Atlantic Monthly poll of historians: The 100 most influential Americans of all time

Who are the most influential figures in American history? The Atlantic recently asked ten eminent historians. The result was The Atlantic’s Top 100—and some insight into the nature of influence and the contingency of history. Was Walt Disney really more influential than Elizabeth Cady Stanton? Benjamin Spock than Richard Nixon? Elvis Presley than Lewis and Clark? John D. Rockefeller than Bill Gates? Babe Ruth than Frank Lloyd Wright? Let the debates begin.

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Thomas Martin Sobottke - 11/29/2006

First let me say that compiling any kind of list that is fully inclusive is in reality an impossibility.

But I was surprised that the top twenty or thirty or so were all male.

You really have to move either Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton or both up the list. Half the American population then and now have been women. Without these gals (and many others) women's lives and opportunities would be badly stunted and this would be a dramatically different country.

I think much of this comes from the fact we assoicate influence with raw political power; a not unnatural conclusion. Personages who occupy formal seats of power get prominence. Those whose influence come from other sources might receive less attention.

It is good to see people from a variety of fields and backgrounds included. And including poets and scientists and innovators in business are no less deserving.

I am not certain of Robert E. Lee's place. Publicly he was gracious in defeat which is important. But privately he was troubled and bitter about Confederate defeat. Perhaps he needs to be further down the list. I feel this way despite having a great admiration and liking for the man.

The fact they were on the list says the historians got it basically right. We might have fun debating just where to rate them.

I was glad to see that Ronald Reagan was not number one. I realize he remains one of our most popular presidents and deserving of a prominent place. But a recent History Channel program in which the American people, rather than historians did the selecting seemed oddly skewed. How could anyone put Reagan ahead of both Lincoln and Washington?

Glad to see that Mr. Lincoln is in his rightful place with Mr. Washington right with him.

Certainly readers of this site will have a bunch of worthy candidates who were left out.

Thomas Martin Sobottke

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