Everyone is smart in their own way, but there are some people in history whose intelligence have led to significant breakthroughs in science, literature, and life in general. This article is dedicated to some of the greatest geniuses that humanity has ever had to offer. I’m going to be going through who I believe to be the top ten smartest people ever, while offering my rationale behind each choice. Keep in mind that while this list is obviously subjective, it can’t be denied that every single person listed here is very, very special. Without further ado, let’s delve into this list of the top ten smartest people of all time.
#10 – Philip Emeagwali
Since this list is inevitably going to be filled with names that most people are familiar with, I thought that I would start with someone a little more obscure. Although you may have never heard of him, Emeagwali is considered by many to be the father of the Internet as we know it today. He was born in Nigeria in 1954, and despite that fact that he had to serve in the Nigerian Civil War, he was still very rigorous in his studies. He would graduated from Oregon State University in 1977 with a degree in mathematics. He obtained his graduate education at George Washington University, where he acquired a master’s degree in ocean and marine engineering. Philip’s greatest accomplishment came in 1989, when he won the Gordon Bell Prize for creating what is considered one of the fastest supercomputers of all time. A great deal of his research in this area helped lead to the development of the Internet. Without Philip Emeagwali, you wouldn’t be able to read this article!
#9 – Stephen Hawking
Next, here’s a name that is a little more familiar. Stephen Hawking is thought to be one of the smartest people alive right now, and that could be true. Hawking is probably best known for his work in quantum mechanics, physics, and cosmology. In many ways, he has helped popularize the many worlds interpretation, which basically suggests that reality as we know it possesses an infinite number of universes. Stephen was born in the United Kingdom in 1942, and he has been gradually paralyzed over the course of his life due to early-onset, slow-progressing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. However, Hawking hasn’t let this disability affect his ability to change the world. Today, he is the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, which operates within the University of Cambridge. He was played by Eddie Redmayne in the biographical film The Theory of Everything, which released in 2014.
#8 – Marie Curie
I’ve mostly talked about more modern geniuses up until this point, and now it’s time to switch gears and talk about super intelligent people who lived a long time ago. Marie Curie was born in Warsaw in the Kingdom of Poland in 1867. Curie is the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize, and she’s the only woman to ever win it twice. Although she is known for many things, she is probably best known for her work in physics and chemistry, and for her findings on radioactivity. Not only did she help to develop the theory of radioactivity, but she also found a way to isolate radioactive isotopes and discovered entire elements. The term “radioactivity” was actually created by Curie herself. Curie hoped that her research would primarily be used to further medicine, and she helped to found Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, which are still medical research centers today.
#7 – William Shakespeare
Marie Curie is widely regarded as one of the greatest chemists of all time, and William Shakespeare is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of all time. If you’ve ever attended a public high school, then I’m sure that you’re intimately familiar with at least one of Shakespeare’s works. He was born in Warwickshire, England, during the late 1500’s, and over the course of his life he wrote many great works, such as Othello, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, and so much more. Outside of these plays, he has also written numerous different sonnets and poems. All of these works are rigorously studied in high schools and colleges across the globe, and they are still performed on stage on a regular basis. Shakespeare is also considered to be a very large contributor to modern English language as we know it today.
#6 – Galileo Galilei
Just as a brief spoiler, there are going to be a few more scientists on this list. Galileo Galilei is considered to be the father of astronomy, and the father of modern science itself. He was born in Pisa, Italy in 1564, and his research in astronomy was integral to the scientific revolution that was taking place at the time. He used the telescope (which he invented) to confirm many theories regarding Venus and the satellites of Jupiter. Galileo was a bit of a polymath, and he was also known to invent. Galileo is famous for being jailed due to his outspoken support of Copernican heliocentrism, an astronomical model that is largely considered objectively true today. Galilei spent the majority of his late life under house arrest, and today he is thought of as someone was martyred in the name of scientific progress. True, Galileo’s sacrifice still inspires people today to always challenge what we think of as true.
#5 – Albert Einstein
When most people think of geniuses, Albert Einstein is probably one of the first people that pop into their heads. True, Einstein is probably one of the most famous and iconic geniuses to ever live. He was born in the German Empire in 1879, and he spent a great deal of his life studying modern physics and quantum mechanics. Perhaps his most notable contribution to science is the theory of relativity, which he developed himself. This theory allowed the world to better understand many aspects of theoretical physics and astronomy. He is also well known for the mass-energy equivalence formula, which is the infamous “E equals mc squared”. Other notable Einstein findings include research into zero-point energy, wormholes, thermodynamic fluctuations, and wave-particle duality. Einstein is one of the more recent scientific geniuses that this world has ever seen, and his name has since become synonymous with someone who is smart. Without a doubt, he is one of the most iconic geniuses to ever live.
#4 – Plato
Albert Einstein died in 1955, but this next genius on our list of the top ten smartest people ever died in around 348 BC. Plato is a very well-known philosopher of Classical Greece. The Western tradition of philosophy as we know it today probably wouldn’t be the same without this man. Plato was taught by Socrates, who is a notable philosopher in his own right, and he found a student in Aristotle, who is also historically significant. Some of his most notable work includes Apology, Republic, and Symposium. Plato had thoughts that were very cutting edge at the time, and he spoke a lot about family, nature, knowledge, the afterlife, and of metaphysics. Plato is known as a moral philosopher, which means that he spent more time thinking about relations and religion and life itself than he spent thinking about nature or the natural world. It may be hard for us to think of someone like Plato as being a genius, but he definitely was one.
#3 – Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla spent a decent amount of time as a more unknown or underappreciated inventor, but in recent years, he has seen a massive resurgence in popularity. Nikola Tesla was born in the Austrian Empire in 1856, in what is now known as Croatia. Tesla dedicated his life to engineering and to physics, and early in his scientific career he began to work in electric power, which was just becoming popular and viable. Starting in 1884, he lived in the United States and he put in a lot of work to designing motors and electricity supply systems. In his later life, Tesla would put on lectures where he would discuss concepts that people considered to be fanciful, like wireless lighting and worldwide wireless electric power. He was characterized as a bit of a nutcase in the years prior to his death, but many people today are appreciative of his contributions to modern electricity.
#2 – Isaac Newton
Earlier, I spoke about natural philosophy, and Isaac Newton is arguably one of the most famous natural philosophers to ever live. He was a dedicated mathematician, astronomer, and physicist, and his findings today in many ways form the foundation of modern science. Newton was born in Lincolnshire, England in 1642, and his most famous work includes his findings on the laws of motion and gravity. Schoolchildren everywhere are familiar with the story of Isaac Newton “discovering gravity” when an apple fell on his head. Newton also did a great deal of work to contribute to the development of calculus. If you’ve ever done math in power series, the binomial theorem, or cubic plane curves, then you’ve probably worked off of some kind of theory that Isaac Newton contributed to. Newton is a prolific scientist, and the world would no doubt be very different if he had never existed.
#1 – Leonardo da Vinci
I don’t think that anyone could possibly deny that Leonardo da Vinci is the most brilliant person to ever live among us. He has put forth significant contributions in art, sculpting, science, architecture, mathematics, writing, and much more. Leonardo is primarily known for being a painter, and his most universally famous works are probably Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. However, what some people don’t know is that Leonardo da Vinci also possessed a brilliant scientific mind. Over the course of his life, he drew up plans for machines that were considered impossible at the time, like flying machines, adding machines, and fighting vehicles. Leonardo was a keen observational scientist, and he put together extensive research regarding botany, geology, and anatomy. A lot of the work that Leonardo did was considered ahead of its time, and we definitely have a lot to be grateful for thanks for his brilliant brain.