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Gutenberg is man of the millennium
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- Date: Sun, 28 Nov 1999 17:34:14 +0000
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Gutenberg is man of the millennium
John Harlow, Social Affairs Editor
JOHANN GUTENBERG, the medieval German goldsmith who invented the printing
press, has been voted The Sunday Times Man of the Millennium in a unique poll
of the world's most powerful and influential people.
Winston Churchill, the prime minister who inspired Britain to defeat Germany in
the second world war, was voted the most significant figure of the 20th century.
Whereas most polls depend on votes from the public, we asked 100 world leaders,
artists and scientists judged by their peers as influential figures in The
Sunday Times Powerlist 1999 to propose people they considered the most
significant figures of the past 1,000 years.
The results were often unexpected. Boris Yeltsin, the Russian president, voted
for Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet scientist who built the first Russian H-bomb and
then spent the rest of his life protesting against it, winning the Nobel peace
prize in 1975. He died in 1989.
Many found it a tough question. White House sources said Bill Clinton was torn
between John F Kennedy, his boyhood idol, and Martin Luther King, the civil
rights leader, for his 20th century vote. But he felt Thomas Jefferson, author
of the American Declaration of Independence, was a "strong contender" for the
Overall, however, it was scientists and engineers rather than politicians or
artists who have shaped the millennium. Gutenberg (c1398-1468) was the clear
winner, although he remains a semi-mythical figure whose adoption of a wine
press to print moveable type soaked in linseed oil and soot onto paper is
mentioned in only three contemporary documents. William Caxton imported the
technology into England.
Eric Fellner, of Working Title films, voted for Gutenberg and Shakespeare: "Both
created a universal form of communication, one physical and one emotional. But
if you have to choose just one communicator, Gutenberg's the man."
Lord Stevenson, the businessman and arts patron, voted for Gutenberg and Tim
Berners-Lee, the Briton who devised the world wide web. "Both have been central
to the spread of knowledge," he said.
Keynes, the economist, also featured as a social reformer. Visionaries such as
Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein continue to make an impression. Richard
Sykes, chairman of Glaxo Wellcome, said: "Einstein's articulation of the nature
of space and time changed our understanding of the universe."
Engineers, too, have made their mark. Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine,
only just eclipsed Alan Turing, the mathematician who made possible the first
modern computer. By comparison, Bill Gates, who synthesised computer systems to
devise the first global computer language, aroused as many negative comments as
marks of appreciation.
Francis Crick and James Watson, the Cambridge duo who unravelled the secrets of
DNA and laid down the roadmap for bio-engineering, which may be the most
important science of the next century, were popular choices. Richard Branson,
the Virgin tycoon, said they would either be regarded as the saviours of mankind
or the opposite, "and I believe it will be as saviours."
Medical advances were recognised. Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United,
said: "It is hard to believe that any individual in the 20th century did more
good than Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin." Fleming also won
votes from Ian Craft, the IVF pioneer, Chris Evans, the scientist, and Ann
Widdecombe, shadow home secretary.
Helena Cronin, the science writer and a member of the Powerlist judging panel,
said she was delighted by the prominence of scientists. "People are thinking
about influence rather than just power. There are obvious omissions from the top
20, such as Charles Darwin, but it appears to be a remarkably thoughtful poll."
The influence of religious leaders was registered: Jesus Christ held a unique
place, as did Mohammed, the 7th century founder of Islam. George Carey, the
Archbishop of Canterbury, voted for Thomas Cranmer, the protestant martyr, and
Jonas Salk, discoverer of the polio vaccine.
There were few women, with only Elizabeth I making the top 20. Fiona Reynolds,
director of the women's unit in the Cabinet Office, threw her weight behind
Boadicea and, by contrast, Barbie: "She may only be a doll but she is also an
image of can-do woman," she said.
Not all the nominations were so beloved. Joseph Stalin was nominated by Sean
Connery, not in approval but in recognition of the destruction he caused. Owain
Glyndwr, the last of the Welsh princes, was admired for his doomed resistance
against the English and some regarded him as the first anti-European. Many
musicians were also nominated, from Mozart to Chuck Berry.
Churchill remains widely popular. John Bridgeman, director-general of the Office
of Fair Trading, said that the nation still owed everything to the wartime
premier whose leadership meant that Britain is able to enter the next millennium
as a rich and powerful nation.
Additional reporting: Violeta Radovic, Maja Dragovic, Ann Park, York Membery,
Joseph McHugh and Nick Rodrigues
Makers of the millennium
1. Johann Gutenberg
2. William Shakespeare
3. William Caxton
4. Leonardo da Vinci
5. Elizabeth I
6. Michael Faraday
7. Owain Glyndwr
8. Sir isaac Newton
9. Abraham lincoln
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