Although the 21st century is still going through its initial years, people around the world are already influencing the world, and creating history in ways which few have thought about. Here, we present you with a list of 24 of the most famous people of the 21st century until now.
❝A return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man. His good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example.❞
― Niccolò Machiavelli
In a matter of little more than a decade of the 21st century, technology has risen to great heights. While inspiring one or two people might be easy, influencing entire generations is no mean task, and requires one to a special kind of person. The human race, as a whole, has brought out innumerable such personalities since the dawn of human history. However, in this article, we focus only on those figures, who have had an important impact on lives and times of people in the 21st century.
In this article, we have worked towards creating a list of people across all fields, whose work has greatly impacted the world as it is today and for the foreseeable future, whether for good or bad. However, the human race is so prolific that mentioning every eligible person in a single list is impossible. So, the following list of the most important men and women to shape the century so far is largely opinionated.
Most Influential People of the 21st Century
As a politician who served as the President of Russia between 2000-2008, and the Prime Minister, from 2008-2012, and again as president from 2012, Vladimir Putin has been one of the most influential leaders of the 21st century. He shifted to politics only in the 1990s, after a long career in the KGB, when he was appointed as the deputy chief of the presidential staff of 1997. Two years later, he became the Prime Minister of the country. As, he moved into the 21st century, he gained immense popularity, due to his hard stance on military issues, and the creation of economic stability in the country. He created a strong monopoly by making a deal with the ‘oligarch’ businessmen of Russia, where they agreed to pay taxes and stay out of politics, in return of decreased government interference in their businesses. His image of a fearless and adventure-loving leader was loved by the masses, which is why he ran two terms as President and one term as Prime Minister. However, his third term as President, since 2012, has been widely criticized as being dictatorial instead of democratic, and the invasion of Crimea, in 2014, by Russian troops has created tensions between him and the leaders of the West for the foreseeable future.
After working in the Illinois State Senate till 2004, Barack Obama, was elected to the US Senate, where his work projected him to be one of the brightest potentials for the Democrats. Due to his opposition to the Iraq War, and a near-perfect campaign against Hillary Clinton and then Senator John McCain, he went on to win the 2008 Presidential elections. The election of the first African-American President was highly symbolic in the history of not just the nation, but the whole world. His intentions and work towards peace have earned him the Nobel Prize, and he was also largely responsible for the assassination of one of the most wanted men, Osama Bin Laden, and the creation of affordable healthcare in America. Following this, he was able to win a second Presidential term against Mitt Romney. However, despite all this, recent events have put the blame of unemployment, debt, and a weak economy, onto his administration. It is yet to be seen, what major changes Obama can bring, with just a few months left in his tenure, as one of the most powerful people in the world.
Even as a child, Stephen Hawking displayed prodigious talent in logic, working out solutions for complex theorems in ways which other students of his age couldn’t. After gaining his Honors in Physics, he initially studied astronomy, but soon found his true calling in theoretical astronomy and cosmology, which he studied at Trinity College in Cambridge. However, tragedy struck, when he was diagnosed with a neuron-muscular disease. This affected his physical ability, to the point where his speech was always slurred, and he could not feed himself. The doctors said he would live only for three years.
Despite this, he has managed to overcome the disease significantly, to continue his research and public engagements. He has created mathematical models for Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, the nature of the universe, the Big Bang and black holes. He has also turned difficult physics models into books, which can be easily understood by the general public, which have all been bestsellers across the globe. Today, he is probably the most famous scientists of his generation, and possibly one of the most inspirational people to have lived in the 21st century.
As the Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1997 to 2007, his leadership has had very noticeable effects across world politics, which can be felt even today. Under Tony Blair’s first term, Britain’s economy improved, and his tenure in office was termed as the rebirth of British politics and society. So, it was very easy for his party to win a second term in the 2001 general elections, and he retained his position as Prime Minister. However, following the 9/11 attacks, Blair made strong commitments towards the US, remaining steadfast in support, when George Bush pushed for the invasion of Iraq. Eventually, as the situation in Iraq deteriorated, support for Tony Blair in the public and within the party went down. However, he was also commended in bringing North Ireland’s decades long conflict to a peaceful resolution. He finally announced his retirement in 2007. Since his retirement, he has worked as a special envoy to the Middle East, on behalf of the EU, US, and Russia.
Since a very early age, J.K. Rowling dreamed of becoming a writer, authoring her first story at the age of six. She studied French at the University of Exeter, and after graduation, she took up various jobs in London. She got her idea for Harry Potter in 1990, and while writing the first book of the series, she moved to Portugal, to work as an English teacher. Here, she met her husband and had a daughter, but the marriage did not last, and after a couple of years, the couple split. She moved back to the UK with her daughter in 1993, all the while working to complete the first book, while she survived on state-benefits. When she finally finished writing the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’, it took another year before the book was selected by a small publishing company ‘Bloomsbury’, for a mere 1,500 GBP. However, with book sales really shooting up within weeks, American publishing company Scholastic agreed to pay 100,000 GBP, for publishing rights in the United States, and Warner Bros paid a huge seven-figure sum for the film rights. In December 2006, Rowling finished the final book of the Harry Potter series, which became one of the fastest-selling books of all time. She has since written other adult fiction books, and has inspired writers from around the world, many of whom have imitated her style and concepts. She is expected to continue her streak well into the latter part of the century.
Known as the businessman and inventor behind the world-famous Apple products such as the iPod, iPad and MacBook, Steve Jobs is considered by many to the most influential person of the 21st century. Since a very young age his adoptive father Paul Jobs encouraged Steve to experiment with electronics which were kept in their garage, thus leading to a lifelong interest in electronics and design. In college, he took calligraphy lessons apart from other regular subjects, which he claimed to be instrumental in the numerous typefaces and fonts available in Apple products.
Jobs’s first job was at Atari computers where he met Steve Wozniak. Together, Jobs and Wozniak created the first Apple computers, which were sold initially from Jobs’s garage. With the increasing interest in PCs, the fledgling company expanded rapidly. Jobs designed the first Macintosh, which was extremely successful, due to its pioneering GUI, now a key part in any computer in the world. Despite this, he resigned from Apple in 1985, due friction with other workers in the company. His new venture, Pixar, a collaboration with Disney, was extremely successful. Also, he tried starting a new company, NeXT computers, which was not really successful. However, Apple bought NeXT, which brought him back into the company, at a time when profits were falling badly. Under his leadership, Apple managed to beat Microsoft, in the PC market share, and he continued to work in the company till he died at the age of 56, in 2011. He still remains an inspiration for entrepreneurs around the world.
As the wife of Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, Hillary played a supporting role to her husband till the end of his Presidential term in 2001. During this time, she was also elected to the US senate, where she worked in committees for the armed services, environment and public works, health, education , labor etc. Later, in 2007, she was one of the Presidential nominees for the Democrats, but she lost out to Barack Obama. After her loss, she was offered the position of Secretary of State. However, the fallout in America due to the Iraq and Afghanistan war, and the Wikileaks publishing top secret diplomatic cables, her term was a turbulent one. She resigned from office in 2013. She is now considered to be one of the front runners for the 2016, Presidential elections.
There is absolutely no doubt about the influence of Oprah Winfrey on 21st century America. Her role as an author, philanthropist, actress, and especially as a talk show host, plays an important role in shaping American culture. After attending college studying journalism and media, she got her first job as a news anchor, for a local TV station. However, her emotional style of presentation got her shifted to a daytime chat program, which really took off, leading to her own Oprah Winfrey Show, which has become the most highly watched TV show of all time. Through it she covers various cultural issues such as feminism, LGBT, self-improvement, spirituality, etc. Her wide range of media enterprises have made her one of the richest women in the world. It is estimated that her support for Barack Obama, won him over a million votes in the Presidential elections. Forbes declared her as the first African-American female billionaire in world history. Vanity Fair said this about Oprah Winfrey: ‘Oprah Winfrey arguably has more influence on the culture than any university president, politician, or religious leader, except perhaps the Pope’.
David Cameron was educated in the country’s premier institutions of Eton and Oxford, where he studied philosophy, politics, and economics. After graduation, he worked for the Conservative Party’s research department, where he helped John Major win the 1992, general elections, which was a great stepping stone in his political career, as he got opportunities to work for the Home Office and Chancellor Normal Lamont. In 1994, he left the Conservatives and worked in the private sector till 2001, where contested elections for parliament. He then served on Home Affairs and got a reputation for speaking out on national issues. After the resignation of Michael Howard, David Cameron got the support of key party members to become the leader of the Conservatives, attaining a partial victory in 2010 to become the Prime Minister, in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and retained the position by winning the May 2015 elections.
Since winning the 2013 elections by a huge margin, Angela Merkel’s administration of Germany has raised the country’s strength in Europe by such a high margin that any instability in Germany can lead to very high losses for the entire continent. The German Chancellor can safely be assumed to be an informal leader of the EU, due to her able statesmanship. Her ability to hold her own despite immense economic turmoil in Greece and Spain, is the reason why the EU has stayed strong together, giving her tremendous influence not only in Europe, but across the globe. Her policies are expected to continue to affect the world, for many years to come.
One can safely say that the massive boom of the Internet has been largely due to the work of Mark Zuckerberg. His creation of the social networking website, Facebook, which has over a billion users, is a testament to the company’s success, and the vast influence his work has had on the world over the last decade. This has made Zuckerberg the youngest CEO in the Fortune 500 list. He has also donated millions of dollars to charity, and is considered to be one of the greatest philanthropists of his time.
As a co-founder of Microsoft, the success of the company has made Bill Gates one of the richest people in the world. His applications Windows OS and MS-Office, are used everyday by billions of people and can be assumed to be a major part of world culture for a very long time to come. Apart from this, Bill Gates donates generously towards health and education issues.
Known as the ‘Wizard of Omaha’, Warren Buffett is one of the most successful business magnates and investors in the world. He is ranked among the most inspirational and influential people of the world. His company Berkshire Hathway is worth more than USD 200 billion. With fingers in many pies, which usually give very rich dividends, he is an inspiration for investors, economists, and business managers the world over. Warren Buffet has vowed to give 99% of his wealth to charity during his lifetime or upon his death, and has worked with Bill Gates to convince other notable billionaires to give away at least half of their fortunes to charity.
One of the major players in the world retail market, Jeff Bezos is known as the founder of the internet giant Amazon, a pioneer in the relatively new field of Internet commerce. The company has become arguably the second most admired company after Apple, and is worth over USD 175 billion. The workings of the company are such that despite the demanding tasks, thousands of prospective employees are clamoring for positions in Amazon, everyday. This is a testament to the great leader that Jeff Bezos is.
The Catholic Church has long been a non-governmental, political and spiritual organization, and has had a major influence over the world throughout history. With the advent of the 21st century, the election of Pope Francis as the new pontiff has been an important one. He is the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, and the first from the Southern Hemisphere. His transparent and straightforward approach to the position has been very popular due to his austere lifestyle and increased interaction with common people. His teachings have focused on economics and finance, and he is active on social media, which shows his adaptability,the willingness to move with the people and trends of the 21st century. Thus, making his influence truly felt through one of the largest religions on earth.
Sergey Brin and Larry Page
As the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin have created a company with levels of influence that are hard to believe. With the start of the Internet search engine in 1998, the company grew so fast that by 2000, Google had over a billion indexed URLs, which made it the world’s largest search engine, a title which it retains even today, and is even the most visited website of all time (over 1 billion search requests everyday). The launch of AdSense in 2003, made Google extremely profitable at a time, when other companies were not really looking to monetize the Internet. Today, Google touches our lives nearly every second through news, public-domain books, YouTube videos, email, language translation, and much more. With the pace of their accomplishments, we can safely say that Sergey Brin and Larry Page are only just getting started.
As the CEO of Arcelor Mittal, the world’s largest steel producing company, Laxmi Mittal has worked on his audacious plans for decades, consolidating with governments, labor unions, and other parties to create a world power in the steel industry, that too in tough economic times. With the immense amounts of steel needed for urban development and maintenance, Laxmi Mittal is truly one of the most powerful and influential persons in the world, at the moment. He is the sixth richest man in the world and the second richest in Europe.
Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Born in 1949, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the ruler of Dubai, and the Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE since 2006. When the Sheik became the crown prince of Dubai in 1995, he was entrusted with the arduous task of turning this small piece of desert into the world’s most luxurious holiday and business destination. Towards this end, he has created some of the world’s greatest man-made marvels such as the Palm Islands, the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the Burj al-Arab hotel, the Godolphin Stables etc., making Dubai a city to be compared with other major centers of the world like London, New York, and Tokyo. He is also one of the biggest contributors towards charitable institutions involved in eradicating illiteracy and promoting cultural outreach.
John Craig Venter
J. Craig Venter is a geneticist, entrepreneur, and biochemist, who is known to be the first person to sequence the human genome, and the first to inject a natural cell with a synthetic genome. With his work in microbiology, understanding the basic structures and composition of living beings is much better. DNA modification is a natural consequence, and it could signal the end of Darwinism, the only accepted theory of evolution so far. In a nutshell, we can say that Venter’s influence will be felt not just in this century, but much beyond. Mankind will never be the same again.
Across the world of films, television, online, print and other forms of media, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is a global force to be reckoned with. Being the owner of reputed tabloids such as the Sun, the New York Post, and the Wall Street Journal, Murdoch is at the peak of his powers, and his influence on global media affects everyone in the civilized world. His recent work with Dow Jones and the Fox Business Network gives him control of a global financial news powerhouse, taking him to unprecedented heights of influence and success.
George W. Bush
The 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush served in office from 2001 to 2009, after narrowly beating the Democratic candidate Al Gore in 2000. His terms in office was largely shaped by the 9/11 attacks, which forced him to declare a ‘global war against terrorism’. He established the Homeland Security Division and authorized wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. Although, the Taliban was mostly defeated, the main objective of apprehending Osama Bin Laden, was not accomplished until a decade later. He was also responsible for tax-cut bills, medical care for senior citizens, funds for fighting HIV/AIDS across the globe. His second term was not as rosy as the first, due to the excessive spending on the two wars, and the economic recession hitting the US and the world, affecting people for many years to come.
Born in 1955, Jeff Koons was inspired by Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol from a very young age. In his pursuit of his idols, he studied art at the Maryland School of Art, following which he had a brief stint as a Wall Street commodities trader. This brush with commerce, changed Koons into an artist who, contrary to tradition, worked his artistic skills not just for art’s sake, but also for riches and fame. His early work, showed a fascination with industrial production, with sculptures, and reproduction of various mechanical devices. He soon hit the mother lode when creating painstaking accurate replicas of already existing pieces of art, in unlikely materials. For e.g., famous ceramic statues would be recreated from stainless steel in different sizes, yet with extreme attention to detail. What is unique about Koons is that his art is inspired from the market for his merchandise. His detailed analysis of trends of rare objects are what dictate his design. For e.g., Koons created a 10-feet tall reproduction of a party balloon dog from stainless steel, which was sold for a staggering USD 58 million. It is the highest sum ever paid for the work of a living artist.
Osama Bin Laden
After being on the FBI’s ‘most-wanted’ list for over a decade, American special forces killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in May 2011. Intelligence officers believed him to be responsible for several acts of terrorism including the bombing of the U.S. Embassies of Tanzania and Kenya and the 9/11 attacks. Although most people assumed his death to be the end of him, the truth is that even today Osama acts as an inspiration to several terror and hate groups. Besides, Al-Qaeda, which was his own creation, is still one of the most feared terror outfits in the globe. His work with terrorism, and especially the 9/11 attacks, has created a global atmosphere of dread, which has led to extreme measures in security and anti-privacy. This is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
Lisa Randall is the first female theoretical physicist to have been invited to tenure at Harvard. She is also currently leading the field with her revolutionary ideas about extra dimensions beyond the three that we can see and feel. She has theorized that extra dimensions can be infinitely large, and that our three-dimensional world, is a sinkhole in higher dimensional universes. If her work is right, it could explain why the gravity of heavenly bodies, proves to be weaker in contrast to other forces such as electromagnetism. According to her theory of space-time, gravity is weak here because it might be stronger elsewhere in different dimensions. Her work, if successful, can lay the foundation of creating quantum technology, aiding to light-speed/time travel, and much more.
As we are still only beginning the 21st century, this list is far from complete, and results are uncertain. Many of those people who deserve to be on this list may not be born as yet, or it may even be one of you. We will have to wait and watch as humanity unfolds and writes this new chapter in the history of our world.