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
(The Father of Modern Linguistics)

Noam Chomsky
51
Birthdate: December 7, 1928
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

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
(Economist)

Thomas Sowell
20
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

 3 
Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Famous For his Essay 'Nature' and Speech Entitled 'The American Scholar')

Ralph Waldo Emerson
8
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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 4 
Milton Friedman
(American economist and statistician who received the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his research on consumption analysis, monetary history.)

Milton Friedman
8
Birthdate: July 31, 1912
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
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
(American psychologist)

B. F. Skinner
7
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 
Dian Fossey
(Zoologist, Conservationist)

Dian Fossey
5
Birthdate: January 16, 1932
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: San Francisco, California, United States
Died: December 26, 1985
Zoologist, primatologist, and conservationist Dian Fossey conducted research on mountain gorillas in Rwanda from 1966 until she was murdered in 1985. She was part of the Trimates assigned to study apes by paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey. She wrote Gorillas in the Mist, which was later turned into a film.

 7 
Abraham Maslow
(Psychologist)

Abraham Maslow
7
Birthdate: April 1, 1908
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
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 
William James
(Philosopher, Psychologist)

William James
6
Birthdate: January 11, 1842
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States
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.

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 9 
John Dewey
(Philosopher)

John Dewey
8
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.

 10 
Erik Erikson
(Psychologist)

Erik Erikson
6
Birthdate: June 15, 1902
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Frankfurt, Germany
Died: May 12, 1994

Erik Erikson was a German-American psychoanalyst and developmental psychologist best remembered for developing a theory on the psychological development of humans. He is credited with coining the term identity crisis, the failure to achieve ego identity. Also a prolific writer, Erikson won a US National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for his book Gandhi's Truth.

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 11 
Daniel Kahneman
(Psychologist)

Daniel Kahneman
8
Birthdate: March 5, 1934
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel

Daniel Kahneman is an Israeli economist and psychologist. He was honored with the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on behavioral economics. In 2011, Kahneman was named among the top global thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine. In 2015, Daniel Kahneman was ranked seventh in the most influential economist in the world list published by The Economist.

 12 
Carl Rogers
(Psychologist)

Carl Rogers
5
Birthdate: January 8, 1902
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Oak Park
Died: February 4, 1987

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.

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 13 
Zora Neale Hurston
(Folklorist, Anthropologist)

Zora Neale Hurston
9
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.

 14 
Margaret Mead
(Cultural Anthropologist)

Margaret Mead
9
Birthdate: December 16, 1901
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
Died: November 15, 1978

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.

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 15 
Albert Bandura
(Psychologist)

Albert Bandura
4
Birthdate: December 4, 1925
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Mundare, Canada
Died: July 26, 2021

Albert Bandura is a Canadian-American psychologist who has made significant contributions to several fields of psychology, such as personality psychology, therapy, and social cognitive theory. Regarded as the greatest living psychologist, Bandura is also counted among the most influential psychologists ever. He has been honored with over 16 honorary degrees. In 2016, Albert Bandura received the National Medal of Science.

 16 
John B. Watson
(Psychologist)

John B. Watson
6
Birthdate: January 9, 1878
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Travelers Rest, South Carolina, United States
Died: September 25, 1958

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.

 17 
John Rawls
(Philosopher)

John Rawls
9
Birthdate: February 21, 1921
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Died: November 24, 2002

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.

 18 
Henry David Thoreau
(Naturalist, Philosopher & Author Of 'Walden')

Henry David Thoreau
5
Birthdate: July 12, 1817
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Concord, Massachusetts, United States
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.

 19 
Condoleezza Rice
(66th United States Secretary of State (2005-09))

Condoleezza Rice
10
Birthdate: November 14, 1954
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Birmingham, Alabama, United States

The 66th United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made history in 2005 when she became the first female black Secretary of State. She is also the first female to serve as National Security Advisor, a position which she served from 2001 to 2005. One of the most powerful women in the world at one point of time, she has been depicted in Hollywood films.

 20 
Ayn Rand
(Writer)

Ayn Rand
26
Birthdate: February 2, 1905
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died: March 6, 1982

Ayn Rand was a Russian-American philosopher and writer. Apart from publishing two best-selling novels, Ayn Rand is credited with developing a philosophical system called Objectivism. Over the years, Ayn Rand has been a major influence among American conservatives and libertarians. Some of the famous personalities influenced by her include Amber Heard, Vince Vaughn, Jimmy Wales, Ayelet Shaked, and Mary Ruwart.

 21 
Maya Harris
(Lawyer, Political scientist, Writer)

Maya Harris
7
Birthdate: January 30, 1967
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, United States

A lawyer, law professor, political analyst and a civil rights activist, Maya Harris’s list of achievements is huge. One of the youngest in the US to become a law school dean, Maya Harris has worked with Hillary Clinton and her own sister Kamala Harris in their respective presidential campaigns.

 22 
Terri Irwin
(Naturalist Who is The Owner of Australia Zoo in 'Beerwah, Queensland')

Terri Irwin
6
Birthdate: July 20, 1964
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Eugene, Oregon, United States

American–Australian naturalist Terri Irwin is best known as the co-host of The Crocodile Hunter, along with her husband, the late animal expert Steve Irwin. She has also been part of shows such as Croc Files and Crikey! It's the Irwins, and helped in the development of Australia Zoo.

 23 
Timothy Francis Leary
(American Psychologist and Writer Known for His Strong Advocacy of Psychedelic Drugs)

Timothy Francis Leary
7
Birthdate: October 22, 1920
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States
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.”

 24 
Samuel Adams
(Founding Father of the United States)

Samuel Adams
4
Birthdate: September 27, 1722
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died: October 2, 1803
Samuel Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, also served as the governor of Massachusetts. Samuel formed the Boston Tea Party and also played a major role in drafting the Articles of Confederation and the Massachusetts Constitution. He was a second cousin of President John Adams.

 25 
Stanley Milgram
(Psychologist, University teacher, Sociologist)

Stanley Milgram
8
Birthdate: August 15, 1933
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New York City
Died: December 20, 1984

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.

 26 
Gore Vidal
(Writer)

Gore Vidal
8
Birthdate: October 3, 1925
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: West Point, New York, United States
Died: July 31, 2012

Gore Vidal was an American intellectual and writer. He served as a major inspiration to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals as he was openly bisexual and often incorporated LGBT characters in his novels, which was very unusual at the time. He was also known for his debates with William F. Buckley Jr., which inspired the 2015 documentary film Best of Enemies.

 27 
Kurt Gödel
(Logician, Mathematician, Philosopher)

Kurt Gödel
6
Birthdate: April 28, 1906
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Brno, Czech Republic
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.

 28 
Johnny Appleseed
(Missionary)

Johnny Appleseed
5
Birthdate: September 26, 1774
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Leominster, Massachusetts, United States
Died: March 18, 1845
Nurseryman John Chapman, better known to people as Johnny Appleseed, is remembered for introducing apple trees in areas across the American states of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, and West Virginia. His aim as a missionary of The New Church was to help local settlers make cider.

 29 

Danica McKellar
10
Birthdate: January 3, 1975
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: La Jolla, California, United States
Danica McKellar is best known as Winnie Cooper from the series The Wonder Years and as the voice of Miss Martian from the animated series Young Justice. She has also starred in many Hallmark movies and written several math books, such as Math Doesn't Suck and Kiss My Math.

 30 
Steven Pinker
(Psychologist)

Steven Pinker
5
Birthdate: September 18, 1954
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Montreal, Canada

Steven Pinker is a Canadian-American linguist, cognitive psychologist, and popular science author. He is also a supporter of the computational theory of mind and evolutionary psychology. His works have earned him awards from organizations like the National Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the American Humanist Association. In 2013, he was named in Prospect magazine's World Thinkers list.

 31 
Peter Navarro
(Director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy (2017-21))

Peter Navarro
9
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.

 32 
Eric Weinstein
(Mathematician)

Eric Weinstein
6
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.

 33 
Thomas Kuhn
(Philosopher)

Thomas Kuhn
4
Birthdate: July 18, 1922
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Died: June 17, 1996

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.

 34 
Franz Boas
(Anthropologist)

Franz Boas
5
Birthdate: July 9, 1858
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Minden, Westphalia, Germany
Died: December 21, 1942

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.

 35 
Zbigniew Brzezinski
(United States National Security Advisor (1977-81))

Zbigniew Brzezinski
6
Birthdate: March 28, 1928
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Warsaw, Poland
Died: May 26, 2017
Polish-American diplomat Zbigniew Brzezinski had been a counselor to President Lyndon B. Johnson and the National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter. He believed in the realist school of international relations. He also taught foreign policy and was seen in programs such as The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

 36 

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
4
Birthdate: 1960 AD
Birthplace: Amioun, Lebanon
Lebanese-American scholar and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb is known for his work on risk management through uncertainty and probability. His five-volume essay Incerto included his bestselling book The Black Swan. Named to Forbes’s Most Influential Management Gurus list, he is the co-editor-in-chief of the academic journal Risk and Decision Analysis.

 37 
Philip Zimbardo
(Psychologist Best Known for His 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment)

Philip Zimbardo
10
Birthdate: March 23, 1933
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States

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.

 38 
Susan Sontag
(Writer and Filmmaker, Best Known for her Essay 'Notes on 'Camp')

Susan Sontag
4
Birthdate: January 16, 1933
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: December 28, 2004
Susan Sontag is best known for her essay anthologies such as Against Interpretation and her novels such as In America. She wrote about diverse issues such as human rights, photography, AIDS, and leftist beliefs, and also visited war-torn areas. The National Book Award-winning author was also openly bisexual. 

 39 
Paul Tillich
(Christian existentialist philosopher)

Paul Tillich
5
Birthdate: August 20, 1886
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Starosiedle, Poland
Died: October 22, 1965

German-American theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich is remembered for his work in the field of Christian existentialism and for concepts such as the method of correlation. His notable works, such as The Courage to Be and the three-volume Systematic Theology, has inspired intellectual thinkers and commoners alike.

 40 
Drew Pinsky
(Radio personality, Addiction medicine specialist)

Drew Pinsky
4
Birthdate: September 4, 1958
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Pasadena, California, United States

 41 
Cornel West
(Philosopher)

Cornel West
17
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.

 42 
Veronica Porché Ali
(Muhammad Ali’s Ex-Wife, Psychologist)

Veronica Porché Ali
5
Birthdate: December 16, 1955
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States

 43 
Brene Brown
(Researcher Known in Particular for Her Research on Shame, Vulnerability, and Leadership)

Brene Brown
4
Birthdate: November 18, 1965
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: San Antonio, Texas, United States

Apart from being a University of Houston research professor, Brene Brown has also been a successful author of New York Times bestsellers such as Braving the Wilderness, and a podcast host. She also has a lecture featured on Netflix, while her Ted Talk is one of the world’s top-five most-viewed. 

 44 

William Moulton Marston
7
Birthdate: May 9, 1893
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Saugus, Massachusetts
Died: May 2, 1947
Psychologist William Moulton Marston, also known as “Charles Moulton,” is remembered for inventing a precursor of the lie detector, along with his wife, Elizabeth Holloway. He was also a comic book author, who created the superheroine Wonder Woman. He was in a polyamorous relationship with his wife and Olive Byrne.

 45 
Martin Seligman
(Psychologist)

Martin Seligman
6
Birthdate: August 12, 1942
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Albany, New York, United States

 46 
Lola Van Wagenen
(Historians)

Lola Van Wagenen
4
Birthdate: August 12, 1942, 1938
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Provo, Utah, United States

Lola Van Wagenen is an American historian who is credited with co-founding non-profit educational organizations like Consumer Action Now (CAN) and Clio Visualizing History, Inc. Consumer Action Now went on to establish several environmental education and consumer-oriented programs in an attempt to raise awareness about the effects of consumers' buying habits on the environment.

 47 
John Cage
(Composer, Writer)

John Cage
6
Birthdate: September 5, 1912
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States
Died: August 12, 1992
John Cage was one of the most influential avant-garde composers of the post-World War II era. He pioneered many innovative techniques in music, such as the prepared piano and electroacoustic music. His composition 4′33″ involved musicians sitting silently, without playing any instrument, while the audience heard environmental sounds. 

 48 

Joe Medicine Crow
5
Birthdate: October 27, 1913
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Lodge Grass, Montana, United States
Died: April 3, 2016

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.

 49 
Paul Samuelson
(Economist)

Paul Samuelson
6
Birthdate: May 15, 1915
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Gary, Indiana, United States
Died: December 13, 2009

 50 
Robert Reich
(Politician)

Robert Reich
12
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.