List 18: Super Smart People

I love smart people. I wrote about Nate Silver’s statistics fueled stardom during the election, which was only strengthened when results showed he predicted the outcome of the presidential election for every state (one better than he had in 2008). Yes, I have a little crush on Nate Silver’s brain, and his is not the only one.

Below are 40 other super smart people. I’m not trying to claim that these are the 40 smartest people who have ever lived. These are just some smart folks (alive and dead) I’d love to hang out with at a dream cocktail party. I called my list of recommended documentaries “Fascinating True Stories.” An alternate title for this post could be “Fascinating True People.”

It is impossible to compare people who are smart in completely different ways so lest anyone mistakes the numbers as rankings I listed everyone alphabetically.

  1. Frank Abagnale – Scam artists are smart, fascinating and scary.
  2. Jad Abumrad – He holds his own with all the highly intelligent guests on the innovatively produced show RadioLab.
  3. Queen Noor Al-Hussein – An American urban planner who became a Jordanian queen.
  4. Alexander the Great – He conquered, in part, with creative problem solving.
  5. Kurt Anderson – Satirist, storyteller and serious interviewer. The guy is sexy smart.
  6. Isaac Asimov – An unbelievably diverse intellect.
  7. Charles Babbage – Credited with inventing the computer and starting everything.
  8. Josephine Baker – It takes brains to be a spy. It takes brains and guts to fight racism and segregation.
  9. Tim Berners-Lee – Although “Internet” and “World Wide Web” are now frequently used synonymously, fewer people would care about the former if he hadn’t invented the latter.
  10. Ray Bradbury – His stories move me and make me think.
  11. Bill Bryson – The ability to explain complex and potentially boring topics with humor and accessibility takes a great mind.
  12. Stephen Colbert – There is something incredibly brilliant about choosing to embody a fictional character who is nothing like you and giving him your same name. It’s a satirical equivalent of an Escher painting.
  13. Hillary Clinton – You don’t have to like her, but she is smart, powerful and has a sense of humor.
  14. Marie Curie – Two, count them, TWO Nobel Prizes in science.
  15. Leonardo da Vinci – The original renaissance man.
  16. Tina Fey – Brilliantly funny.
  17. Dario Fo – Nobel Prize winning playwright whose The Tricks of the Trade is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read.
  18. Neil Gaiman – He taught me that books with pictures can be intelligently written.
  19. Vaclav Havel – Playwright, dissident and the closest thing to the Platonic ideal of leader that the modern world has seen.
  20. Stephen Hawking – Smarter than I can even comprehend.
  21. Don Herbert a.k.a. Mr. Wizard – Got kids excited about science. That’s smart.
  22. Grace Hopper – Developed the first computer program compiler and is the mother of machine-independent programming languages.
  23. Garry Kasparov – I know the rules, but I’ve never had a talent for the strategy of chess. I greatly admire those who have mastered it.
  24. Hedy Lamarr – Sex symbol and inventor of technologies on which modern wireless communications are built.
  25. Ada Lovelace – Foresaw the potential of computers beyond basic calculations.
  26. David Mamet – Known for swear words and misogynous themes, he is a master of rhythmic speech.
  27. Kevin Mitnick – Yes, he’s a criminal, but he’s a genius of social engineering.
  28. P.J. O’Rourke – I was once on a plane laughing hysterically as something called “9/11 Diary,” and it was all his fault.
  29. Maria Popova – Inspired curator of interestingness on the Brain Pickings website.
  30. Henry Rollins – I hadn’t listened to Black Flag, so I was first introduced to Henry Rollins on the cover of a literary magazine. Such intelligent writing coming from this heavily-tattooed tough guy was just too sexy to ignore.
  31. Avi Rubin – Because of the election, his work fighting for reliable and auditable electronic voting has been on my mind.
  32. Sarah Ruhl – A playwright whose work is both touching and twisted.
  33. Bruce Schneier – Security pundit whose loves to point out that most of what has been done to keep us safe since 9/11 is just “security theater.”
  34. Will Shortz – A master of wordplay.
  35. Stephen Sondheim – I’m not a huge fan of musical theatre, but I can appreciate the complexity of his work. Plus, a duet of John Hinckley singing about Jodie Foster and Squeaky Fromme singing about Charles Manson is just the sort of twisted thing I can get behind.
  36. Tom Stoppard – Playwright and screenwriter known for work full of complexity and wit.
  37. Annie Sullivan – Helen Keller gets more attention for what she overcame, but Annie Sullivan was the one smart enough to see her potential and patient enough to nurture it.
  38. Alan Turing – Helped cracked Nazi codes and created the preeminent test for artificial intelligence. Too bad he was persecuted for being gay. What more could he have done had he not committed suicide?
  39. Neil deGrasse Tyson – Astronomical advocate.
  40. Ben Zimmer – He speaks for language.

What super smart people would you want to have a cocktail party with?

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