The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers

From the brains behind Iran's Green Revolution to the economic Cassandra who actually did have a crystal ball, they had the big ideas that shaped our world in 2009. Read on to see the 100 minds that mattered most in the year that was. $(document).ready(function() { $("#thinkers-nav").insertBefore("#tool-bar"); $("#thinkers-nav").show(); });

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 01: Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on October 1, 2009 in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony on the Federal Reserves financial regulatory reform proposals. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ben Bernanke

1. Ben Bernanke

for staving off a new Great Depression.

Chairman, federal reserve | Washington

The Zen-like chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve might not have topped the list solely for turning his superb academic career into a blueprint for action, for single-handedly reinventing the role of a central bank, or for preventing the collapse of the U.S. economy. But to have done all of these within the span of a few months is certainly one of the greatest intellectual feats of recent years. Not long ago a Princeton University professor writing paper after paper on the Great Depression, “Helicopter Ben” spent 2009 dropping hundreds of billions in bailouts seemingly from the skies, vigilantly tracking interest rates, and coordinating with counterparts across the globe. His key insight? The need for massive, damn-the-torpedoes intervention in financial markets. Winning over critics who have since praised his “radical” moves (including Nouriel Roubini, No. 4 on this list), he now faces an uphill battle in his bid for permanently expanded Fed powers. The radicalism is far from over.

“Those who doubt that there is much connection between the economy of the 1930s and the supercharged, information-age economy of the twenty-first century are invited to look at the current economic headlines — about high unemployment, failing banks, volatile financial markets, currency crises, and even deflation. The issues raised by the Depression, and its lessons, are still relevant today.” –Bernanke, Essays on the Great Depression

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

2. Barack Obama

for reimagining America’s role in the world.

president | Washington

Obama entered the White House facing many seemingly intractable obstacles: two bloody, possibly unwinnable wars, an economic meltdown of 1930s-level proportions, and major congressional battles on public spending and health care, to name a few. These hard realities have made Obama — a speaker notable for his soaring rhetoric and symbolic importance as the United States’ first black president — seem at times more like a fix-it guy than a visionary.

But in truth, he is both. He is an unapologetic wonk with a professorial bearing, a “radical incrementalist” (in the useful term of his detractors) who assesses, seeks advice, considers, seeks counsel again, and then tinkers. He is also a president with big ideas, particularly in his foreign policy. With his “smart power” mantra, the man who commands the world’s most powerful military has diversified the United States’ arsenal of foreign-policy tools by listening. He spoke to the Muslim world from Cairo, smoothed over a rift with Europe, and reached out to recalcitrant rogue states. He might yet fail. But if he succeeds, the sea change in America’s relationship with the world could become a tidal wave.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

3. Zahra Rahnavard

for being the brains behind Iran’s Green Revolution and the campaign of her husband, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Political scientist and Reformer | Iran

Of all the critical moments in the Iranian presidential election that captured the world’s attention this year, one stands out: On June 3, incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly questioned the credentials of his opponent’s wife, wondering in a televised debate if her Ph.D. in political science was legitimate. Furious, the 64-year-old Rahnavard staged a blazing, 90-minute news conference in which she accused the president of lying, debasing her sex, and betraying the Islamic Revolution. The attack galvanized the opposition and rejuvenated the campaign of her husband, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Ahmadinejad should have known better. During and after the Islamic Revolution, Rahnavard had been an ardent Islamist who worked to discredit secular feminist groups. But years later, when the revolution failed to yield dividends for women, she changed course and became a driving force behind the nascent feminist movement in Iran. After she was placed on the High Council of Cultural Revolution, the body issued its first declaration in 1992 advancing women’s rights. She was later fired as chancellor of Tehran’s exclusively female Al-Zahra University for inviting feminist lawyer and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi to speak.

This year, Rahnavard’s rage at Ahmadinejad drove her husband’s campaign. She began stumping with him and organizing supporters through rallies, Facebook, Twitter, and text messages. Campaign posters that depicted the couple holding hands subtly hinted at the liberal reforms Mousavi would make in office; she has more explicitly said these would involve greater democratization, a stronger role for women in the cabinet, and a relaxing of Iran’s notoriously discriminatory gender laws.

4. Nouriel Roubini

for accurately forecasting the global financial pandemic.

Economist | New York University | New York

Sometimes it takes a crisis to turn a madman into a prophet. And that’s just what has happened to New York University economist Nouriel Roubini, known fondly by economy-watchers as Dr. Doom. When he predicted back in 2006 that the bursting of the housing bubble would decimate global credit markets, causing a broad, international recession, he sounded crazy, IMF economist Prakash Loungani told the New York Times. Not so after 2007: “He was a prophet when he returned.”

Today, “prophet” is certainly an apt word for the gloomy man who is perhaps the world’s most sought-after economic advisor. Central bankers have come to appreciate his ability to peer around dark corners of the global economy, seeing potential busts where others see booms. As his NYU colleague Tunku Varadarajan put it, he’s “the nearest thing to a rock star among the economists.”

“Last year’s worst-case scenarios came true. The global financial pandemic that I and others had warned about is now upon us. But we are still only in the early stages of this crisis. My predictions for the coming year, unfortunately, are even more dire: The bubbles, and there were many, have only begun to burst.” –Roubini, Foreign Policy, January 2009

Read more:Market Riot,” By Noam Scheiber

Win McNamee/Getty Images

5. Rajendra Pachauri

for ending the debate over whether climate change matters.

Chairman, intergovernmental panel on climate change | India

As the link between human activity and climate change becomes conventional wisdom and governments work urgently to establish a global climate treaty, Pachauri deserves no small amount of credit for creating such an extraordinary shift in public opinion. Pachauri, an engineering and economics Ph.D., has since 2002 chaired the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007.

Since then, Pachauri has raised the specter of large-scale population displacement and the existential threat that global warming poses to low-lying island nations, while arguing that large, industrializing countries such as China and India will not act on the issue before the Western world curbs its own greenhouse gas emissions. He has also backed the adoption of extremely ambitious emissions cuts, recently recommending that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations be kept below 350 parts per million. Any progress toward thwarting climate change this year owes a great deal to Pachauri.

Most wants to visit: The Maldives

Best idea of 2009: Vegetarianism as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Worst idea of 2009: Bailout with large payments to those who have caused today’s economic crisis.

Illustration by Joseph Cardiello for FP

6. Bill Clinton

for redefining philanthropy in the modern era.

Former president | William J. Clinton Foundation | New York

Hillary Rodham Clinton

for giving “smart power” a star turn at the State Department.

Secretary of State | Washington

A year ago, there were questions. Would she play the follower in an administration she had hoped to lead? Would he use his global clout — tremendous, if no longer paramount — to give tacit support to the new, young Democratic administration? To both, the answer is yes, and more: In the past year, Bill and Hillary Clinton have solidified their status as the global power couple of all power couples.

Bill Clinton’s brainchild, the Clinton Global Initiative, now in its fifth year, brings together leaders from aid organizations, academia, business, and government to put their checkbooks behind his big ideas. This year, they committed $9 billion to provide inoculations for 40 million, job opportunities for 80 million, and schools for 30 million, among other ambitious targets. In his off hours, he moonlights as a freelance diplomat, tackling Haiti, on behalf of the United Nations, and North Korea, as a private citizen. In Port-au-Prince, he worked with humanitarian physician Paul Farmer to bolster investment and alleviate poverty. In Pyongyang, he successfully negotiated the release of two U.S. journalists and helped start a thaw in relations with the Hermit Kingdom. Miraculously, Clinton kept his diplomatic side gig without stepping on the toes of his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This year, she has tirelessly broadcast the administration’s banner diplomatic message: The United States under Obama is a smart power, a participant in a “new era of engagement based on common interests, shared values, and mutual respect.” But Clinton is also aiming to remake the State Department itself. The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review she initiated promises a thorough, ongoing assessment of the massive bureaucracy in order to create a leaner, more responsive State Department capable of being the engine of Washington’s new diplomacy.


7. Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler

for taking behavioralism from niche to necessary.

White House policy advisor | Washington
Economist | University of Chicago | Chicago

Sunstein and Thaler describe themselves as “libertarian paternalists,” but you probably know them more simply as the behavioralism gurus. Their big idea — to use small policy tweaks to overcome human capriciousness — has turned the field of economics upside down and, most recently, won them an ear at the Obama White House. Humans, the two men argue in their book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, tend to be emotional, rash, and uninformed, and value the present more than the future. They’re far from the rational creatures upon which so much economic policy is based.

So what’s a responsible government to do? Use free market policies that “nudge” citizens toward the smart options they wouldn’t otherwise select, such as setting “opting in” as the default choice for retirement funds and organ donation. It’s a quietly revolutionary idea from two brainy guys: Thaler is a University of Chicago-trained economist whose name has been mentioned along with “Nobel” more than a few times; Sunstein is a Harvard-trained lawyer who clerked for Thurgood Marshall and “seems to write a book about as often as most people run the dishwasher,” as one 2008 profile put it. Clearly, people in power are reading: Thaler is reportedly advising the British Conservative Party on economic policy, and Sunstein, as the new head of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, is nudging Obama administration rules on everything from avian flu to student loans. Sunstein and his wife, Samantha Power (No. 80), are the only married couple to be named individually to this year’s Global Thinkers list.

“The concept behind libertarian paternalism is that it’s possible to maintain freedom of choice — that’s libertarian — while also moving people in directions that make their own lives a bit better — that’s paternalism. We think it’s possible to combine two reviled concepts.” –Sunstein, Grist magazine

8. David Petraeus

for reshaping the way the U.S. military goes to war.

Commander, Central Command | Tampa, Fla.

Petraeus is a man of the pen and the sword, an expert on counterinsurgency, a student of history, a Princeton doctorate-holder, and an avowed intellectual, committed to revolutionizing how the military conceives of war and tailoring its strategies for the 21st century. As the war in Iraq went disastrously awry, Petraeus resurrected the lost military art of counterinsurgency while waging his own insurgency inside the Pentagon to win control of the war effort. Having co-authored the new bible of counterinsurgency — the FM 3-24 — and having successfully put it to use during the troop surge in Iraq, Petraeus has been working methodically to reshape the armed forces to fight conflicts of the future that look startlingly like those conflicts of the past he has studied so carefully. In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, the United States followed the Powell Doctrine, dedicated to the idea of striking only with overwhelming force; today, it’s being supplanted by the Petraeus Doctrine, which recognizes the primacy of the civilian and the importance of hearts and minds in modern warfare. But Petraeus faces a severe test of his ascendancy in Afghanistan, where this great thinker about small wars comes face to face with a long war that, no matter how necessary, may not be worth winning.

Reading list: Eastern Approaches, by Fitzroy Maclean; Butcher & Bolt, by David Loyn; To Live or to Perish Forever, by Nicholas Schmidle.

Wants to visit: Iraq (after the 2010 elections).

Best idea: That countering terrorism requires more than counterterrorist forces (i.e., that it requires whole-of-government approaches).

Worst idea: That the New York Yankees wouldn’t make it to the playoffs.

Gadget: Secure and nonsecure laptops, wherever we are.

Read more:The COINdinistas: An Insider’s Guide,” By Thomas E. Ricks

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

9. Zhou Xiaochuan

for reminding the world that we can’t take the dollar for granted.

Governor, People’s Bank of China | China

These days, China’s politicians rarely miss an opportunity to lecture the United States on its fiscal recklessness. But Zhou, the People’s Bank of China governor, worried about the safety of the $1 trillion in U.S. debt held by Beijing, has gone much further, drafting a proposal to fundamentally overhaul the entire global financial system. In a market-shaking speech this March, China’s chief economist proposed a new form of synthetic international reserve currency under the management of the IMF, which, he argued, would afford far greater global economic stability.

Despite his measured words, Zhou’s well-publicized proposal and his critiques of U.S. economic planning have been interpreted as a sign of Beijing’s growing confidence in its own financial prescriptions. Shortly afterward, Russia released its version of Zhou’s plan, while U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he was “quite open” to the idea. As if to prove Zhou’s point, Geithner’s off-the-cuff response quickly sent the dollar tumbling.

Reading list:China’s Economy: 60 Years of Progress,” by Wu Jinglian; The Economics of Climate Change, by Nicholas Stern.

Wants to visit: Greenland

Best idea: G-20 summit, slowly developing the new architecture of world management.

Worst idea: Going back to the ideas of John Maynard Keynes.

Gadget: Facebook and iPhone.

10. Sayyid Imam al-Sharif

for striking a mortal ideological blow to al Qaeda.

theologian | prisoner | Egypt

Sharif spent decades serving as a spiritual compass for those involved in Islamist terrorism. A former commander of the Egyptian terrorist organization al-Jihad and early founder of al Qaeda with his old associate from Cairo University’s medical school, Ayman al-Zawahiri, he authored two books that laid the ideological foundation for a global religious war. But beginning in November 2007, Sharif has publicly switched sides. Jailed since 2001, he composed Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World, a comprehensive revision of his previous support for religious war. The work, which has spread like wildfire through jihadi circles, undermines the legitimacy of al Qaeda and like-minded groups by using their own theological narrative against them. An outraged Zawahiri says Sharif is promoting the heretical idea of “an Islam without jihad.” In an ironic twist of history, one of the thinkers who played a central role in constructing the ideological edifice of jihad could also play a leading role in demolishing it.

“People hate America, and the Islamist movements feel their hatred and their impotence. Ramming America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims. But what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy’s buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills 1,000 of yours?” —Sharif, Rationalizing Jihad

Read more:Al Qaeda’s Dissident,” by Jarret Brachman

11. Fernando Henrique Cardoso

for calling the war on drugs what it is: a disaster.

Former president | Brazil

Cardoso has never been afraid to ask tough questions. As president of Brazil, he shook the country’s huge but lethargic market back to life with tough fiscal policy and pioneering social programs. So it was no surprise this year when, together with fellow Latin American ex-presidents César Gaviria and Ernesto Zedillo, Cardoso took on a new challenge: the U.S.-led war on drugs. “Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization of consumption simply haven’t worked,” they wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Cardoso’s broadside, laid out in full in a report last February, reinvigorated a moribund debate over the legalization of drugs. He pushed to rebrand the problem as one of global health, rather than mere criminality. And his timing couldn’t have been better: Barack Obama once called the drug war an “utter failure,” and he seems to prefer treating users to locking them up. The man who called himself Brazil’s “accidental” president may have just done more for his country and his region than many of its more deliberate leaders.

Reading list: Alliance: The Inside Story of How Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill Won One War and Began Another, by Jonathan Fenby; Prisoner of the State, by Zhao Ziyang; Grown up Digital, by Don Tapscott.

Wants to visit: Iran, where I never have been. It is fascinating from a sociological point of view (secularization vs. fundamentalism), from a political point of view (an autocracy with elections), and from the point of view of global affairs, as Iran plays a crucial role in the Middle East.

Gadgets: Twitter and BlackBerry.

Illustration by Edel Rodriguez for FP

12. Bill Gates

for taking the efficiency of Microsoft to the poorest of the poor.

Philanthropist | Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation | Seattle

Last February, Gates unleashed a jar full of mosquitoes on an unsuspecting conference audience. “There’s no reason why only poor people should have the experience” of malaria, he said. The bugs were not carrying the pathogen, but the point was clear: Gates, the man who redefined the computer, is today redefining the fight against neglected diseases — with malaria, diarrheal diseases, pneumonia, and tuberculosis topping the list. Now Gates is moving into agriculture as well, acknowledging that good health requires more than just good medicine.

This is the first full year that Gates has spent more time at his $30 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation than at Microsoft. And the influence of a private-sector guru on the world of global charity has already proved immeasurable. The foundation’s model is becoming the new force majeure, with all the efficiency of the business world suddenly injected into aid. But more than just using his knack for sharp execution, Gates is pushing big ideas, such as the notion that all forms of development are connected and that advancing any one objective must come with equal gains elsewhere. Call it the new Gates network theory — and it has the potential to be even more complex, and more influential, than his last.

Read more:The Big Thinkers of Giving,” by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green

13. Dick Cheney

for his full-throated defense of American power.

Former vice president | Washington

Cheney has exerted a greater influence over the Republican Party’s foreign-policy outlook than any figure since Henry Kissinger, with gruff warnings of the foreign threats facing the United States and his suggestion that military action, rather than “soft power,” is the only method for keeping the United States safe. And now in the age of Obama, the shadowy bureaucratic operator who often seemed to be the dominant force in George W. Bush’s administration has emerged as the most forceful public defender of its record, re-energizing otherwise demoralized conservatives.

In May, Cheney delivered his most vociferous argument for Bush’s national security policies yet — just minutes after Obama finished a speech on the same topic a mere mile away. Cheney’s case for “enhanced interrogation” didn’t budge an inch on the moral, legal, and strategic purity of the issue: Such techniques were, he said, “legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do.” By delivering an unapologetic broadside against Obama at a time when many Republicans were apprehensive of refighting the national security battles of the Bush era, Cheney established himself as the most prominent dissenting voice in a moment of Democratic Party dominance.

“In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half-exposed.” –Cheney, speech on May 21, 2009

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

14. Larry Summers

for being the brains behind Obama’s economic policy.

chief white house economics advisor | Washington

The famously combative Summers is, put simply, one of his generation’s finest economists, if not the very best. And over the past year he has managed to put his ego aside to work with Obama and Timothy Geithner in easing the world out of crisis.

Well before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Summers — accused by some of being an architect of the bubble with his advocacy of light banking regulations and low interest rates — had been warning about impending dire macroeconomic trouble, starting with the housing and financial markets. His prescience led to his White House job as the behind-the-scenes arbitrator in the midst of the global crisis. He drove the debate over the size of the stimulus, arguing forcefully for a 10-digit bill (which ended up 15 percent lower). He has also taken a strong and surprising lead on housing policy, climate change, health-care reform, and the automaker bankruptcies, helping tailor White House proposals for maximum job creation. By his account, he has helped walk the U.S. economy “some substantial distance back from the abyss.”

David Deal

15. Martin Wolf

for being the dean of financial columnists.

columnist | Financial times | Britain

Wolf has a reputation as the ultimate economic insider: a fixture at the World Economic Forum and the exclusive Bilderberg Group meetings, and a friend and advisor to the likes of Larry Summers (No. 14) and Mohamed El-Erian (No. 16). He also has little time for the wrongheaded policies and irresponsible actions of the financial in-crowd and pens takedowns so incisive as to be surgical.

His footnoted, visually aided, and exhaustively researched columns take a witty, didactic tone; in them, he has argued that no governmental recovery plans have done the hard work of regulating and diminishing the influence of the financial sector. “Where we are now is intolerable,” Wolf wrote in September. “Today’s concentrations of state-insured private wealth and power must surely go.”

Yet Wolf is no doomsday deconstructionist. Without a clear ideological bent (though he is a committed free-trader), his bias is for policies that do the job — note the emphasis in his book titles Fixing Global Finance and Why Globalization Works.


16. Mohamed El-Erian

for his unparalleled knowledge of global finance.

bond investor | pimco | Newport Beach, Calif.

El-Erian co-directs one of the world’s most successful investment companies: Pimco, the Pacific Investment Management Company, which manages a whopping $842 billion in assets. But he is hardly a typical corporate raider. A specialist in emerging markets at the IMF, he went on to head Harvard’s endowment before joining the corporate world, where his investment strategies — including betting on the U.S. real estate collapse — helped turn Pimco into the largest bond fund on Earth.

El-Erian — described as obscure by the New York Times just four years ago — is now considered one of the world’s great economic minds. Rich countries, watch out, though: In his best-selling book, When Markets Collide, he says we have entered a “new normal” and should expect sluggish growth out of developed economies and increasing opportunity in developing economies from now on.

Reading list: This Time Is Different, by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff; The Greatest Trade Ever, by Greg Zuckerman; Arabian Sands, by Wilfred Thesiger.

Wants to visit: China

Best idea: To analyze the longer-term impact of the economic crisis in the context of the old-fashioned core-periphery characterization, including the extent to which a shock to the core weakens adhesive links and overwhelms asymmetrical circuit breakers.

Worst idea: To pass up, again, on the possibility of a summer holiday.

Gadget: BlackBerry

17. Benedict XVI

for showing that even the supposedly infallible can change.

pope | Catholic Church | Vatican City

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s election as pope in 2005 was a surprise to everyone, including himself. “God’s Rottweiler,” so-called for his purges of liberal reformists, was older than most candidates, bookish, and very conservative.

As pope, Benedict has certainly moved the church closer to its form prior to Vatican II’s sweeping modernizations. This traditionalism has garnered excitement in some circles, but it has also sparked controversy, particularly this year when he tried to reinstate excommunicated bishops from the Society of St. Pius X — one of whom was a well-known Holocaust denier. But it hasn’t all been anti-Semites and Latin masses. Benedict has also been outspoken about the perils of reckless capitalism in the aftermath of the financial crisis; he has positioned the church prominently and unexpectedly as an advocate for the environment and warned against the perils of climate change. And, despite early stumbles with the Muslim world and anger over what many saw as an attempt to lure disillusioned Anglican conservatives to the church, the pope has worked hard for interfaith dialogue.


18. Richard Dawkins

for his unceasing advocacy on behalf of science.

sociobiologist | Oxford University | Britain

If you believe the human body is the design of an omnipotent god rather than a result of the perfectly imperfect way living beings reproduce, Dawkins — a retired Oxford University professor who pens cleanly worded but never dumbed-down explanations of evolutionary biology — has no time for you. “Evolution is a fact, and this book will demonstrate it,” he writes in The Greatest Show on Earth, released this year for the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. “No reputable scientist disputes it and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it.”

With sharp prose and lucid thought, Dawkins demonstrates how the cudgels commonly taken up by the faithful to beat down evolution (gaps in the fossil record, for instance) are at best innocent misunderstandings and at worst willful attempts to mislead. Building upon arguments laid out in 2006’s The God Delusion, he shows how religious argument sometimes perverts scientific truths — making him the strongest, smartest advocate for Darwinism in our time.

Mark Renders/Getty Images

19. Malcolm Gladwell

for rethinking how we think about thinkers.

journalist | New Yorker | New York

With a mind as unorthodox as his hairdo, Gladwell is a genre-originating journalist: a specialist in translating counterintuitive research for the lay reader on subjects as diverse as Enron, the full-court press in basketball, ketchup, and racial bias. Most recently, he attacked the notion of genius in 2009’s Outliers, which argues that circumstance and practice (10,000 hours of practice, to be precise) mean as much as gray matter and natural talent. The brilliance of a Bill Gates or a Mozart is not a freak phenomenon, he writes, but the product of extraordinary amounts of effort at precisely the right moment. By making surprising arguments seem obvious, Gladwell has added a serious dose of empiricism to long-form journalism and changed how we think about thought itself.

Gladwell’s favorite thinkers:

  • Richard Thaler (No. 7). Thaler is one of the very best of the behavioral economists — the economists who understand that human beings don’t behave according to the arid logic of supply and demand curves. His paper “The Loser’s Curse” is perhaps the single smartest thing I’ve ever read about professional football, and Nudge, the book he co-wrote with Cass Sunstein, is superb.
  • Gary Klein. I’ve been enormously influenced by Klein because he’s a psychologist who studies real-world decision-making, as opposed to the way people behave in laboratories. And the worlds he looks at — firefighters, marines, intensive care nurses — offer extraordinary insights as to how experts behave in high-pressure situations. His first book, Sources of Power, remains one of my favorites.
  • Richard Nisbett. No thinker has had as much influence on my work as Nisbett. Where to begin? He’s an environmentalist — that is, he has systematically and convincingly proven, again and again, that we are creatures of our situations, environments, and cultures. I would recommend anything he’s written, but especially The Geography of Thought and Intelligence and How to Get It.
  • Iain Pears. Pears is a novelist. He wrote An Instance of the Fingerpost and, most recently, Stone’s Fall, among many others. I think he’s the finest pure storyteller working in popular fiction, and those of us who are in the business of making arguments and communicating ideas have to pay attention to storytellers because they have the skills we desperately need.

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

20. Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart

for having the courage to call out failed states — and then try to fix them.

afghan political leader | Institute for State Effectiveness | Afghanistan

CEO, Institute for State Effectiveness | Washington

When you hear Ghani speak about his time as Afghanistan’s finance minister from 2002 to 2004, you have to wonder why — with such eloquent plans and passionate drive — this former World Bank official and anthropology professor wasn’t able to set the country right. But after just two years, Ghani hit a wall in the government of President Hamid Karzai, who refused to reform corrupt practices and root out unsavory allies. No wonder he was back to contest this year’s presidential election and challenge the Karzai machine. Visiting villages and towns across Afghanistan dressed in traditional garb, this technocrat preached a message of good governance in a country that increasingly defines what it means to be a failed state.

Ghani didn’t come anywhere close to winning, but his ideas will still find resonance in Washington, Brussels, and perhaps even Kabul. His civilian-centered strategy is part of a vast tool kit he has spent the last decade compiling with his former U.N. colleague, Lockhart, who is now director of the Institute for State Effectiveness. The pair co-founded that institute in 2005 and have since literally written the book on Fixing Failed States. Now, if only they can get Karzai to listen …

“I remember touring the country in [the 1970s]. [Afghans] practiced an incredibly tolerant version of Islam … nothing like what exists in parts of Afghanistan today. The nouveaux riches, the warlords who currently rule Afghanistan … brought with them a totally different way of ruling, which really obscured many of the best qualities of Afghanistan.” –Ghani

Best idea: To come up with a self-financing Marshall Plan for the Central Asia, South Asia, and Middle East region.

Worst idea: To let the banks continue to write their own rules, divorced from the consensus of society.

Illustration by Joseph Cardiello for FP

21. Thomas Friedman

for his genius at popularizing complex ideas.

columnist | New York Times | Bethesda, Md.

War correspondent, globalization evangelist, public intellectual, environmentalist; few have cast their nets so wide while maintaining such tight focus as Friedman. Now, the paradigm shift that characterized his 2005 work The World Is Flat has found a new and perhaps surprising incarnation in the service of the environmental movement. Hot, Flat, and Crowded is Friedman’s manifesto on the climate crisis. The free market, he argues, can be a major positive force in tackling overconsumption, thus saving us from ourselves. The challenge is decoupling it from the fossil fuel industry and allowing it to “tell the ecological truth.” Once this has been achieved, more sustainable modes of living should rapidly become the norm. If Washington gets serious about clean energy investment and innovation, and if the next generation of Americans embraces a greener future, Friedman will deserve no small part of the credit.

Reading list: South of Broad, by Pat Conroy; Forces of Fortune, by Vali Nasr.

Wants to visit: If security wasn’t an issue, I would want to go to South Waziristan.

Best idea: Greg Mortenson’s idea for building schools for girls in the Arab Muslim world.

Worst idea: That the world’s big problem is going to be global cooling, not global warming.

Gadget: Never looked at either Facebook or Twitter. BlackBerry.


22. Robert Shiller

for warning us — over and over — about dangerous bubbles.

economist | Yale University | New Haven, Conn.

For much of his career, Shiller has explained bubbles and watched them pop. He was studying them in the early 1990s when he joined with economist Karl Case to create a standard measure of home prices: the S&P/Case-Shiller index, a signal macroeconomic metric. His 2000 book, Irrational Exuberance, asserted that the U.S. stock market was in the midst of a bubble right before it burst (and proved him right). This go-round, he was in the exclusive club of experts who warned of the housing bubble that led to the financial bubble that led to the recession. He recognized not just that home prices were inflated, but also that zero-money-down mortgages and complex financial derivatives meant the banking system was grossly underestimating, mismanaging, and multiplying risk.

His latest book, Animal Spiritsco-written with University of California-Berkeley’s George Akerlof — examines the emotional, irrational “spirits” that drive investors. It also encapsulates much of Shiller’s insight on behavioral economics; in the 1980s, he was one of the early skeptics of the then-ascendant efficient-markets hypothesis and a keen explainer of the irrationality of markets.

He spoke with Foreign Policy this fall:

On Ben Bernanke’s performance at the Fed: He’s been a great Fed chairman because he’s taken really decisive steps. He was slow to see the crisis coming. But once he saw it was there, and saw the parallels to the Great Depression, he acted decisively and with some courage.

He’s filled in a gap. Congress was not likely to do enough to deal with this crisis. He had authority from a law from the 1930s to lend to non-bank institutions under exigent and unusual circumstances. He took that authority and challenged Congress to say no to him.

But they were ready to let him take responsibility and do it. So he created all those lending facilities and doubled the balance sheet, from $1 to $2 trillion. That was the most significant thing: It wasn’t the stimulus — it was the bailout. It was controversial, but it prevented the systemic collapse that we saw during the Great Depression. Bernanke didn’t want to see that happen, and it looks like a success.

On the future of the U.S. economy: The longer-run thing is worrisome. We set up an example for the too-big-to-fail institutions — and that could hold back the economy. What it means is that the big institutions are safe and they become like dinosaurs. And it’s hard to compete against them because you’re competing against the government.

Reading list: The Dutch East India Company: Expansion and Decline, by Femme S. Gaastra; The Deutsche Bank: 1870-1995, by Lothar Gall, et al.; Macroeconomics of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies, by Roger Farmer.

Would like to visit: India. By some strange confluence of circumstances, I have never been there.

Best idea: Taking on as a role of the government the management of incentives for CEOs of companies who might have to be bailed out again.

Worst idea: Putting rigid caps on CEO salaries as an attempt to control the worsening inequality of incomes.

Gadget: Only BlackBerry.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

23. Vaclav Havel

for four decades of speaking truth to power.

former president | Czech Republic

He is a prolific author, a leader of the Velvet Revolution that sparked democratic change in Eastern Europe and inspired nonviolent movements all over the world, Czechoslovakia’s last president, and the Czech Republic’s first. Havel could easily rest on his laurels as one of the 20th century’s towering figures, but the 73-year-old remains fiercely engaged in political debates, domestic and foreign. Indeed, he has injected a rare note of caution into the world’s enthusiasm for Obama, joining more than 20 other Eastern European heavyweights to urge the new U.S. president not to forget about the region’s young democracies as he attempts to “reset” relations with Russia. More recently, he criticized Obama for not meeting with the Dalai Lama. “The question is if great and fateful compromises don’t have their preludes, early beginnings, first undercurrents in such small [compromises],” Havel warned.


24. Chris Anderson

for bleeding-edge thinking on how the Internet’s marketplace of ideas should work.

editor | Wired Magazine | Berkeley, Calif.

Information wants to be free. The availability of free content online has already made the old news-business model — in which readers paid for information and advertisers paid for access to those readers — obsolete. So what’s next? In his new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Anderson argues that, instead of fearing it, we need to revel in the freedom of Free. Anderson urges us to embrace a new world in which digital technology drives down the price of goods “made of ideas,” but meanwhile affords new possibilities for things to sell and ways to sell them. His argument builds on that of his 2006 book, The Long Tail, which explained how novel possibilities for selling a vast range of niche products opened up as the Internet and online retail slashed promotion and distribution costs to near zero. The future, Anderson believes, is selling “less of more.”

Reading list: Makers, by Cory Doctorow; Eating the Sun, by Oliver Morton; Traffic, by Tom Vanderbilt.

Wants to visit: South Africa

Best idea: Required electronic medical records.

Worst idea: Regulating bloggers.

Gadget: Twitter and iPhone.

Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

25. Joseph Stiglitz

for relentlessly questioning economic dogma.

Economist | Columbia University | New York

When the bottom fell out of the U.S. economy in the winter of 2008, Stiglitz was standing over the wreckage proclaiming: I told you so. The Columbia University and former World Bank economist has long warned that excessive deregulation could spell doom for the U.S. economy. But throughout his career, he has been an equal-opportunity gadfly. Stiglitz won the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics for showing how information asymmetries can cause markets to fail. Best known for arguing that globalization works against poor countries, he more recently has joined the chorus calling for a new reserve currency to replace the U.S. dollar. His iconoclasm has often placed Stiglitz on the outside looking in on the policymaking process. But with the financial crisis calling into question core principles of the economic system, politicians from France’s Nicolas Sarkozy to China’s Hu Jintao are turning to America’s most prominent economic dissident for answers.

Alex Wong/Getty Images


26. Aung San Suu Kyi

for being a living symbol of hope in a dark place.

activist | national league for democracy | Burma

Taking inspiration from Mohandas Gandhi and Buddhist principles of nonviolence, Aung San Suu Kyi built a mass movement in opposition to the Burmese junta and has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest since winning a general election in 1989. In a famous 1990 speech, Aung San Suu Kyi argued that when “fear is an integral part of everyday existence,” political leaders inevitably give in to corruption, and called for a “revolution of the spirit” in Burma. Instead, she was thrown in prison and today is rarely able to communicate with the outside world. Her sentence was extended this year after a bizarre incident in which an American man swam to her house to meet with her — violating the terms of her arrest. But in a major shift, Aung San Suu Kyi changed her stance on the international sanctions against Burma this year, offering to help the junta’s leaders get the sanctions lifted.

27. Robert Wright

for envisioning a kinder, gentler new “New Atheism.”

journalist | New America Foundation | Princeton, N.J.

God is becoming more angelic — more patient, tolerant, and compassionate. Just ask Wright, author of The Evolution of God, a dazzlingly well-researched new book that traces how social transformations are reflected in popular conceptions of the divine. His core argument is that as civilizations grow more prosperous, they also become more open-minded. Wright is often wrongly lumped with the so-called New Atheists, a group of provocateurs that includes Richard Dawkins (No. 18) and Christopher Hitchens (No. 47) and has grabbed headlines in recent years for arguing that religion is inevitably and forever a force for ill. Wright, himself an agnostic, argues that the future will bring not a grand clash of civilizations, but a dynamic and relatively happy marriage between modernity and religion. As Wright explains, “People are capable of expanding tolerance and understanding in response to facts on the ground; and even mandates from heaven can change in response.”

Reading list: America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story, by Bruce Feiler; Superfusion, by Zachary Karabell.

Wants to visit: China

Best idea: A grand bargain between America and Iran that would entail Iran not getting the bomb, Iranian acquiescence in a resolution of the Palestinian conflict, American security guarantees for Iran, full economic engagement, etc.

Worst idea: Bombing Iran.

Gadget: Facebook; iPhone for now, but flirting with the Palm Pre.

Read more:The Anti-God Squad,” By Robert Wright

28. Elinor Ostrom

for showing us that the global commons isn’t such a tragic place after all.

Political scientist | Indiana University | Bloomington, Ind.

Ostrom has spent her career arguing that the phrase “tragedy of the commons” paints an unnecessarily gloomy picture. After studying examples ranging from irrigation systems in Nepal to deforestation in Bolivia, Ostrom concluded that individuals often manage common resources better than conventional economic models predict. Her seminal book, Governing the Commons, identified key “design principles” for successful collective use of resources, such as the creation of a monitoring system, agreed to by all participants, that includes punishments for violations. Following these principles, she found, frequently yielded better results for the management of a resource than either privatization or government regulation. In recognition of her work, Ostrom won the 2009 Nobel Prize in economics, the first woman to do so. Now, policymakers are scouring her research for ideas on how to prevent the greatest potential tragedy of all — climate change.

29. Paul Krugman

for proving that a Nobel Prize winner can also be a prolific pundit and unerringly correct doomsayer.

economist | columnist | Princeton University | New York Times | Princeton, N.J.

The pessimistic, acerbic, and undeniably brilliant Krugman is an economist with impeccable bona fides: a tenured professor at Princeton and the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in economics for his work on economic geography. This year, his prominent job moonlighting as writer of a twice-weekly column and a popular blog for the New York Times has made him an indispensable guide to the financial crisis. More an unabashed partisan than a dispassionate academic, Krugman was an invaluable critic of rising income inequality during the Bush administration and over the past year has written original, provocative commentary with no fealty to reigning economic, financial, or political dogma. Today he is Obama’s sharpest critic from the left — the strongest voice with the loudest bullhorn, advocating for more government spending and inveighing against the bank bailouts.

30. Kofi Annan

for his ceaseless work to create Africa’s Green Revolution.

Former u.n. secretary-general | Alliance for a green revolution in AfricA | Ghana

Two years after ending his term as what U.S. über-diplomat Richard Holbrooke once dubbed “the best secretary-general in the history of the U.N.,” Annan has a new mission: turning Africa green. “Africa is the only region where overall food security and livelihoods are deteriorating,” he declared in 2007, vowing to create “an environmentally sustainable, uniquely African Green Revolution.” And though many a development project has tried to boost agriculture on the continent, this time the formula is different: Annan is promoting small family farms rather than trying to mimic the industrialization of the West. That will mean a push for ag-friendly policies on a continent where corrupt leaders have typically turned their attention to more lucrative resource wealth while starving a generation of African farmers. As well as leading the Green Revolution, Annan has also served as mediator in the violent aftermath of Kenya’s elections and been chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s leadership prize committee. One would expect nothing less from a man once dubbed a “rock star of international relations.”

REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

31. Bernard-Henri Lévy

for offering a powerful critique of how Old Europe’s left has failed.

political commentator | France

Lévy, a philosopher par excellence, is simply France’s top public intellectual, a raffish and very public provocateur. This year, BHL, as he’s known, met with the usual klieg lights and controversy after issuing an impolitic apologia for fugitive director Roman Polanski, tweaking Barack Obama for being soft on the Palestinians, and telling European critics of the United States they have much to learn from across-the-pond successes. He also continues to engage in a serious examination of the unmooring of left-wing ideals and obsolescence of left-wing parties in Europe. In 2008’s Left in Dark Times, he argued that leftists (particularly in France) abandoned their egalitarian ideals for a toxic knee-jerk hatred of capitalism, the United States, Israel, and Jews — a hatred that’s driven them blindly into enemy-of-my-enemy associations with unsavory figures like Saddam Hussein. It’s a powerful, damning argument.

32. Anwar Ibrahim

for challenging the Muslim world to embrace democracy.

Opposition leader | People’s Justice Party | Malaysia

Two decades ago, it would have been impossible to imagine Anwar pulling together rural Malays, ethnic Indians and Chinese, and Islamists into a coherent political bloc. Back then, Anwar was deputy prime minister in a de facto single-party state that espoused preferential treatment for ethnic Malays. It was a policy that Anwar had pushed from his days as a youth leader right up until 1997, when he denounced his patron, then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, for corruption. He would spend the next six years in solitary confinement on trumped-up charges for that political betrayal. And he would leave jail in 2004 with a bold message for change in a country now at the forefront of the struggle for democracy in the Muslim world. Today, Anwar’s political career is blossoming, despite a new, politically motivated indictment. Abroad, he has become an outspoken advocate of religious tolerance.

He sat down with Foreign Policy to talk about his big ideas:

On Muslim countries and the West: You can’t just erase a period of imperialism and colonialism. You can’t erase the fault lines, the bad policies, the failed policies, the war in Iraq, and support for dictators. That to me is the reality. But what is the problem? When you … apportion the blame only to the West or the United States. They want to deflect from the issue of repression, endemic corruption, and destruction of the institutions of governance.

On his time in prison: I spent a lot of time reading. I decided to focus on the great works and the classics. Friends from around the world were sending books, but it takes months for [the prison] to vet them. There came a book on the Green Revolution at that time. The officer said, “Anything revolution — out!” even though it was about agriculture. But the books kept coming. The officers were not even graduates, and [the books] were in English. They would say, “Anwar, out of 10 books, can you send back one?” So I would select something I had already read or something I was not interested in and say, “We should reject this.”

On politics: Of course, you simplify the arguments [for politics], but the central thesis remains constant. People say, “Anwar, you are opportunistic. How can you talk about Islam and the Quran here, and then you talk about Shakespeare and quote Jefferson or Edmund Burke?” I say, it depends on the audience. You can’t talk about Edmund Burke in some remote village in Afghanistan. Then you go to Kuala Lumpur and you quote T.S. Eliot. If I quote the Quran all the time to a group of lawyers, [they will think] I am a mullah from somewhere!

33. Robert Zoellick and Dominique Strauss-Kahn

for using the crisis in service of a good cause: helping the world’s poor.

President, World Bank | Washington // managing director, International Monetary Fund | Washington

Zoellick and Strauss-Kahn have led the world’s banks through what has surely been one of their most pivotal years. Just months before the Wall Street crash, the two institutions were verging on irrelevance. But after the world plunged into recession, Strauss-Kahn positioned the IMF as the world’s go-to lender of last resort and won the support of the G-20 summit.

As the IMF was bailing out such countries as Latvia and Ukraine and getting flexible credit lines to the likes of Colombia and Mexico, Zoellick’s more development-minded World Bank was warning that almost 100 million people would be driven into poverty by the crisis. Though Zoellick is a free-trader and Strauss-Kahn a French socialist, both are on the same page when it comes to involving emerging markets more intimately in the decision-making and direction of the financial institutions. Together, they pushed for, and got, reform — not just within countries, but at the international level, where they created a broader role for developing countries, envisioning a post-crisis world that will be truly multipolar.

Robert Zoellick:

Best idea: Broadening global economic governance beyond the G-7.

Worst idea: That the global economic crisis is over. It’s far from over — especially in the developing world, where more than 90 million more people will be trapped in extreme poverty and tens of millions more people will be out of work.


34. John Holdren and Steven Chu

for putting cutting-edge science back into power.

white house science czar | Washington // Energy Secretary | physicist | Washington

George W. Bush wasn’t known for his love of science. In the Obama age, however, the scientists are in charge. As energy secretary, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Chu has transformed his office into a bully pulpit, pushing for the creation of government incentives for private scientific research into alternative energy sources. In this way, he hopes to use the profit motive to encourage the development of the next generation of energy-saving technology, sparking what he calls a “new Industrial Revolution.” Holdren, a nuclear physicist by training, directs the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and shares his boss’s passion for arms control. He has aggressively supported a reduction of the United States’ nuclear stockpiles and has said the elimination of nuclear weapons “is not only a practical but a legal and moral necessity.”

John Holdren:

Reading List: Innovation Nation, by John Kao; A Life Decoded, by J. Craig Venter; Science, Truth, and Democracy, by Philip Kitcher; Unscientific America, by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum; Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World, by Gary Hirshberg.

35. Nicholas Stern

for figuring out the costs of climate change and the politics of a solution.

climate Economist | London School of Economics | Britain

Studious, bespectacled, and self-effacing, Stern is not exactly the climate-change movement’s Bono. But perhaps this is precisely the point — the cold, hard logic of his groundbreaking 2006 “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change” dragged the issue out from the preserve of ecowarriors and into the global mainstream. In a government-sponsored study, Stern and his team concluded that decisive early action would cost humanity far less in the long run than allowing rising sea levels, dwindling freshwater supplies, and shrinking habitats to reduce global GDP a projected 20 percent. These days, Stern is focusing on how to build the international alliances needed to find workable ways forward. His new book, The Global Deal, adds an increasingly rare element to the global climate debate: optimism. As he puts it, “Collective pessimism about our inability to act will deliver an inability to act.”

“What’s the alternative to optimism? Unless we act as if we can sort this out, you might as well just get a hat and some suntan lotion and write a letter of apology to your grandchildren.” –Stern, speech at the London School of Economics, April 21, 2009

36. Paul Collier

for showing how the world’s bad guys are keeping the bottom billion down.

Economist | Oxford University | Britain

Collier knows what makes dictators tick. He knows how they manipulate elections, knock off opponents, and sign resource-exploitation deals that bring revenues to their pockets rather than their people. And that’s precisely why the autocrats of the world should fear his 2009 book, War, Guns, and Votes, which musters impressive data to show exactly how the emperors have no clothes, building on his remarkable 2007 book on the world’s worst-off, Bottom Billion. Elections as heralds of democracy? Nope, they often allow dictators to buy just enough votes to stay in power. Aid can save the world? Not even close; it will take international intervention to provide security first. The world’s 60 smallest, most impoverished ex-colonial countries “will never tap their vast reservoir of frustrated human potential unless the international community, at least for a time, supplies basic public goods that go beyond the typical aid agenda.”

Wants to visit: Liberia

Gadget: iPhone — because I need the GPS facility to save me when I’m lost.

37. Fareed Zakaria

for defining the limits of American power and convening the smartest public conversation about it.

Editor | Newsweek International | New York

Zakaria has emerged as perhaps the most public exponent of the view that the United States has entered a period of inexorable global decline. For many, the message of Zakaria’s 2008 book, The Post-American World, rings more true than ever in the wake of the year’s economic calamity. Zakaria argued that Americans must recognize that the emergence of new global powers China, India, and Russia will not necessarily knock America off its global pedestal. However, even if the United States remains the world’s most powerful country, its leaders must fundamentally reimagine the country’s international role. “We know how to handle a recession,” Zakaria says. “But how do we handle the rise of the rest?” Zakaria also hosts arguably the most influential weekly salon on U.S. strategy: his CNN show GPS, with such heavy-hitting guests as Gordon Brown (No. 74), Timothy Geithner, and Wen Jiabao in lively debate on everything from troop levels to international monetary policy.

Reading list: Keynes: The Return of the Master, by Robert Skidelsky; Free, by Chris Anderson; Staying On, by Paul Scott.

Wants to visit: South Africa

Best idea: Chris Anderson’s Free, which is more thoughtful than the simple description of its pieces.

Worst idea: So many!

Gadget: Facebook and BlackBerry.


38. George Soros

for showing us that billionaires can be thinkers, too.

Philanthropist and investor | Open Society Institute | New York

Over the course of 40 years, Budapest native George Soros built a multibillion-dollar fortune speculating on global currency markets. A philosophy and politics aficionado, Soros has used his wealth to bankroll democratic revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe and promote institutional reforms around the world. Lately, though, Soros has committed himself not just to earning capital and giving it away, but to reforming capitalism from the inside out. To this end, he has launched a think tank to foster fresh research, the Institute for New Economic Thinking, saying that “the entire edifice of global financial markets has been erected on the false premise that markets can be left to their own devices. We must find a new paradigm.” Most recently, Soros has started pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into green technology, a sure sign of a financial opportunity — or another bubble-on the horizon.


39. Jeffrey D. Sachs

for being the global poor’s most persistent advocate among the global elite.

economist | Columbia University | New York

As with his colleague and sometime rival William Easterly (tied at No. 39), the financial crisis had Sachs even more worried about the poor than usual. He had just spent the last decade trying to convince rich countries to devote a solid chunk of their GDP to bringing about The End of Poverty, as one of his recent book titles proclaims. As special advisor to then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (No. 30), Sachs was instrumental in drafting the Millennium Development Goals, the eight broad poverty-reduction targets the United Nations declared in 2000. In the years since, he has led the U.N. Millennium Project to develop model “villages” across Africa where all eight areas are addressed in tandem. Will the downturn derail his work? In 2009, Sachs fought to keep global leaders honest even in the face of fiscal hardship. After this April’s G-20 summit he wrote, “The poorest countries, by and large, were not in the room. As usual, their plight came far behind the immediate concerns of the high-income and middle-income countries.”


39. William Easterly

for raising inconvenient truths about the foreign-aid business.

Economist | New York University | New York

After a half-century of what Easterly sees as a failed experiment in international aid, the world risks losing all the hard-won progress it has made in the turmoil of the financial crisis. But not if this outspoken economist and cranky aid skeptic has anything to do with it. After finishing a 16-year stint at the World Bank, Easterly has made it his life’s work to puncture holes in what he calls the “ideology of development.” His voluminous commentary — including his explosive 2006 book The White Man’s Burden, a seemingly endless spat with nemesis Jeffrey Sachs, and now a blog and prolific Twitter feed — is necessary reading for those who care about the world’s belated and frequently disastrous efforts to help its most benighted citizens.

Reading list: No Enchanted Palace, by Mark Mazower; Gut Feelings, by Gerd Gigerenzer; Collected Poems, by John Keats.

Wants to visit: Antarctica

Best idea: Understanding political motivations for ideas in development economics.

Worst idea: Intensifying military and civilian intervention in Afghanistan.

Gadget: Twitter and iPhone.



41. Esther Duflo

for adding quantitative rigor to assessments of foreign aid.

economist | MIT | Cambridge, Mass.

If there’s any hope of adjudicating the Sachs-Easterly contretemps, the 36-year-old Duflo — who has stayed neutral — might be able to provide it. Unlike traditional economists who test new aid products under laboratory conditions, Duflo, who just won a MacArthur “genius” grant and has been hailed as “the new face of French intellectualism,” tests products in the field, with all the interference and compounding data points that go with it. She has turned her methods on the questions of whether it’s best to give away or sell mosquito nets, whether grandfathers or grandmothers are more likely to spend on the health of their families, and what incentives work for vaccination. As co-founder of MIT’s Poverty Action Lab, Duflo is imposing new rigor on everything from women’s empowerment to computer-assisted learning: “[W]e are trying to raise expectations but make them real.”

Reading list: The Emperor, by Ryszard Kapuscinski; The Biographer’s Tale, by A.S. Byatt; In Xanadu, by William Dalrymple.

Wants to visit: Brazil

Gadget: Neither Facebook nor Twitter. BlackBerry.


42. Jared Diamond

for helping us understand how societies not only grow, but die.

Geographer | UCLA | Los Angeles

Diamond writes about destruction. But if his most famous book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, was about how Western civilizations destroyed their competition, his most recent book, Collapse, traces how societies, such as Greenland’s Vikings, destroy themselves by squandering their natural resources. Climate change may be a new concern, but the need to live sustainably is an old one, Collapse shows. More recently, Diamond has turned his attention to modern predicaments, urging less consumption and population restraint. The Earth today has more than enough resources to sustain its current population, Diamond thinks, but we must use them more intelligently than our ancestors did, lest we go the way of the Vikings.

Reading list: Colomba, by Dacia Maraini; The Divine Comedy, Dante; New Guinea: What I Did and What I Saw, Luigi D’Albertis.

Wants to visit: Uzbekistan

Best idea: Triple the price of gasoline in the United States.

Worst idea: Fertilizing the ocean, or injecting gases or particles into the atmosphere to combat climate change.


43. Richard Posner

for his wide-ranging intellectual contributions.

Judge | University of Chicago | Chicago

Posner is considered one of the United States’ best legal minds, using free market economics to guide his judicial decisions and academic papers, sometimes in unorthodox directions: The contrarian jurist, who turned 70 in 2009, wants to legalize marijuana and has agreed with the idea that infants should be bought and sold rather than adopted. Still, Posner’s intellectual daring and range make him a rare and essential public figure. He co-authors a popular blog with Nobel laureate Gary Becker and churns out nearly a book per year. In 2009 he produced A Failure of Capitalism, a bracing examination of the economic crisis that assigns blame to former President George W. Bush and ex-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and argues that regulatory failure allowed the crisis to happen.


44. David Kilcullen

for writing the book on how America fights small wars.

Counterinsurgency expert | Washington

A gregarious former lieutenant colonel in the Australian Army, Kilcullen had an epiphany as a Ph.D. student in political anthropology. At root, guerrilla movements were motivated not by radical ideals, but by mundane, everyday drives; defeating them requires protecting the population and developing an in-depth knowledge of local social networks. In 2007, as the Iraqi insurgency was reaching its height, Gen. David Petraeus (No. 8) brought him on as a senior advisor, and many credit Kilcullen’s ideas with saving countless lives. Now, the Aussie has begun applying his out-of-the-box thinking to Afghanistan, starting with his book The Accidental Guerrilla. “If I were a Muslim,” Kilcullen told the New Yorker, “I’d probably be a jihadist.… The thing that drives these guys — a sense of adventure, wanting to be part of the moment, wanting to be in the big movement of history that’s happening now — that’s the same thing that drives me, you know?”

Reading list: Dead Aid, by Dambisa Moyo; Talking to Terrorists, by John Bew, et al.; The Bottom Billion, by Paul Collier.

Wants to visit: Russia

Best idea:O3b,” Greg Wyler’s groundbreaking enterprise to create a space-based Internet access system that will connect the “other 3 billion” people in the world’s poorest and most fragile states.

Worst idea: The notion that the West can afford to fail in Afghanistan and still have a chance of preventing the collapse and terrorist takeover of Pakistan.

Gadget: Facebook and iPhone.

Read more:The COINdinistas: An Insider’s Guide,” By Thomas E. Ricks


45. Abdolkarim Soroush

for pitting his theological might against Iran’s Islamist regime.

religious philosopher | Institute for Epistemological Research | Iran

A one-time philosopher at Tehran University, Soroush has perhaps done more than any other thinker to reconcile Islam with democracy. Drawing on ideas that range from the Quran to Karl Popper, Soroush argues that no individual can ever have an infallible understanding of God’s law. Therefore, people should work to advance God’s aims, which must be based on the betterment of humankind. This philosophy is a direct challenge to the Islamic Republic, which bases its legitimacy on the God-given right of its preferred Islamic scholars to rule. This year, Soroush sharpened his attacks on Iran’s religious establishment in a blistering open letter to the supreme leader titled “Religious Tyranny Is Collapsing: Rejoice!” As resentment over the stolen election still simmers, Soroush’s ideas offer Iran a way forward that establishes an Islamic foundation for a true, representative democracy.

Reading list: The Theological Aspect of Reform Judaism, by Max L. Margolis; Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel.

Wants to visit: Egypt

Best idea, worst idea: Just (as in fair) liberty, not just (as in only) liberty.

Gadget: None. I’m a little bit old-fashioned.


46. Muhammad Yunus

for proving that the poor are profitable.

Economist | Grameen Bank | Bangladesh

Yunus might be the only banker to escape the financial crisis not just unscathed, but noticeably buoyant. A quarter-century after its founding as the world’s first microlender to the poor, Yunus’s Grameen Bank looks the very model of modern capitalism. The poor, Yunus has found, pay back their debts at least as well as their better-off peers, so much so that Grameen Bank now turns a profit. Yunus, whose work on microcredit earned him a Nobel Peace Prize and a U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, among other honors, has been an outspoken advocate of financial reform this year, calling for the global democratization of credit. “The real issue” is not charity, he writes in his autobiography. It’s “giving every human being a fair chance.”


47. Christopher Hitchens

for puncturing the received wisdom at every opportunity.

columnist | Vanity Fair, Slate | Washington

It is hard to recall a major political or cultural debate of the past few decades in which Hitchens has not taken a side — and not just taken it, but run with it, and kept on running. The prolific “ex-Trotskyist popinjay,” in the words of one of his detractors, has called for Henry Kissinger to be prosecuted for war crimes, famously railed against Mother Teresa, and lampooned the left for its quiescent response to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. His latest book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, makes the case that religion is basically evil. Today, as many pundits have retreated from their support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hitchens remains a die-hard proponent: “A rumor from Guantanamo will convulse Peshawar, the Muslim press preaches that the Jews brought down the Twin Towers, and a single citation in a British honors list will cause the Iranian state-run press to repeat its claim that the British government … paid Salman Rushdie to write The Satanic Verses to begin with,” he wrote recently in Slate. “Exactly how is such a mentality to be placated?”


48. Ayaan Hirsi Ali

for her provocative critique of Islam, the religion of her youth.

Author | American Enterprise Institute | Washington

Call her the Muslim Nietzsche. Since renouncing her religious roots in 2002, Hirsi Ali has become one of the world’s most outspoken critics of Islam. Born in Somalia and raised in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, Hirsi Ali fled to the Netherlands in 1992 and was later elected a member of the Dutch parliament. Her 2007 autobiography, Infidel, sealed her reputation as a provocateur. Now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a U.S. resident, her challenge to Islam is stark: End the repression of women, stop honor killings and forced marriages, and open up to cultural reform. To that end, Hirsi Ali is focusing her energies on Obama, whom she hopes will “speak truth to Islam because others can’t.”

Reading list: The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy; Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity, by Samuel P. Huntington.

Wants to visit: Iran, to ask Ahmadinejad what is going on in his head.

Gadget: Neither Facebook nor Twitter. Definitely BlackBerry.

49. Tariq Ramadan

for dedicating his life to proving that Europe and Islam are not incompatible.

Religious scholar | Switzerland

For his entire life, this grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna has been called a walking contradiction: an Islamic intellectual who espouses democracy but believes religious law is universal, who detests Zionism but also denounces anti-Semitism, and who supports Palestinian resistance but criticizes terrorism. For just as long, Ramadan has been out to prove that his worldview makes perfect sense. Ramadan wants to articulate an Islam that is compatible with the liberal democracies of Europe (where he grew up and now lives), one that advocates an end to victimhood and engages with the world’s political reality. Not surprisingly, Ramadan has often run into controversy — and frequently has relished it. No wonder his latest book, What I Believe, “is a work of clarification,” as he writes. It is meant to spell out the “basic ideas I have been defending for more than twenty years.”

Reading list: The Sum of All Heresies, by Fredrick Quinn; Angels in My Hair, by Lorna Byrne; Contemporary Chinese Philosophy.

Wants to visit: Egypt, from which I am banned.

Best idea: Put an end worldwide to nuclear weapons.

Worst idea: Promote an “ethical capitalism.”

Gadget: Facebook, BlackBerry, and iPhone.


50. Nicholas Christakis

for explaining why it’s our friends who define us.

medical sociologist | Harvard university | Cambridge, Mass.

It’s not only germs that can be contagious. Christakis, who has both a medical degree and a Ph.D. in sociology, has studied how individuals’ social networks influence whether they are happy or sad — and even skinny or fat. In their 2009 book Connected, Christakis and co-author James Fowler expanded the known instances of “network contagion” by identifying examples in everything from back pain to political beliefs. The idea that having fat friends could be contagious made headlines for Christakis, but his longer-lasting impact will come when his revolutionary understanding about social networks starts being applied to real-world crises.

Reading list: Not by Genes Alone, by Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd; The Mystery of Economic Growth, by Elhanan Helpman; Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert.

Wants to visit: New Zealand, Australia, and Peru.

Most interesting idea: That human culture and activities may be changing our genes.

Worst idea: That the United States needs to increase its troop strength in Afghanistan.

Gadget: Facebook and iPhone.

51. Ahmed Rashid

for his prophetic writing about the global perils of South Asia.

Journalist | Pakistan

Rashid knows the people and conflicts of Afghanistan and Pakistan better than perhaps any living journalist. He should: After graduating from Cambridge University in the late 1960s, he spent the next decade as a leftist guerrilla fighter in the hills of Pakistan’s western province of Baluchistan. No longer a participant in the region’s struggles, he continues to cover events as a writer, publishing a number of works that have become required reading. Rashid’s most recent book, last year’s Descent into Chaos, accuses George W. Bush’s administration of “arrogance and ignorance” for neglecting to provide the necessary troops and development funds to rebuild Afghanistan following the 2001 U.S. invasion, but also offers a damning portrait of his old friend, Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He advocates “a Western-led Marshall Plan” to revitalize the region’s economy and undercut al Qaeda’s ideological appeal — in short, a nation-building effort whose success could be measured in GDP growth and the expansion of political freedoms, rather than bombing runs and body counts.

Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

52. Helene Gayle

for putting HIV/AIDS in its big-picture context.

Physician | CARE | Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS | Atlanta, GA

Gayle has spent her career at the forefront of public health, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and CARE to, this year, the chairmanship of the U.S. Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Gayle brings to her work a strong sense of how health is intertwined with the rest of society. At CARE, Gayle has focused the organization on broader categories of development, like microfinance, while advocating for smarter U.S. policies on foreign aid. She has pushed for contraception as a powerful way for women to take control not just of their reproductive lives, but also their economic well-being. “I’ve seen how poverty has a woman’s face,” she writes. “I’ve seen it in the faces of her children, like a torn hand-me-down passed from generation to generation when the cycle isn’t stopped.”

Reading list: Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; The Global Deal, by Nicholas Stern; The Challenge for Africa, by Wangari Maathai.

Wants to visit: Egypt

Best idea: The use of cell phone technology to connect poor people to banking systems.

Worst idea: The bailout of corporations without accountability.

Gadget: Facebook and BlackBerry.

53. Linus Torvalds

for his visionary work on open-source software.

Software engineer | Portland, Ore.

Torvalds, self-proclaimed “benevolent dictator” of one of the most impressive group projects in history, is important not only for what he has done, but for what he has allowed others to do. An unassuming software engineer from Finland, Torvalds is the architect of the Linux kernel, a computer operating system built with free and open-source software. Although Torvalds got the ball rolling with the first few lines of code, written at age 21 in his mother’s Helsinki basement, Linux’s development has since been fueled by thousands of programmers from across the world, each offering their contributions for free. Today, Linux has been installed on tens of millions of computing devices and is used to run everything from university network servers to traffic lights. And open-source culture is now a signature of the modern world, apparent everywhere from blogs and Twitter to Intellipedia, the CIA’s internal wiki.

54. Tim Berners-Lee

for remaining the patron saint of the Web he created.

computer scientist | World Wide Web consortium | Cambridge, Mass.

In March 1989, Berners-Lee, then a computer scientist at the European particle physics laboratory CERN, found a way to connect html, a markup language that he had created, with the Internet. The fusion of these two technologies, which Berners-Lee intended as a way for scientists to share information, produced the world’s first websites. Twenty years later, the Web is used by at least a fifth of the world, and Berners-Lee is trying to protect his creation. He heads the World Wide Web Consortium, which develops the international standards used on the Web. His new project is net neutrality — the principle that Internet service providers should not be allowed to discriminate between the content that users access online. Berners-Lee contends that freedom has been the key ingredient spurring the Web’s growth and innovation. “Anyone that tries to chop [the Web] into two will find that their piece looks very boring,” he predicts.

55. Henry Kissinger

for a half-century ruling the U.S. foreign-policy community.

Former secretary of state | Kissinger Associates | New York

Kissinger, whose very name is now synonymous with an explicitly realpolitik foreign policy that focuses on national interests rather than idealistic aims, has devoted his life to perfecting the application and expansion of U.S. power. More than 30 years after leaving office, Kissinger has largely shed his Vietnam-era status as a bête noire of the left and emerged as one of Washington’s foremost political counselors. His influence has sometimes been a boon to Obama’s agenda, such as when he praised the U.S. president’s handling of negotiations with Iran. But he is just as liable to be a thorn in the administration’s side, intervening in the public debate at key moments. Even now, Kissinger’s intellectual legacy shapes and defines the views of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. As another former U.S. secretary of state, George Shultz, has said, “There’s only one Henry Kissinger. They broke the mold after they made him.”

56. Niall Ferguson

for his intelligent, incessant questioning of dogma.

Historian | Harvard University | Cambridge, Mass.

Ferguson has made a career out of challenging sacred cows, both within academia and the popular imagination. A Financial Times columnist and author of the recent The Ascent of Money, among other books, he has worried that the United States’ massive fiscal stimulus plan will cause an inexorable rise in long-term interest rates, crushing the hoped-for economic recovery. He has also been skeptical about the ability of government regulation to fix the economic mess, noting that the crisis began in the banking sector, the most heavily regulated area of the economy. As he said in June, “It took decades to get from the highly regulated economies of the 1970s to the free-wheeling, highly globalized economies of 2007. It takes a lot less time to destroy globalization.… We are already moving very rapidly away from globalization.”

Reading list: Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan; After Tamerlane, by John Darwin; The Honoured Society, by Norman Lewis.

Wants to visit: Brazil

Best idea: Paul Romer’s idea for a new generation of Hong Kong-style, free market entrepôts on the coasts of poor countries.

Worst idea: British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s idea of negotiating with “moderate” elements in the Taliban.

Gadget: Facebook, Twitter, and BlackBerry.

Read more:Dead Men Walking,” By Niall Ferguson

57. Baltasar Garzón

for proving that no dictator is safe.

Judge | National Court of Spain | Spain

Since indicting Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998 during the ex-president’s trip to London, Garzón has acquired a reputation as a legal crusader, the scourge of drug traffickers, terrorists, and corrupt government officials. Garzón believes that laws extend beyond national boundaries — making him a hero to the human rights world, a pain to politicians, and a major intellectual force for a jurisprudence that crosses borders in a world increasingly without them. This spring, he announced he was investigating former U.S. officials for their involvement in Bush-era detention and interrogation policies. An embarrassed Spanish government recommended against prosecution. Before long, Garzón had found another controversial target: abuses committed during his country’s autocratic era under Francisco Franco. Not for the first time, resurrecting the past has landed Garzón in political peril: He is being sued by a right-wing group for wanting to dig up the graves (literally in some cases) of countless dead officials.

58. Amartya Sen

for showing how democracy prevents famine.

Economist | Harvard University | Cambridge, Mass.

Sen is that rarest of hybrids — “the only recent or living economist who takes philosophy seriously,” in the words of Martha Nussbaum (No. 93). Taking his cue from such diverse figures as Karl Marx and Adam Smith (whom he hails as an underappreciated moral philosopher), Sen earned a Nobel Prize in economics in 1998 for his groundbreaking insight: Food scarcity doesn’t kill people; bad governments do. Central to his thinking is the concept of “capabilities” — the idea that it is not just the distribution of resources in a society that matters, but the ability of its members to make informed choices about the use of those resources and to punish leaders who fail them. A decade later, Sen remains a prominent political voice. In September he partnered with Joseph Stiglitz (No. 25) to release a study urging governments to incorporate noneconomic variables into assessments of well-being, and in October his new book The Idea of Justice topped the best-seller list in his native India.

Best idea: That global politics demands uncompromising multilateralism.

Worst idea: That the present Afghan problems are similar to those in Vietnam.

59. Barbara Ehrenreich

for her relentless efforts to understand the root causes of poverty and inequality.

Social commentator | Key West, Fla.

Shortly before the 2001 publication of her award-winning book Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer. The experience inspired another nonfiction work, this year’s Bright-Sided, her broadside about the myopia of American optimism. Ehrenreich argues that Americans are plagued by their own delusions, whether it’s the idea that cancer presents an opportunity for self-improvement, that stocks will always rise, or that the poor, sick, and socially marginalized need only to repair their own attitudes. American Pollyannaism “reached a manic zenith in the early years of this millennium,” she wrote in Time. “Iraq would be a cakewalk! The Dow would reach 36,000! Housing prices could never decline!” Her chronicles of hard lives too often ignored in the mainstream press — journeying from car factories in Detroit to empty trailers in the American heartland — make her the James Agee of our time.

60. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

for hitting the bull’s-eye more often than anyone.

Political scientist | New York University | San Francisco

Bueno de Mesquita should have been a professional gambler. The New York University political scientist has devoted his uniquely creative analytical mind to, in essence, reading tea leaves — though in a very sophisticated way, drawing on interviews with specialists and complex computer models. His algorithms are usually dead-on accurate — 90 percent correct in his hundreds of studies for the CIA, the agency says. He called in advance, for instance, the rise of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the 1994 Mexican peso crisis, and the second Palestinian intifada of 2000. This year, he peeled back the curtain and offered some new forecasts in The Predictioneer’s Game. For one, he suggests that the best way to contain the North Korean nuclear threat would be to provide money and security guarantees in exchange for Kim Jong Il’s stopping the program — but not asking him to dismantle anything already created. Who would bet against him?

Reading list: Constantine and the Bishops, by H.A. Drake; Waiting, by Ha Jin; The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.

Wants to visit: Tanzania

Best idea: Stimulating the economy and keeping interest rates low will help speed up economic recovery.

Worst idea: Global warming can only be corrected through global, universal agreement.

Gadget: Twitter and iPhone.


61. Salam Fayyad

for showing how to govern effectively in the middle of a conflict.

Prime minister | Palestinian National Authority | West Bank

With his boss tottering and peace talks stagnating, Fayyad has emerged as the last, best hope for a permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Fayyad, who holds a Ph.D. in economics, rose to prominence as the IMF’s representative in the Palestinian territories, where he subsequently became finance minister. In June 2007, he was promoted to prime minister, finally giving him the authority to root out corruption and embark on institutional reforms, such as making the Palestinian Authority’s notoriously opaque annual budget public. Now, he is calling for the creation of a Palestinian state within two years — regardless of the progress of peace talks. With the West Bank’s economy projected to grow 7 percent in 2009, Fayyad is building a reputation as an effective guarantor of his people’s economic and political welfare. In this region, that’s no small thing.

Reading list: Palestinian Walks, by Raja Shehadeh; The World Is Flat, by Thomas Friedman; Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

Wants to visit: South Africa

Best idea: Obama’s “reaching-out” doctrine.

Worst idea: That keeping Gaza under siege is working.

62. Xu Zhiyong

for driving the debate in China about citizens’ rights.

Legal activist | Gongmeng think tank | China

Xu is, in the words of the New Yorker‘s Evan Osnos, “as close as China gets to a public-interest icon.” The legal scholar and activist has emerged as a vocal champion of victims’ rights in just about every major legal scandal of recent years, offering pro bono advice to victims of police brutality, tainted milk products, and extrajudicial detention. Reflecting Xu’s strong belief in working for change within the system, the primary mission of Gongmeng, the legal think tank he co-founded in 2003, is to protect the rights to which Chinese citizens are theoretically already entitled. But though he is an independent elected legislator and has received multiple accolades in the state-run media, he found himself on the wrong side of an increasingly mistrustful Chinese administration this year. In July, Gongmeng was shut down for alleged tax irregularities, and Xu was arrested and detained. Following a domestic and international outcry, he was released in late August, though he remains under surveillance.

Reading list: Baha’i Sacred Anthology; a history of Chinese philosophy; the Quran.

Wants to visit: Tanzania

Gadget: Twitter


63. Mario Vargas Llosa

for challenging the fiction of socialist utopia.

Novelist | Peru

One of Latin America’s most beloved literary treasures, Peruvian novelist Vargas Llosa has transitioned seamlessly into the public realm, where he is an outspoken advocate of democracy and civil liberties in the region. “The socialism of the 21st century manifests in monstrous corruption of the sort that is present in Venezuela — where all forms of communication are closed or threatened, economically blackmailed such that no one speaks the truth, and no one criticizes those in power,” he has said. At home, Vargas Llosa has also pushed for reform, advocating, for example, a museum to commemorate the victims of Peru’s brutal Shining Path guerrillas. Nor is he slacking in the literary department: This year he was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize.

Reading list: The Black Diaries of Roger Casement; The Reckoning, by Charles Nicholl; Descartes’ Bones, by Russell Shorto.

Wants to visit: Ireland, because of the book that I am writing about Roger Casement.

Best idea: That for the first time the United States is acting with fairness and equanimity in the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

Worst idea: That capitalism is doomed after the economic crisis.

Gadget: Only newspapers and books.


64. Michael Ignatieff

for showing that not all academics are irrelevant.

Liberal Party leader | Canada

Poised to become Canadian prime minister next year, only five years after leaving Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Ignatieff is out to prove the relevance of academia — and big ideas — in politics. Ignatieff’s writing on the sometime necessity of “violence … coercion, secrecy, deception, even violation of rights” to fight terrorism has made him a singular voice among Canadian liberals. His 2004 book, The Lesser Evil, made the case that targeted violence was necessary to prevent the possibility of falling victim to greater violence, but stressed that democratic states should not employ torture or be motivated by national pride or revenge. In 2006 he was elected to Canada’s House of Commons and in 2008 became leader of the Liberal Party. As a politician, he’s renewed his party’s focus on human rights, the war in Afghanistan, and more recently, global climate change, which he defines in characteristically utilitarian fashion as “redistributing risk to the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.”


65. Francis Fukuyama

for creating a foreign-policy paradigm that has defined almost two decades of argument.

Political philosopher | Johns Hopkins University | Washington

The foreign-policy world can be pretty cleanly split into two groups: those who passionately agree with “The End of History,” and those who passionately disagree. Fukuyama’s seminal work came out 20 years ago, but its central conclusion — that liberal democracy will supplant other political ideologies as the dominant paradigm of the 21st century — remains the crucial issue of the day. With Moscow and Beijing flexing their global muscles and the recession driving Western democracies inward, Fukuyama’s thesis might seem in doubt, but he’s still making the case. “I am still fairly confident that democratic systems are the only viable ones,” he told Newsweek. This year, Fukuyama joined in debates about the future of Iran — arguing, against conventional wisdom, that it may be possible for the Islamic Republic to “evolve towards a genuine rule-of-law democracy,” even while allowing for continued strong clerical influence.

Reading list: Law, Legislation and Liberty, by Friedrich von Hayek; The Great Transformation, by Karl Polanyi; Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, by Joseph Schumpeter.

Wants to visit: Ecuador

Best idea: Reforming the health-care system.

Worst idea: A tax write-off for pet care.

Gadget: Facebook and iPhone.


66. The Kagan Family (Donald, Robert, Frederick, and Kimberly)

for shaping the debate over Iraq and Afghanistan.

foreign-policy commentators | Yale University, Washington Post, American Enterprise Institute, Institute for the Study of War | New Haven, Conn.; Belgium; Washington

For the Kagans, war is a family affair. Patriarch Donald is a Yale University historian specializing in ancient Greece and one of the leading lights of the neoconservative movement. His sons, Robert and Frederick, played a central role in rallying support for the “surge” in Iraq when the war appeared at its most hopeless and served as forceful advocates for the strategy among their allies in George W. Bush’s administration (Frederick as a scholar at the hawkish American Enterprise Institute, Robert as a columnist for the Washington Post). They were joined by Frederick’s wife, Kimberly, who heads the Institute for the Study of War and later published an account of the war titled The Surge: A Military History. This year, the Kagans have thrown themselves into the Afghanistan debate; Kimberly served on Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s strategic assessment team, and along with Frederick, she has called repeatedly for a fully resourced counterinsurgency effort. Robert, meanwhile, who lives in Brussels and is perhaps best known for arguing that “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus,” holds a big-picture view of international affairs that justifies assertive U.S. intervention abroad. His latest book, The Return of History and the End of Dreams, calls for the creation of a “league of democracies” to promote political liberalization and human rights globally.

Robert Kagan:

Reading list: The Weary Titan, by Aaron Friedberg; Over Here, by David Kennedy; Breaking the Heart of the World, by John Milton Cooper.

Wants to visit: India, still the great, yawning gap in my travels over the past 30 years.

Best idea: Gen. McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan for Afghanistan.

Worst idea: The Obama administration’s new policy toward China — “strategic reassurance.”

Gadget: I find Twitter the most absurd development in an absurd era. I love my iPhone: the best communications device ever invented.

67. C. Raja Mohan

for his forceful advocacy of India’s rise to great-power status.

political scientist | Nanyang Technological University | Singapore

With India on the verge of achieving its potential as a regional power, Mohan is one of the leading theorists pushing the world’s largest democracy to abandon its traditional aloofness and seek full integration with the West. A strong U.S.-India partnership, Mohan argues in his influential columns for the Indian Express and The Hindu, will assist India in its continued economic rise — and give the United States an ally in Asia that could provide vital assistance in halting the rise of radical Islam and checking China’s rising power. Mohan praised George W. Bush’s administration for its outreach to India, but urges the United States to husband its power more carefully and realize that it “cannot play God by resolving every single problem in the world.”

Reading list: The Arabian Frontier of the British Raj, by James Onley; Three Kingdoms, by Luo Guanzhong; The Hindus, by Wendy Doniger.

Wants to visit: Indonesia

Best idea: The idea of a regional framework to stabilize Afghanistan.

Worst idea: The China-America G-2.


68. James Hansen

for his pioneering research and advocacy on climate change.

director | NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies | New York

Scientists tend to view their job as simply uncovering the facts — doing something about them is the job of politicians and activists. But after 2½ decades of presenting his hair-raising findings about the threat of rising sea levels and melting glaciers in congressional hearings, scientific conferences, and academic papers, Hansen has come to believe that facts don’t speak for themselves. When a new Bush-era policy directed him to deal with reporters only through communications staff, Hansen — who developed one of the first computer models to predict the impact of rising CO2 levels on the Earth’s temperature — broke ranks and took his controversial story public. These days, he divides his time between GISS and anti-coal protests across the country. Earlier this year, he helped launch the “350 mission,” a campaign to popularize the view that the best target for atmospheric carbon content is 350 parts per million — much lower than previously thought.


69. Freeman Dyson

for bringing scientific rigor to climate-change skepticism.

Physicist | Institute for Advanced Study | Princeton, N.J.

Dyson, a physicist famous as much for his advocacy against nuclear weaponry as for his brilliance on quantum electrodynamics, dropped his own bomb in 2005. In a lecture at Boston University, the octogenarian Institute for Advanced Study scholar said that “all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated.” Since then, Dyson has provided extensive commentary expanding on his doubts about climate change against the vitriolic criticism and even disdain his views have occasioned. Dyson is convinced that the James Hansens of the world might have the science wrong — and that even if they do have it right, climate change might not be so bad. He argues that humanity and the Earth will be able to handle increased greenhouse gases and that lifting people in developing countries from poverty is more important than capping emissions. Like any good scientist, Dyson admits he could be mistaken. But no one is questioning the courage of his convictions.


70. Esther Dyson

for accurately forecasting how the Internet will shape us.

internet Entrepreneur | Edventure holdings | New York

Dyson describes herself as a “catalyst” — an apt term for the ever-moving, ever-innovative high-tech guru (she and her father, No. 69, are the only parent-child pair on FP‘s list). She started out as a reporter, later owned her own business, and finally became an angel investor, seeding funds for everything from Eastern European philanthropy to civilian space travel. In a 1995 Wired magazine essay, she presciently theorized that the easy replication and distribution of digital content meant that companies would ultimately give it away for free and make money off other merchandise and services. Today, she predicts that advertisers will tailor content to individual users. She also predicts that people will increasingly view the solar system, rather than the planet, as their home, with companies seeking out revenue and materials throughout it.

Reading list: The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz; Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese; Making Globalization Work, by Joseph Stiglitz.

Wants to visit: Iran

Best idea: Train unemployed workers to be teachers and build retirement homes next to orphanages.

Worst idea: Airport security.

Gadget: Facebook, Twitter, and BlackBerry.



71. Ray Kurzweil

for advancing the technology of eternal life.

Futurist | North Andover, Mass.

By 2045, the differences between men and machines will be negligible, or so Kurzweil believes. Humans will back up their memories and skill sets on hard drives, to the extent that they become virtually immortal, while robots will be endowed with consciousness — a turning point he refers to as “the Singularity.” Before he cemented his fame as a leading — and sometimes wacky — futurist, Kurzweil worked on artificial intelligence, including inventing the first text-to-speech software. Recently, Kurzweil has turned his attention to how software and medical technology could help people extend and ameliorate their lives. “The future is going to be a very exciting place, and that’s why I’d like to stick around to see it,” he says.

Reading list: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez; Cybernetics, by Norbert Wiener; Phantoms in the Brain, by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee.

Wants to visit: China

Best idea: Ideas for applying nanotechnology to renewable-energy technologies, especially solar (given that we have 10,000 times more sunlight than we need to meet all of our energy needs).

Worst idea: That we are running out of resources — we in fact have plenty of energy, water, food, and space once we can apply emerging technologies to transform their availability, which will be soon.

Gadget: Twitter and BlackBerry.


72. Jamais Cascio

for being our moral guide to the future.

Futurist | Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies | San Francisco

Climate change is coming, and geoengineering — the prospect of artificially manipulating the world’s climate — may seem like an easy save. But in fact it’s threatening and ethically complex, putting a literally earth-shaking power in the hands of a few, says Cascio in his new book, Hacking the Earth, the most subtle analysis so far on the subject. This year, Cascio, guru of all things on the horizon and founder of the website Open the Future, agitated to strengthen the global financial system through decentralization; argued passionately that resilience, not sustainability, must be the new goal of environmentalists; and has become a leading thinker on robot ethics.

Reading list: The Age of the Unthinkable, by Joshua Cooper Ramo; The Caryatids, by Bruce Sterling; Wired for War, by Peter W. Singer.

Wants to visit: Antarctica. It’s a “see it while you still can” location.

Best idea: Work done at the Scripps Research Institute by Carlos Barbas on creating self-assembling molecular antibodies that can provide instant immunity to infectious diseases (and possibly even cancer).

Worst idea: 2009 seems to have been the year that global warming deniers shifted from claiming that climate disruption is a hoax to claiming that climate disruption is too big and too far along to stop, so there’s no point in doing anything about it. Wrong on both counts!

Gadget: Twitter and iPhone.


73. Nick Bostrom

for accepting no limits on human potential.

Philosopher | Oxford University | Britain

Bostrom, director of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, thinks that one day, technology could allow us to upload human minds onto computers, preserving our every memory for posterity and allowing people to speed up their thoughts by installing faster software. He’s a transhumanist, a leader in a broad movement that believes humans should improve themselves through technology, eventually reaching a point that can be defined as “posthuman.” As scientific advances continue to upend our ethical views and technological enhancements challenge our ideas of equality, Bostrom has emerged as a leading voice on the changes humankind will experience in the generations to come, which, he believes, will be many. “If we survive intact for 500 years, then we might well survive for billions of years,” he says.

Reading list: Military Nanotechnology: Potential Applications and Preventive Arms Control, by Jürgen Altmann; Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, by Margaret MacMillan; Hamlet, by William Shakespeare.

Worst idea: Somebody suggested that we guilt-trip artificial intelligence to respect us as its parents. That’s bad on so many different levels.

Gadget: iPhone

74. Gordon Brown

for his leadership during the financial crisis.

Prime Minister | Britain

Brown will very likely not be prime minister of Britain for much longer. The Labour Party will almost certainly suffer ignominious defeat in a national election sometime by mid-2010. The prime minister, who as chancellor of the exchequer under Prime Minister Tony Blair oversaw the inflation of massive housing and financial bubbles, will be known by his caricature in the British press, as a paranoid, bellowing, and incompetent leader. But even if Brown did not do enough to stop the bubbles from developing, he proved one of the world’s most courageous leaders after they had burst. His government may not have quite “saved the world,” as he claimed to much derision last December, but in acting immediately and forcefully to prevent disaster by nationalizing failing banks, pushing through massive stimulus measures, and urging his counterparts to do the same, he just may have saved his reputation.


75. Richard Haass

for injecting a necessary note of caution about what is necessary for a superpower at war.

President | Council on Foreign Relations | New York

Haass has a résumé that any foreign-policy hand in Washington would drool over: National Security Council, Brookings Institution, State Department, and now the Council on Foreign Relations. But he’s not resting on his laurels. This year, he published War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars, in which he sketched the differences between 1991’s invasion of Iraq and the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He sees “wars of necessity,” such as Operation Desert Storm, as interventions to protect vital U.S. national interests when all other options have failed. In August, Haass made a splash when he argued that, pace Obama, Afghanistan no longer fits this criterion. With the U.S. administration ideologically inclined toward Haass’s cautious realism, there should be no doubt that his words resonate in the highest reaches of the White House.

Reading list: Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, by Liaquat Ahamed; The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, by Edward N. Luttwak; Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer.

Wants to visit: Indonesia

Best idea: Creating a large pool of money to discourage deforestation.

76. George Ayittey

for pushing policymakers to let Africa help itself.

Economist | American University | Washington

Ayittey, a Ghanaian economist and head of the Free Africa Foundation, has spent his career trying to convince the world that Africans, not aid workers, will set Africa right. Enough already with the victim complex, he argues: Let’s get to work. That philosophy has never been more relevant than in 2009, when the debate over international assistance kicked into high gear. If it were up to Ayittey, the world would go beyond reforming the distribution of aid and gradually do away with handouts altogether. Aside from charity’s ineffectiveness, he notes, “[T]he presumption that Africans don’t know what is good for them and that Americans or other foreigners know what is best for Africans is extremely offensive.”

Best idea: Rotate the U.N. General Assembly meetings. Hold the next one in Iran, Libya, North Korea, Venezuela, or Zimbabwe.

Worst idea: The gift of an iPod by President Obama to the Queen of England.

Gadget: Twitter and iPhone.

77. Amory Lovins

for the intellectual marriage of economics, efficiency, and the environment.

Scientist | Rocky Mountain Institute | Snowmass, Colo.

For more than three decades, this man once described as a “Johnny Appleseed of ideas” has been a dogged evangelist for the notion that conservation isn’t just virtuous — it’s profitable. Lovins’s basic premise is that it’s much cheaper to save energy than to generate it. Measuring success in “negawatts” (units of energy conserved), he has worked to convince numerous clients, including giants such as Wal-Mart and the Pentagon, that small, common-sense tweaks in the way they consume energy can prevent millions of dollars of unnecessary consumption. “I don’t do problems,” he told an interviewer. “I do solutions.”

Wants to visit: Chilean Patagonia

Best idea: PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) bonds to finance efficiency-and-renewables retrofits of buildings — ultimately perhaps all U.S. buildings.

Worst idea: Expand nuclear power.

78. Bill McKibben

for making global warming a people’s cause.

Environmentalist | | Ripton, Vt.

The End of Nature, McKibben’s seminal 1989 book, introduced many to the novel scientific idea of climate change. The prolific author and long-time environmentalist has since made it his mission to serve as a conduit between scientific discovery and political action. The success of a small protest he organized in 2006 made him realize that the weakness of the anti-global-warming movement was that it had failed to capture the popular imagination. So he co-founded, a campaign to popularize the view that the best target for atmospheric carbon dioxide is 350 parts per million. On Oct. 24, the group sponsored an International Day of Climate Action, which included more than 5,000 events in 181 countries and was the largest ever coordinated global rally of any kind.

On bridging the gulf between rich and poor countries: One of the great problems in dealing with the climate is that we have this enormous gulf between rich and poor around the world and that the energy future looks different to people on different sides of that gulf. Over the years, that’s stymied progress. What has done to try to change that is bring citizens to bear on this — people all over the world who understand now just how dire this emergency is, who understand that there is no such thing as development in a world that’s warming fast.

On climate good guys and bad guys: The U.S. is responsible more than any other country for the historical carbon burden in the atmosphere, and the average American still uses around four times as much carbon every day as the average Chinese. China is now deploying renewable energy faster than any place on Earth. Blaiming China is just the talk of people who don’t want to change and are looking for an excuse.

79. Anne-Marie Slaughter

for helping transform Foggy Bottom from the inside out.

Director, Policy Planning | State Department | Washington

This year, Slaughter left her position as the dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School to head the U.S. State Department’s internal think tank and advise Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (No. 6). In articles and, more recently, policy briefs, she has stressed the importance of recognizing that the United States is an actor in a networked and disaggregated world, which needs to reach out to everyone from businesses to splinter groups — not just other countries — to succeed and prosper. In a lauded Foreign Affairs article, she explained, “In this world, the state with the most connections will be the central player, able to set the global agenda and unlock innovation and sustainable growth.” At the State Department, she is also heading Clinton’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, a reform initiative meant to transform the department into a 21st-century diplomatic force, and devising “smart power” strategies for Clinton’s signature issues.

80. Samantha Power

for moving from moral authority to government authority on human rights.

White House special assistant | National Security Council | Washington

Six years after penning her Pulitzer Prize-winning A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Power has gone from the outside in: from critic of government inaction during humanitarian catastrophe to advisor in the Obama White House, where she works on, among other things, peacekeeping programs and resettling Iraqi refugees. Advising Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Power’s big idea was for the president to embody a new kind of strength: She thinks it is more difficult “to be in a room with Ahmadinejad than lobbing verbal hand grenades against him from 5,000 miles away.” She brings to her post not just the convictions of an activist scholar, but also another critical asset: the ear of the president.

81. John Arquilla

for bringing network theory to counterterrorism.

Cyberwar theorist | U.S. Naval Postgraduate School | Monterey, Calif.

It was during the first Gulf War that Arquilla, a self-described “bombs and bullets” guy, became a cybersoldier. As U.S-led forces routed Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard, Arquilla realized that their biggest advantage was communications. But this strength was also a great vulnerability: A small group of hackers could disrupt their network with a few keystrokes. In a widely publicized Rand Corp. study, “Swarming and the Future of Conflict,” Arquilla began to theorize about other ways that cybercriminals could wreak havoc on an increasingly networked society and the similarities between fighting hackers and fighting terrorist networks. “You have to hunt like a network to defeat a network” by empowering small, decentralized, local groups abroad and at home, he told the New Yorker. Arquilla counts the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are stationed in smaller units throughout an area as opposed to being located on a single, large base, as evidence that the military is slowly coming to understand how to counter a decentralized foe.

Reading list: Terrorism: How to Respond, by Richard English; Garibaldi and His Enemies, by Christopher Hibbert; Tal-Botvinnik 1960, by Mikhail Tal.

Wants to visit: Turkey

Gadget: Throwaway cell phone.

82. Peter W. Singer

for asking what happens when you remove the human element from war.

Military scholar | Brookings Institution | Washington

A leading expert on the mechanization of war, Singer is deeply knowledgeable about innovations from toy-sized robots that search cars for explosives to drones controlled by pilots half a world away. But he is not simply a cataloger of gadgets. Instead, as in his most recent book, this year’s Wired for War, he brilliantly explores the moral, ethical, political, and military costs of the unmanning of combat. As a result, he has become a pre-eminent voice in the debate over U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq: “We are now creating a very similar problem to what the Israelis face in Gaza.… They’ve gotten very good at killing Hamas leaders. They have in no way, shape, or form succeeded in preventing a 12-year-old [from] joining Hamas,” Singer said.

Reading list: Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown; Sharpe’s Battle, by Bernard Cornwell; Fool, by Christopher Moore.

Wants to visit: Australia

Best idea: Obama’s Cairo speech.

Worst idea: The health-care debate in the United States.


83. Paul Farmer

for bringing communities into public health in Haiti and beyond.

Medical anthropologist | Partners in Health | Cambridge, Mass.

A physician and medical anthropologist, Farmer began his life’s work when he stepped off a plane in Haiti 27 years ago. The organization he helped found there, Partners in Health, works to strengthen communities as well as answer specific medical needs and has now expanded to Peru, Lesotho, and Russia, among other places. Its recipe for fighting HIV/AIDS through multiple channels (medicines, better nutrition, and health infrastructure) has become a model, adopted by everyone from the World Health Organization to the U.S. government. Farmer also serves as deputy to former U.S. President Bill Clinton in his position as U.N. special envoy to Haiti, where he could prove helpful indeed.

On the big ideas in the aid world today: We have 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day. So if we can’t hurry up the social justice movement to make sure that the world’s resources are spent more equitably, we will have an explosive situation.

On the limits of NGOs: If you’re interested in rights — things like the right to health care, to clean water, to education, or even a job — which institutions confer those rights, especially rights to poor people? It’s the government. So while celebrating the NGO movement is a really important thing to do, we really need to find ways to strengthen public-sector capacity.

Reading list: Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz.

Gadget: Just a few months ago I got a BlackBerry, but I’m not so sure it’s great.


84 . Hu Shuli

for persisting in the idea that public accountability is possible even in one-party China.

journalist | China

Within an hour of learning about the devastating earthquake that struck western China last year, Hu, the founding editor of Caijing magazine, had dispatched her first reporter to Sichuan — an unremarkable decision in most other parts of the world. But in a country with active censorship and absolutely no tradition of watchdog journalism, Hu has been a pioneer, publishing muckraking stories on SARS, industrial pollution, and corruption. Hu says she wants journalism to be a tool for improving the system — not for blind praise of Beijing or for gotcha-style sensationalism. Her guiding philosophy, as she told an interviewer, is “If it’s not absolutely forbidden, we do it.” Alas, in November, Hu left Caijing after a battle with management over editorial control, suggesting that China may not be ready for her brand of investigative reporting.

Wants to visit: Turkey

Best idea: Improve the mechanism of international financial policymaking and collaboration of actions; strengthen the international regulatory system.

Worst idea: The current financial crisis is only an episode of economic history that will be absorbed soon.


85. Jacqueline Novogratz

for helping build a new generation of social entrepreneurs.

Development entrepreneur | Acumen Fund | New York

In 1986, Novogratz left a profitable career in corporate banking to travel to Africa, fully intent on saving the world. What she discovered is that Africans did not want to be saved — rather, they wanted to save themselves. With that lesson in mind, Novogratz founded the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit venture capital fund, in 2001. Today, Acumen has invested $40 million in more than 25 countries, for everything from mosquito bed nets in Africa to agricultural systems in Pakistan. Novogratz’s book, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World, was published this year, bringing a wider audience to her unique approach to aid.

Reading list: Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; Tribes, by Seth Godin; The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong; Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.


86. Jacques Attali

for defining public intellectual in the country that invented them.

Economist | France

For 20 years, Attali has been a major figure in French public life, as an advisor to President François Mitterrand in the 1980s and then as an investor, the head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the author of numerous books. This year, at the request of President Nicolas Sarkozy, an Attali-led committee produced a groundbreaking report advising the president on how to kick-start growth by shrinking the lumbering French bureaucracy and implementing dozens of free market reforms. Attali also published a follow-up to the acclaimed Millennium, his 1991 book warning of the endpoint of globalization: a stateless world, populated by the hyperwealthy and the destitute poor. His prediction in 2009’s A Brief History of the Future is that his globalized vision will come true — but not before the end of American hegemony and horrific bloody wars.

Reading list: Co-opetition, by Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff; Operation Shylock, by Philip Roth; Le Japon n’existe pas, by Alberto Torres-Blandina.

Wants to visit: Papua New Guinea

Best idea: World government.

Worst idea: Legalization of euthanasia.


87. Karen Armstrong

for advocating a truce in the religion wars.

Religious scholar | Britain

Fundamentalism is a modern invention, not a phenomenon inherent in religious belief itself, argues Armstrong, a one-time aspiring Catholic nun who has published more than 20 books on comparative religion, including this year’s The Case for God and histories of Prophet Muhammad and the Bible. Armstrong is now launching a Charter for Compassion to promote the spirit of flexibility and humanity she thinks is present in all the major religions. “Religion was not supposed to provide explanations that lay within the competence of reason,” she wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “but to help us live creatively with realities for which there are no easy solutions and find an interior haven of peace.”

Reading list: A Concise Economic History of the World, by Rondo Cameron; Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen; The Believers, by Zoë Heller.

Gadget: BlackBerry!


88. Sunita Narain

for giving voice to India’s environmental conscience.

Director | Centre for Science and Environment | India

Narain has a long-standing penchant for picking — and usually winning — David-and-Goliath fights. At the helm of a small but highly influential NGO, Narain is the aggressive public face of India’s environmental movement, waging war on both big-business polluters and the government interests that shelter them. The central conviction animating Narain’s work is the idea that environmentalism is at root an issue of equality — of access to resources and freedom from health-endangering pollution, not simply of rivers and endangered species. Most recently, she was at the forefront of a campaign to expose pesticide contamination in domestically produced Coke and Pepsi products, the success of which won her personal plaudits from India’s health minister and Bollywood film producers alike.


89. Adam Michnik

for keeping the flame of anti-Moscow resistance burning in Eastern Europe.

Editor | Gazeta Wyborcza | Poland

From underground dissident to establishment democrat, Michnik has helped shape Polish intellectual and political life during its turbulent transition from Cold War flashpoint to beacon of New Europe. Throughout, he has been a clarion voice of warning about the Russian hegemon to the east. A former activist in the trade union Solidarity, he went on to found the influential national daily Gazeta Wyborcza in 1989. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the accession of an independent Poland to NATO and the European Union, Michnik’s dream of joining the liberal Western order would appear complete. Today, however, with the country’s elites divided and Russia reasserting itself, Michnik once again finds himself the voice of an informal pro-democracy opposition movement and a proselytizer for what he views as the incomplete journey toward the democratic ideas he championed.


90. Minxin Pei

for reminding us of the dark side of China’s rise.

China scholar | Claremont McKenna College | Claremont, Calif.

Pei has made a name raining on Beijing’s parade, especially during the particularly jingoistic 60th anniversary year of the People’s Republic. According to Pei, the country’s leaders have attempted a shotgun wedding of planned economy and free markets, authoritarianism and democracy. Although the ruling Communist Party’s policies have yielded high rates of economic growth, the distorted priorities they have created are causing the rapid and unsustainable accumulation of social deficits. Without a civil society to channel relations between the state and its people, Pei warns, China’s rulers face a perpetual and troubling crisis of legitimacy.

Best idea: The public option in U.S. health-care reform (although it is unlikely to pass).

Worst idea: The supersovereign international reserve currency proposed by China.


91. Willem Buiter

for his maverick commentary on the financial crisis.

Economist | London School of Economics | Britain

This august economist’s idiosyncratic viewpoint went global when he took to the pages of the Financial Times and later started his indispensable blog, Maverecon. It’s incisive and wonky — and very distinctive. Take, for example, Buiter’s initial analysis of the U.S. bank recapitalization plan: “Picking through the entrails of this multi-faceted, surprisingly incomplete, seriously underfunded, occasionally well-designed but mostly inadequate, counterproductive and unnecessarily moral-hazard-creating set of proposals was just too depressing. I will wait till I am at my parents’ home this weekend, mollified and mellowed by my father’s good claret.” Readers may often feel they need to glance at an econometrics textbook to follow his more complex arguments, but his attention to detail and witty insight have made him invaluable.

Best idea: Limiting (and preferably reducing) population size is the best anti-global-warming policy.

Worst idea: Cash for Clunkers.


92. Rizal Sukma

for pushing a radical new view of Indonesia’s role in the world.

Political scientist | Centre for Strategic and International Studies | Indonesia

Sukma is a leading theorist of the relationship between Islam and the state, and the global role of his country, Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Sukma recently published his book, Islam in Indonesian Foreign Policy, which sketched the tensions that have existed between the identity of Indonesia’s people and the government’s largely secular institutions since independence in August 1945. With Indonesia still grappling with the legacy of dictator Suharto’s 32-year rule, Sukma’s ideas could help chart a course that firmly integrates Indonesia into the world — and finally disproves the canard that Islam and democracy can’t mix.

Best idea: Amartya Sen’s idea of justice.

Worst idea: Muammar al-Qaddafi’s idea of a one-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict.


93. Martha Nussbaum

for making philosophy matter.

Philosopher | University of Chicago | Chicago

Nussbaum grew up among the intellectual elite and as a philosopher has taught at Harvard University, Brown University, and, now, the University of Chicago. But her most persistent message is that philosophy is for everyone and about everything. “[T]he central motivation for philosophizing is the urgency of human suffering,” she has written, and “the goal of philosophy is human flourishing.” In her new book, From Disgust to Humanity, she takes on the timely, controversial issue of same-sex marriage from a universal, historical standpoint, citing moral disgust as the root of discrimination and eliminating that disgust as the key to equality.


94. David Grossman

for demonstrating how Zionism and pacifism can coexist.

Novelist | Peace activist | Israel

Grossman knows tragedy too well. Three years ago, during the Israel-Lebanon war, the famed Israeli author spoke out in favor of peace and urged his country’s military to back down. Three days later, his 20-year-old son was killed in the conflict. Nevertheless, Grossman has remained a steadfast pacifist and peace activist. He first became famous as an advocate for Palestinian recognition and rights with The Yellow Wind, his 1988 study of the lives of people in the West Bank. Ever since, he has urged Israel toward open engagement (even with Hamas), an end to occupation and settlements, and decisive moves in the direction of a two-state solution. “[R]eality is not one hermetic story that we, and the Palestinians, too, have been telling ourselves for generations,” he wrote in January. “Reality is not just the story we are locked into, a story made up, in no small measure, of fantasies, wishful thinking and nightmares.”


95. Enrique Krauze

for championing democracy and common sense in Latin America.

Historian | National College | Mexico

There are few more staunch supporters of democracy in Latin America than Krauze. But when U.S. journalists and policymakers began labeling Mexico a “failed state” ensnarled in a drug war earlier this year, Krauze warned that misperceptions about his country were not just ill-informed but downright dangerous: “While we bear responsibility for our problems, the caricature of Mexico being propagated in the United States only increases the despair on both sides of the Rio Grande,” he wrote in the New York Times. After all, he reminded his U.S. audience, the United States’ narcotics market drives his country’s trafficking habit. Equally important this year has been his deeply researched, psychologically insightful biography of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, El Poder y el Delirio (The Power and the Mania), revealing the emptiness behind the leader’s pumped-up facade.

Best idea: Microfinance and cash for the poor in Mexico and Brazil.

Worst idea: Hugo Chávez’s “socialism of the 21st century.”


96. Hans Rosling

for boggling our minds with paradigm-shattering data.

Public health scholar | Karolinska Institute | Sweden

Rosling, a doctor and global-health professor, has become famous for his energetic lectures, in which he narrates mind-blowing statistics on development and public health — as they literally move across a screen. Imagine x-y axes filled with data points, each representing a country. As time passes, the dots move, realigning to show changes in child mortality, percentage of paved roads, unemployment rates, or pretty much any other metric you can imagine. Rosling’s quest to use numbers to shatter stereotypes of rich and poor countries has brought him global prominence.

Reading list: Wars, Guns, and Votes, by Paul Collier; A Peace to End All Peace, by David Fromkin; Summer Farms in Sweden 1550 to 1920, by Jesper Larsson.


97. Valerie Hudson

for showing that gender imbalances have global consequences.

Political scientist | Brigham Young University | Provo, Utah

Hudson’s indispensable 2004 study Bare Branches may have been partially responsible for the scaling back of China’s one-child policy; the book, written with Andrea den Boer, explored how unequal sex ratios in a country might augur war, social unrest, and other problems. This year, Hudson used her knowledge of the impact of sex ratios on society to explore not just the widening gap in China but also the impact of the Great Recession, which left millions more men than women unemployed, with potentially disastrous implications for security worldwide.

Worst idea: Leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban. Have you asked the little girls of Afghanistan what they think of that idea?


98. Andrew Mwenda

for fearlessly critiquing government at home and abroad.

Editor | The Independent | Uganda

Mwenda, a dogged and fiercely eloquent Ugandan journalist and editor of the recently launched newspaper and website The Independent, is a vociferous critic of all elements of the African aid structure. Frequently harassed by the Ugandan government for his outspokenness and currently facing trial on 21 charges (including sedition), Mwenda goes even further than most aid critics: The continent, he argues, needs to fail in order to learn hard lessons as it picks up the pieces on its own. He responded with fire to Obama’s July speech in Ghana, writing, “Obama needs to listen to Africans much more, not lecture them using the same old teleprompter.”


99. Emily Oster

for her creative research into what really helps the poor.

Economist | University of Chicago Booth School of Business | Chicago

Oster, just a few years after receiving her Ph.D, has already shown promise as one of the most inventive economists of her generation. Her recent work has focused on India, where she has discovered surprising outcomes: She found, for instance, that television access decreases domestic violence and that the higher frequency in vaccinations for Indian boys over Indian girls might account for 20 percent of the country’s sex imbalance. Her application of the techniques of behavioral economics to life-or-death situations distinguishes her from other headline-grabbing economists her age.


100. Paul Kennedy

for looking ahead to the decline of the American empire.

Historian | Yale University | New Haven, Conn.

Kennedy literally wrote the book on imperial decline. His classic, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, charts the course of the great European empires, describing the pattern of economic expansion, territorial conquest, and imperial overstretch to which countries from Spain to Britain fell victim. Now, Kennedy has trained his sights on the United States, which, he says, is nearing the end of its own imperial dominance. “Our dependency upon foreign investors will approximate more and more the state of international indebtedness we historians associate with the reigns of Philip II of Spain and Louis XIV of France — attractive propositions at first, then steadily losing glamour,” he wrote this year, adding, “Uncle Sam may have to come down a peg or two.”

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