One of the few personalities known for his disdain of self-promotion, Thomas Sowell is an important American social theorist and economist. Over the years, he has played a prominent role working as a faculty member of many prestigious universities, such as the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Cornell University.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American philosopher who led the transcendentalist movement that developed in the eastern United States in the 1820s and 1830s. He is credited with popularizing individualism through his numerous lectures and essays. Emerson influenced many thinkers and writers that followed him; he mentored Henry David Thoreau, who went on to become a leading transcendentalist.
Milton Friedman was an American economist. Widely regarded as one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, Friedman was honored with the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1976. One of the most influential personalities of the Chicago school of economics, Friedman mentored people like Gary Becker and Thomas Sowell who went on to become leading economists.
B. F. Skinner was an American behaviorist, psychologist, inventor, author, and social philosopher. Skinner, who taught psychology at Harvard University, is credited with founding a school of thought in psychology called the experimental analysis of behavior. Regarded as a pioneer of modern behaviorism, Skinner was named the 20th century's most influential psychologist, according to a survey conducted in June 2002.
Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist best remembered for creating an idea in psychology called Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Maslow, who advocated self-actualization, is also credited with co-founding the school of transpersonal psychology. In 1967, he was adjudged Humanist of the Year by the popular non-profit organization, American Humanist Association.
William James was an American psychologist and philosopher. Widely regarded as the father of American psychology and one of the most influential American philosophers, James was the first educator in the United States to offer a course in psychology. He is also credited with co-founding a psychological school of thought called functional psychology and establishing a philosophical school called pragmatism.
A staunch advocate of progressive education and liberalism, the American philosopher and psychologist was the founder of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. John Dewey’s famous writings included The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology and Human Nature and Conduct. According to him, passion for knowledge and intellectual curiosity were central to a teacher. He called himself a democratic socialist.
Religious leader Joseph Smith Jr. is known as the founder of the Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement. He also published the Book of Mormon. He established his communities in Ohio and Missouri and eventually founded the city Nauvoo in Illinois, which became the center of his spiritual activities.
Psychologist Carl Rogers was the first to introduce a client-centric approach to psychotherapy and addressed the patient as the client. Besides working on troubled children, he also taught at various institutes, such as the University of Chicago. On Becoming a Person remains one of his best-known books.
10 Noam Chomsky
Regarded by many as the father of modern linguistics, Noam Chomsky has authored over 100 books on varied topics, such as politics, linguistics, and war. A multi-talented personality, Noam Chomsky is considered a popular figure in analytic philosophy. Apart from influencing a wide array of academic fields, he has also contributed to the development of cognitivism.
One of the most celebrated anthropologists to have ever existed, Margaret Mead is remembered for his research on a broad range of topics, such as sexual conventions in Western society. Of her 23 books, the most talked-about was the bestseller Coming of Age in Samoa.
12 John Rawls
The Schock Prize and National Humanities Medal-winning American moral and political philosopher John Bordley Rawls is often counted among the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth-century. Notable books of Rawls, where he elucidated his theory of justice and which has influenced a variety of thinkers, includes A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism.
Zora Neale Hurston was an author, anthropologist, and filmmaker. As an African American woman, she often depicted racial issues in the films she made. Her works also reflected her struggles as a black woman. In her early career, she conducted anthropological and ethnographic research and focused more on writing and film-making in her later years.
John B. Watson was the first to introduce the theory of behaviorism to psychology. He believed human behavior, like animal behavior, should be studied under objective and experimental conditions. One of his experiments included conditioning the fear of white rats into an 11-year-old boy he named Little Albert.
Jonathan Edwards was an American philosopher, revivalist preacher, and Congregationalist Protestant theologian. Considered one of America's most prominent and influential philosophical theologians, Jonathan Edwards played a major role in shaping the Evangelical Revival of the 1730s and 1740s. His theological work is credited with paving the way for a new school of theology called the New England theology.
Henry David Thoreau was an American philosopher, essayist, poet, and naturalist. He is credited with popularizing transcendentalism and simple living. His philosophy of civil disobedience, which was detailed in his essay of the same name, later influenced world-renowned personalities like Leo Tolstoy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.
Psychologist and Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo is best known for his Stanford prison experiment, which proved how prisoners get abusive due to situational factors. He is also known for his books The Lucifer Effect and The Time Paradox and has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Psychological Foundation.
Claude Shannon was an electrical engineer, mathematician, and cryptographer. He is credited with publishing the article A Mathematical Theory of Communication which gave rise to the field of information theory. Hence, Shannon is considered the father of information theory. He is also credited with founding digital circuit design theory. During World War II, he contributed to the field of cryptanalysis.
Psychologist and former Harvard professor Timothy Leary was an advocate of psychedelic drugs. His research experiments included the controversial Concord Prison Experiment and Marsh Chapel Experiment. After being fired from Harvard for his actions, he continued promoting his theories through catchphrases such as “turn on, tune in, drop out.”
Social psychologist Stanley Milgram was inspired by the suffering of the Jews during the Holocaust to understand what drove people to harm others, and thus created his Milgram experiment. He also taught at prestigious institutes such as Harvard and Yale. His studies also included the six degrees of separation concept.
22 Kurt Gödel
Hailed as one of the greatest logicians since Aristotle, Kurt Gödel was Austrian-born American mathematician, logician, and philosopher, who earned international stardom for his incompleteness theorem. Also credited with developing a technique called Gödel numbering, he later started working on Mathematical Platonism, a philosophical theory that failed to attract wide acceptance.
23 Thomas Kuhn
American philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn is noted for his book on history of science, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, publication of which marked a significant event in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science. He presented his notion of paradigm shift and identified and elaborated on normal science in this book which remained influential in academic and popular circles.
25 Franz Boas
Remembered for his research on cultural relativism, German-born American anthropologist Franz Boas is often referred to as the Father of American Anthropology. The son of a merchant, he was a sickly child who grew up reading a lot. He also studied folklore and developed it as an academic discipline.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and academic Samantha Power has previously served as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. She was a war correspondent before she became a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She worked on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and infamously called Hillary Clinton "a monster.”
27 Cornel West
Cornel West is an American philosopher, social critic, political activist, and author. He is renowned for drawing intellectual contributions from several traditions, such as Marxism, Christianity, transcendentalism, and neopragmatism. West is credited with authoring many influential books, such as Democracy Matters and Race Matters.
Apart from being the MD of Thiel Capital, mathematician and economist Eric Weinstein is also a researcher at Oxford. The Harvard alumnus had quit academia for 20 years before he returned again. He coined the term “intellectual dark web” and works on topics such as gauge theory, risk management, and immigration.
Historian George McGovern had been the U.S. senator from South Dakota. He held important positions related to food, agriculture, and nutrition, too, and was named a World Food Prize laureate for his efforts in reducing world hunger. He had also advocated for the end of the Vietnam War.
31 John Cage
32 Robert Reich
Economist and University of California, Berkeley professor Robert Reich has also been the U.S. secretary of labor. His rare bone disorder made him a victim of bullies in childhood, but he later won the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. His bestselling book Saving Capitalism was made into a Netflix documentary.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. is an American literary critic, historian, professor, filmmaker, and public intellectual. He is currently serving as the director of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. Over the years Gates has been honored with several prestigious awards including the National Humanities Medal. In 1997, he was named in Time magazine's 25 Most Influential Americans list.
Lawrence Kudlow began his career as staff economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and then served as financial analyst at Wall Street, before joining the Ronald Reagan administration. Later he became an economic media commentator with National Review, and hosted several shows on CNBC. During the Trump administration, he served as Director of the National Economic Council.
38 Scott Adams
Best known for his iconic comic strip Dilbert, Scott Adams has an MBA degree and has worked in banks and tech firms earlier. The character Dilbert first appeared in Adams’s office presentations and was inspired by his co-workers. His social-media video series, Coffee with Scott Adams, too, was quite popular.
N. K. Jemisin became the first writer to win the Hugo Best Novel award thrice consecutively and is best known for her Inheritance trilogy and her Broken Earth series. The African-American author is also a trained psychologist and has worked as a counsellor in several universities.
41 Jon Meacham
Jon Meacham is an American historian, writer, reviewer, and presidential biographer. Over the years Meacham has contributed to popular publications like The New York Times, Time, and Newsweek. In 2009, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his work American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. He has also received honorary doctorates from many universities including the University of Tennessee.
Author, academic, and public policy fellow David Eisenhower teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. Best known for his Pulitzer Prize-shortlisted book Eisenhower at War: 1943-1945, he is the grandson of former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower and the son of John Eisenhower. He is also the son-in-law of Richard Nixon.
43 Sarah Vowell
Bestselling author and essayist Sarah Vowell is known for her expertise in American history and her books such as Assassination Vacation and Unfamiliar Fishes. She is also a regular on the radio program This American Life and has voiced Violet in the animated film The Incredibles.
The last Crow war chief, Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow was part of the Whistling Water clan of Native Americans. The legendary indigenous hero was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A published historian, too, he is remembered for his research on the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
American philosopher and social psychologist George Herbert Mead was one of the pioneers of pragmatism and symbolic interactionism. He taught at the University of Chicago, and his ideas later came to be known as the Chicago school of sociology. His notable lectures were published as books only after his death.