Wednesday, 31 December 2008

"100 Greatest Americans"

Searching through information about Silent Spring, I discovered this list of the 100 most influential people in America. (On the post where I first discovered it, Silent Spring was criticised as it often is for killing many Africans).

Although one writer called "Borges" called the list "right-wing" because Hilary Clinton was absent, with the two Margarets (Mead and Sanger), plus Nader, John Dewey and Friedan, it is overall anything but. It is true that Rockefeller, Carnegie and Henry Ford are all in the top twenty, which will lighten the faces of Austrians out there, but apart from the two admittedly important Mormon pioneers Joseph Smith and Brigham Young there is nobody closely related to conservative religious viewpoints. One writer did suggest John Cardinal O'Connor (though misnaming him), another Jerry Falwell, another Dorothy Day and most surprisingly the Poor Clare Mary Angelica, but many other religious figures were not suggested at all.

However, the list is not as politically correct as possible. Recalling Elizabeth Kantor in The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, it is worthy of note that Toni Morrison was not suggested, even though she is supposedly the most studied writer in US education today. Nor, much more remarkably, was William Seward Burroughs III, who has been seen (quite fairly) as the godfather of punk and thus modern culture in Blue America and Europe. Even Chuck D, the spokesperson for the 1980s rap revolution, would not have been an unfair choice, but no one suggested him. Nor were John Coltrane or Charles Mingus among jazzmen. Nor was Henry Adams, who wrote a book about his own education often listed as the very best of the twentieth century.

Of those actually included, there are some whose names are so often mentioned on out products or elsewhere but of whom I have never heard, like Morse (the Morse code) and Gallup (the familiar opinion polls). To be fair, there are far more people whom I knew already than on any previous "Top 100" list I have read, but there are still a few whom I did not know of before today, such as Olmstead, McCormick, Eli Whitney and Goldwyn.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A fascinating review of the list.

On reading the list, I became increasingly angry and then amused that Herman Melville was not on it, until I discovered him at 100. It was unsurprising that the list then referred to "Moby Dick" rather than "Moby-Dick". This is an important error that Peter Pierce, among others, has warned against.

It was no surprise to see no composers on the list, although Copland, Bernstein or even Dvorak probably deserved places. However, I was greatly pleased that no film-maker (other than Disney, a wealthy inustrialist) was noted.