that problem when asking about the prophet called Abraham.
He is revered by all three monotheisms, as well as Baha’i, as a prophet, and one of the first, if not the first, persons of the Middle East to believe in a single God. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are referred to as “the Abrahamic religions.” In the Bible, God makes a covenant with Abraham because of his devout, unswerving faith in God, while everyone around him follows the newest god to take everyone’s fancy. This covenant is marked by circumcision. God then tests the conviction of Abraham’s faith in him by demanding that he kill his firstborn son, Isaac, to glorify God. Abraham does not hesitate, but takes Isaac up to the top of a mountain and is about to kill him when an angel arrives and tells him to stop. God is immensely impressed and blesses Abraham with fruitfulness: he will be the father of many nations.
2. Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh – c. A.D. 570–632
Google searches: 13.6 million+ per month
Number of books: incalculable
To non-Muslims, Muhammad founded Islam. To Muslims, he did not found anything, because the religion, called Islam, was already there, and had to be restored to its proper maintenance. Muslims believe that Muhammad restored the religion and unified it under the philosophies God imparted to him in revelations he wrote down. These became the Q’uran. Islam is the Arabic noun for “a surrendering,” or “a yielding,” in this case to the will of Allah. Muhammad was born about A.D. 570 in Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia. He had 13 wives, which is acceptable and encouraged in Muslim cultures.
Muhammad’s status as second most famous person in history is especially remarkable given that it is illegal according to Islamic law to depict Muhammad in any way (which is why you don’t see him in the above picture). That law dictates that Muhammad is the last prophet to have been sent by God to teach mankind the ways of peace and righteousness, and that he is too holy to be viewed by our sinful eyes. For this reason, very few films have been made about him. The most notable was The Message (1977), the premiere of which incited suicide bombings throughout the Middle East and protests around the world, until everyone realized that Muhammad is not actually depicted; rather, the camera’s point of view represents him: the film is seen through his eyes.
Google searches: 24.9 million+ per month
Number of books: incalculable
There’s really no need to explain just what the four Gospels say Jesus did to become famous, but in the interest of fairness, here are the claims: he was born to a virgin, died at about the age of 33 sometime around the year A.D. 33 (plus or minus 5), the most famous victim of crucifixion, and rose from the dead on his own power 3 days later, ascended into Heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father as a manifestation of that God’s only offspring. You can look up the various miracles attributed to him. There are just over 7 billion people on Earth as of this list, and just about one-third precisely, 33.32%, of them, worship Jesus as “the Christ of God.” We may fairly say that these 2.33 billion people know very well who he was/is, and specifics about his life.