Famous American Intellectuals & Academics

Wonder who is the most influential figure in American history? Presidents, entrepreneurs, and athletes aside, it is the introspective, rabble-rousing, trailblazing lot of intellectuals and academics who have played a significant role in shaping the American tenor. They are the visionaries, the great innovators who have revolutionized America and the world at large with their standout ideas, thoughts, and actions. They are the thinkers who have dominated every American mind and have been an inspiration behind their roadmap to success. From Chomsky and Rorty to Dewey and Walzer, America has spun out some top notch intellectuals who not only put their ideas and thoughts into practice, but also architected pathways to a more stable and productive American future. Let us meet America's most cited intellectuals and academics in the biographies presented below and acquaint ourselves to their timeline, trivia, and interesting facts. Caveat: These biographies might redefine your take on world and life.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite American Intellectuals & Academics

 1 Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky
25
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: December 7, 1928
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: East Oak Lane

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.

 2 Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
4
Famous As: Economist
Birthdate: June 30, 1930
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Gastonia, North Carolina

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

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 3 Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau
0
Famous As: Writer and Philosopher
Birthdate: July 12, 1817
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Concord
Died: May 6, 1862

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.

 4 Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman
9
Famous As: Economist, Statistician
Birthdate: July 31, 1912
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Died: November 16, 2006

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.

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 5 B. F. Skinner

B. F. Skinner
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Famous As: American psychologist
Birthdate: March 20, 1904
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: August 18, 1990

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. 

 6 William James

William James
0
Famous As: Philosopher, Psychologist
Birthdate: January 11, 1842
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: New York City, New York
Died: August 26, 1910

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.

 7 Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow
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Birthdate: April 1, 1908
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brooklyn
Died: June 8, 1970

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.

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 8 Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emersion
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Famous As: American Lecturer, Philosopher, Essayist & Poet
Birthdate: May 25, 1803
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died: April 27, 1882

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.

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 9 Claude Shannon

Claude Shannon
0
Famous As: Mathematician, Cryptographer
Birthdate: April 30, 1916
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Petoskey, Michigan, United States
Died: February 24, 2001

 10 Janet Yellen

Janet Yellen
4
Famous As: Economist
Birthdate: August 13, 1946
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States

Economist Janet Yellen has had an illustrious career as an academic and researcher, and has taught at Harvard University and other reputed institutes. After chairing the Federal Reserve for 4 years, she is now the United States Secretary of the Treasury. She is married to Nobel-winning economist George Akerlof.

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 11 Timothy Francis Leary

Timothy Francis Leary
0
Famous As: American psychologist
Birthdate: October 22, 1920
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Springfield
Died: May 31, 1996

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.”

 12 Samantha Power

Samantha Power
0
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: September 21, 1970
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: London, England

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.”

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 13 Cornel West

Cornel West
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: June 2, 1953
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States

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.

 14 Terence McKenna

Terence McKenna
0
Famous As: Philosopher, Psychonaut, Ethnobotanist, Author
Birthdate: November 16, 1946
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Paonia, Colorado, United States
Died: April 3, 2000
Philosopher, ethnobotanist, and public speaker Terence McKenna was the proponent of concepts such as the Novelty Theory and Machine Elf. His work revolved around subjects such as psychedelic drugs, shamanism, alchemy, and metaphysics. He wrote several books and supported the usage of psychedelic mushrooms to experience different states of mind.
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 15 Kurt Gödel

Kurt Gödel
0
Famous As: Mathematician, Philosopher
Birthdate: April 28, 1906
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Brno
Died: January 14, 1978

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.

 16 Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers
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Famous As: Psychologist
Birthdate: January 8, 1902
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Oak Park
Died: February 4, 1987

 17 John Dewey

John Dewey
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 20, 1859
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Burlington, Vermont, United States
Died: June 1, 1952

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.

 18 Philip Zimbardo

Philip Zimbardo
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Famous As: Social psychologist, University teacher, Non-fiction writer, Psychologist
Birthdate: March 23, 1933
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: New York City

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.

 19 Peter Navarro

Peter Navarro
0
Famous As: Economist
Birthdate: July 15, 1949
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Economist and writer Peter Navarro has served as the Director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy and the Director of the National Trade Council under former president Donald Trump. He has also authored books such as Death by China and taught at the University of California.

 20 Robert Reich

Robert Reich
0
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: June 24, 1946
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA

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.

 21 Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Henry Louis Gates Jr.
0
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: September 16, 1950
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Keyser, West Virginia

 22 Eric Weinstein

Eric Weinstein
0
Famous As: Mathematician
Birthdate: October 26, 1965
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States

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.

 23 Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead
2
Famous As: Cultural Anthropologist
Birthdate: December 16, 1901
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
Died: November 15, 1978

 24 Jon Meacham

Jon Meacham
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Famous As: Journalist, Historian, Biographer
Birthdate: May 20, 1969
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Chattanooga

 25 John B. Watson

John B. Watson
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Famous As: Psychologist
Birthdate: January 9, 1878
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Travelers Rest, South Carolina, United States
Died: September 25, 1958

 26 John Rawls

John Rawls
0
Famous As: American Philosopher
Birthdate: February 21, 1921
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Baltimore
Died: November 24, 2002

 27 Daniel Dennett

Daniel Dennett
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Birthdate: March 28, 1942
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts

 28 Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson
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Famous As: Historian, University teacher, Journalist
Birthdate: September 5, 1953
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Fowler

 29 David Eisenhower

David Eisenhower
0
Famous As: Officer
Birthdate: March 31, 1948
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: West Point

 30 Frederick Winslow Taylor

Frederick Winslow Taylor
0
Famous As: Tennis player, Engineer, Economist, Golfer, Management consultant, Mechanical engineer, Lecturer, Writer
Birthdate: March 20, 1856
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Philadelphia
Died: March 21, 1915

 31 Joseph Stiglitz

Joseph Stiglitz
0
Famous As: Economist, University teacher, Science writer, Non-fiction writer, Professor, Critic, Writer, Scientist
Birthdate: February 9, 1943
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Gary
Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz is best known for his work on the theory of markets with asymmetric information. The MIT alumnus has taught at prestigious institutes such as Harvard and Stanford and currently teaches at Columbia University, He has been an economic advisor to the U.S. government, too.

 32 David Graeber

David Graeber
0
Famous As: Anthropologist, University teacher, Writer, Trade unionist
Birthdate: February 12, 1961
Sun Sign: Aquarius

 33 David McCullough

David McCullough
0
Famous As: Author, Historian
Birthdate: July 7, 1933
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.

 34 Harry Harlow

Harry Harlow
0
Famous As: Psychologist
Birthdate: October 31, 1905
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Fairfield, Iowa, U.S.
Died: December 6, 1981

 35 John F. MacArthur

John F. MacArthur
0
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: June 19, 1939
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States

 36 Lawrence Kudlow

Lawrence Kudlow
0
Famous As: Director of the National Economic Council
Birthdate: August 20, 1947
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Englewood, New Jersey

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.

 37 Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama
2
Famous As: Writer, Political scientist, Blogger, Economist
Birthdate: October 27, 1952
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Chicago

The son of a Japanese-American church minister, Francis Fukuyama was born in Chicago and had virtually no association with the Japanese culture. Educated at Cornell and Harvard, the political economist and academic is associated with Stanford and has penned the iconic book The End of History and the Last Man.

 38 Franz Boas

Franz Boas
0
Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: July 9, 1858
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Minden, Westphalia, Germany
Died: December 21, 1942

 39 Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr
0
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: June 21, 1892
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Wright City, Missouri
Died: June 1, 1971

 40 Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman
2
Famous As: Columnist, Economist, Essayist, Blogger, University teacher, Actor, Pundit, Journalist, Writer
Birthdate: February 28, 1953
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Albany

Economist Paul Krugman, who has taught at Yale, MIT, and Princeton, later won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, primarily for his work on the new trade theory and economic geography. He has also gained popularity for his op-ed column in The New York Times.

 41 Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston
2
Famous As: Folklorist, Anthropologist
Birthdate: January 7, 1891
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Notasulga
Died: January 28, 1960

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.

 42 Christina Hoff Sommers

Christina Hoff Sommers
0
Famous As: Author, Philosopher
Birthdate: September 28, 1950
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Petaluma, California, U.S.

 43 Stanley Milgram

Stanley Milgram
2
Famous As: Psychologist, University teacher, Sociologist
Birthdate: August 15, 1933
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New York City
Died: December 20, 1984

 44 Ethan Allen

Ethan Allen
0
Famous As: Revolutionary War Hero
Birthdate: January 21, 1738
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Litchfield, Connecticut
Died: February 12, 1789

As a child, Ethan Allen was fond of deciphering passages from the Bible. He grew up to co-establish Vermont and led the Green Mountain Boys during the American Revolutionary War. After failing to achieve Vermont’s separation from New York, he tried to unite Vermont with Canada.

 45 Martha Nussbaum

Martha Nussbaum
0
Famous As: Philosopher, Writer, University teacher
Birthdate: May 6, 1947
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City

 46 Thomas Kuhn

Thomas Kuhn
0
Famous As: Physicist, Philosopher
Birthdate: July 18, 1922
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Died: June 17, 1996

 47 Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson
0
Famous As: Historian
Birthdate: 1962 AD
Birthplace: Maine, U.S.

 48 Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin
5
Famous As: Journalist, Historian
Birthdate: January 4, 1943
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Brooklyn

 49 Douglas Hofstadter

Douglas Hofstadter
0
Famous As: Philosopher, Writer, University teacher, Computer scientist
Birthdate: February 15, 1945
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York City

 50 Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson
0
Famous As: Writer, Novelist, Philosopher, Essayist, Playwright, Psychologist, Science fiction writer
Birthdate: January 18, 1932
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Brooklyn
Died: January 11, 2007