When it comes to inspirational people, history has a plethora of extraordinary names to offer. From the worlds of science, religion, philosophy and politics, narrowing them down to ten is no mean feat. We’ve delved into the history books and done our best. Here, in our humble opinion, are the most inspirational people of all time…
Sir Isaac Newton
A name taught about in every science class the world over, Sir Isaac Newton is undoubtedly one of the most inspirational people to have ever lived. Accomplished in the fields of mathematics, theology, physics and astronomy, his radical thinking resulted in ground-breaking revelations and caused waves among the contemporary science community that would have effects for every generation after.
Most famously, his discovery of gravity laid a base for all modern sciences, but he was also the first person to calculate the speed of sound and made great strides in the study of light. Inspirational? We think so.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Luther, arguably one of the most important names of the 20th century, fundamentally underpinned the mass movement of equal rights and inspired an entire generation to rethink racial equality. Born in Atlanta in 1929 and growing up under strict US segregation laws, he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent activism to lead the Civil Rights Movement, eventually ending institutional segregation across the country and picking up a Nobel Peace Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom on the way.
The third Monday in January is now celebrated as Martin Luther King Jr. day across the country in memory of his incredible life and works. Need we say more?
Much like Newton, Darwin’s radical thinking not only propelled the entire theory of evolution to the forefront of scientific exploration, but he also revealed the marvels and intrigues of the natural world to wider society through his epic, and highly dangerous, five year voyage across the world on HMS Beagle.
At a time when religion held a firm grip on societies the world over, Darwin’s theory of natural selection as set out in On the Origin of Species was deemed blasphemous and heretical. It took undeniable bravery, courage of his convictions and a great belief in the evidence he had uncovered to stand by a theory which, ultimately, formed the basis for much of modern biology.
The revered king of literature, Shakespeare’s writing grappled with and reflected the very nature of humankind. An actor, playwright and poet, his works changed the way in which people thought about themselves and contemporary society, thus changing the entire English speaking world forever.
And, if you’re wondering how relevant the works of nearly 500-year-old author whom many only read during English lessons can be to the modern world, there are hundreds of words and phrases coined by the bard still in everyday parlance. Ever used the sayings ‘catch a cold’ or ‘break the ice’? Then you’re quoting Shakespeare. We’d say that’s quite the legacy.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Although the list of inspirational classical composers is long, Mozart is considered in most circles be considered the greatest. He a prodigy of incredible talent, composing from the age of five, and, upon his death in 1791, leaving to the world a body of more than 600 works. Many of these still rank among the most popular classical compositions streamed today.
He also perfected and developed the Classical mode, characterised by clarity, balance and transparency and in direct contradiction to the Baroque style which dominated at the time. His progressive works went on to form the framework for many world-famous successors, including Beethoven and Chopin.
Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso)
It may seem somewhat controversial to include a religious leader on this list but the fourteenth Dalai Lama has earned his title as a true inspiration thanks to his political activism and peaceful protest movements. The only living member of our list, Gyatso was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for non-violent resistance to Chinese rule in Tibet – an ongoing issue which sees Gyatso forced to live in exile in India.
He is also known for his passionate speeches on subjects as wide ranging as women’s right, economics, the environment, science and religion and his dedication to the peace, prosperity, compassion and tolerance of all is truly inspirational.
Churchill, the man who won the Second World War, is one of the most important figures in modern history. Not only did he inspire the British nation to be impervious in the face of danger, he did so for the entire allied forces as well, and is widely credited with halting the spread of fascism and protecting liberal democracy in Europe. A formidable politician, outstanding gentleman and an accomplished author with a Nobel Prize for Literature, Churchill was one of the greats.
The advances Einstein made in science are beyond measure, the greatest scientist since Newton, Einstein’s theory of relativity still reigns as one of the most influential breakthroughs in history. As the developer of the most famous equation in history – E = mc2 – he, quite rightly, earned a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 and published more than 300 papers during his lifetime, making his name synonymous with the term ‘genius’. Not only was he a formidable scientist, he was also an active voice for human rights, campaigning for a more peaceful world and ardently denouncing the creation of atomic bombs.
No list of the most inspirational people of all time would be complete without the inclusion of Mandela. Standing alongside Martin Luther King Jr as one of the most famous champions of equal rights, his headstrong pursuit to rid South Africa of its apartheid regime changed history.
Sentenced to life in prison on charges of inciting workers’ strikes and attempting to sabotage the government, he spent 27 years in prison, during which time he earned a degree, held work and hunger strikes, met with political leaders, wrote an autobiography and took whatever measures he could to continue fighting apartheid. Despite his poor treatment, he could not be broken and, shortly after being released in 1990, was elected President of South Africa – the country’s first black leader.
Fundamental to the prosperity of all, Teresa chose a voluntary life of poverty in order to help others. In 1950 she founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation which to this day dedicates itself to helping those suffering from HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis as well as running soup kitchen, orphanages, schools and mobile clinics.
Through this work she instigated entire generations to selflessly aid others and fearlessly taking on world leaders to tackle inequality. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and was canonized in 2016 by Pope Francis, becoming the Patron Saint of Calcutta.
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