The Atlantic's December issue evaluates the 100 most influential people in American history. It's remarkable to me that this kind of magazine gimmick is so often irresistible. The moment I saw it on the newsstand, I picked it up.
Of course lists like this are made to provoke controversy and debate. The most impressive thing to me was seeing Ronald Reagan at #17, higher than I would have expected him to be placed, and more proof that his outsized role in recent American history has become an accepted fact. (It was also a nice bit of poetry to see him sandwiched between Andrew Jackson and Mark Twain). The top 10 for the most part are reasonable and not surprising, though FDR seems a little too high at #4 (more important than James Madison?), Dr. King too high at #8, (way ahead of John Adams, for instance, at a lonely #25); Walt Disney at #26 is beyond absurd; Jackie Robinson (#35) ahead of Frederick Douglas, James Polk, and Robert E. Lee … Elvis Presley (#66) ahead of John Brown, Noah Webster and Enrico Fermi. And so on.
The influence of celebrity is even clearer on the Top Living Influentials list, where Muhammad Ali slots just behind William F. Buckley, and Bob Dylan tops them both. But perhaps the most poetic moment of all is that Bill Clinton is tied at #28 … with Chuck Berry.
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