Welcome to Foreign Policy’s 10th annual special edition of Global Thinkers. A decade ago, in launching the series, FP’s then-editors wrote: “In a year of worldwide economic crisis and dangerous wars, of radical innovation and newfound realpolitik, street revolution and blunt rhetoric, we could think of no better way to make sense of it than through the big ideas of those who shape our understanding of the world.”
That insight works just as well now as it did 10 years ago. (And the description of the world is also almost as apt today as it was in 2009.) So this year we decided that there was no better way to explicate our current, wildly complex moment—and peer into the year ahead—than to focus once more on the thinkers and doers who had a profound impact on the planet in the last 12 months. The idea is not to honor do-gooders (though we feature plenty of them) but to shine a spotlight on some of the most influential people in the world—for better or worse.
Since this is the 10th anniversary of Global Thinkers, we decided to split this year’s list of 100 into 10 groups. To start things off, we singled out 10 nominees who—by our highly scientific calculations—have had the greatest impact on the past decade. After that are people 40 and under, followed by the most influential minds in the areas of defense and security, energy and climate, technology, economics and business, science and health, and activism and the arts. Since we’re sure that you will disagree with some of our inclusions and omissions, we added a category of Global Thinkers chosen through an online readers’ poll. And since so many amazing people died in 2018, we featured some of them as well, in a category we call The Departed.
Of course, part of the fun of assembling a list such as this is the opportunity to ask its members questions and to ask other prominent thinkers to write about our Global Thinkers. Robert Kagan kicks things off by explaining why 2018 was the year of the strongman—and 2019 may be too. Asked what we should anticipate this year, Fareed Zakaria, who was first named a Global Thinker in 2009, responds with an essay describing how economics was the key to understanding the last several decades but can no longer play that role today. That’s not to say economists aren’t still important, of course. They remain vital, which is why we turned to Douglas Irwin—who has recently emerged as one of the best interpreters of U.S. President Donald Trump’s expanding trade wars—to predict how those battles will play out in 2019. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, who has been a Global Thinker many times over, looks at how well the world recovered from the Great Recession of a decade ago and what must be done to prevent another one.
One of the reasons economics can’t explain everything is because some problems defy our brains’ ability to fully comprehend them; we just can’t wrap our heads around them. Climate change is probably the best example of this phenomenon—which is why we asked an artist, the novelist Amitav Ghosh, to take it on. In an essay looking back at the chaos caused by the world’s last great climate shift—the Little Ice Age, which peaked between the 15th and 18th centuries—he tries to predict the kinds of ecological, social, and political upheavals we should prepare for. Other topics, of course, are best left to the experts. So we turned to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who led the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, to describe one of his nemeses: Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force and its chief Syria strategist. In a very different vein, Helen Clark, a past prime minister of New Zealand, details the many breakthroughs achieved by the current officeholder, Jacinda Ardern. Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan LGBT activist, reports on the international impact of Menaka Guruswamy’s successful fight to get India to overturn its gay sex ban. And Carlo Rovelli, the Italian-born theoretical physicist, presents a beautiful remembrance of his beloved colleague Stephen Hawking, who died in 2018.
We’ve all heard about the wisdom of crowds, but some crowds are wiser than others. Recognizing this, we surveyed our entire list of Global Thinkers to get their collective predictions about the biggest challenges looming this year. We also asked some of them for reading lists and others about what they plan to do next. Put it all together, and you get a compelling, complex picture of our world today—and an intriguing, expert view into what’s about to come.
The Top 10 of the Last 10 Years
40 & Under
Defense & Security
Energy & Climate
Economics & Business
Science & Health
Activism & the Arts
The Top 10 of the Last 10 Years
The last decade has been a rough one for democracy. Emboldened by the weakness and divisions in the West, authoritarian leaders around the world have refined a playbook for acquiring and consolidating power. The strategy goes something like this: appeal to nationalism, stoke fear and divide people into an “us” and a “them,” use that polarization to win an election (even if it’s just an internal party vote, as in China), and systematically undermine democratic rules and other procedural safeguards. And then repeat. Today, one can see those rules being honed and deployed in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, Xi Jinping’s China, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, Viktor Orban’s Hungary, and even Donald Trump’s America. These strongmen—and they are all men—are finding strength in each other’s success and the lack of a coordinated pushback. Expect more aspiring authoritarians to follow in their stead.
Springtime for Strongmen The world’s authoritarians are on the march—and the West helped pave the way. By Robert Kagan
Chancellor of Germany
During her 13 years in office, Angela Merkel has held together the European project through canny pragmatism and force of will. Where other politicians might have buckled, she navigated the hazardous eurozone crisis and stood up for the rights of refugees. Along the way, Merkel also crafted a new strategic role for Germany as the political and moral leader of a fractured West. Now, in the autumn of her political career, the chancellor finds herself buffeted by rising nationalism—raising the question of whether her legacy will be celebrated or discarded.
Former President of the United States of America
Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House showed what an intellectual can and cannot achieve in the world’s most powerful office. His much-maligned but deeply deliberative approach to decision-making helped steer the global economy through its worst crisis since the Great Depression. His renewed emphasis on diplomacy secured a nuclear agreement with Iran, a global compact on climate change, and a fresh arms reduction treaty with Russia. To be sure, Obama’s presidency had many flaws—most notably its failure to adequately address the Syrian civil war. But the importance of Obama’s accomplishments, and of the eloquence and dignity with which he went about his day-to-day work, grows more evident every time his successor holds a press conference or types a tweet.
Co-founder and executive chairman, Alibaba
Few people can claim to have transformed an entire society. Jack Ma can make a credible case. Alibaba, the e-commerce company he founded in 1999, has enabled businesses to reach once inaccessible consumers, bringing a generation of Chinese citizens into contact with domestic and international markets and helping to fuel China’s breakneck growth. Through its innovations in supply chain logistics and its leading role in Chinese research on artificial intelligence, Ma’s Alibaba symbolizes how a company can give an entire generation access to online business opportunities—and help turn a once poor country into a superpower.
The Women of the #MeToo Movement
The thousands of people who in 2017 and 2018 dared to discuss their experiences with sexual assault and harassment have ensured that victims can no longer be ignored. This uncoordinated army has brought down titans of media, business, and politics, first in the United States and then around the world. For all the changes wrought by the #MeToo movement, however, the reckoning remains partial, and all the brave testimony—and the backlash it provoked—has revealed just how much still needs to change.
#MeToo Goes Global Here’s where the movement took off in 2018—and where to look for activism in 2019. By Sarah Wildman
Managing Director, International Monetary Fund
Since taking over the International Monetary Fund’s top job in 2011, Christine Lagarde has spent her time in office dispensing tough love. The strict conditions she attached to bailouts for countries such as Greece and Ukraine haven’t won her many friends but have helped calm international markets during a turbulent decade. In an era when skepticism toward international institutions is growing, Lagarde has time and again proved the importance of the fund’s role as a lender of last resort, even while trying to retool it as a champion of progressive policies on climate change and inequality. Her aim: to prevent crises before they happen.
Is the World Prepared for the Next Financial Crisis? New regulations and reforms have helped, but major threats still loom. By Christine Lagarde
European Commissioner for Competition
By levying massive fines against Google, Apple, Facebook, and the like, Margrethe Vestager has positioned herself as the world’s leading antitrust regulator. Her work at the European Commission has never been more important. With U.S. officials reluctant to punish American tech giants for their abuse of customer data, monopolistic tactics, and shady tax dealings, Vestager has taken a lonely stand for digital transparency and consumer rights—helping to launch a movement for reform that is now taking off in Europe.
Author and TV host
One of the most influential foreign-policy analysts for almost two decades, Fareed Zakaria has proved prescient on subjects including the decline of U.S. power, the rise of the rest, and the spread of illiberal democracy. As the U.S. media continues to grow more insular, his CNN show, Fareed Zakaria GPS, now in its 11th year, remains a rare haven of smart takes on world affairs. The Indian-born Zakaria’s success offers hope that readers and viewers still want intelligent coverage of global events—even if fewer and fewer outlets are willing to provide it.
The End of Economics? Human beings are rarely rational—so it’s time we all stopped pretending they are. By Fareed Zakaria
Bill and Melinda Gates
Co-chairs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The scale of Bill and Melinda Gates’s philanthropy is simply astounding. Since its creation in 2000, the couple’s eponymous foundation has paid out some $46 billion to its grantees and inspired legions of other ultra-rich citizens to donate their wealth to charitable causes. Though criticized for its lack of transparency and outsize influence over global health spending, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has stepped in to provide funding for public health initiatives around the world at a time when the gap between rich and poor is growing ever larger and governments’ foreign aid budgets are shrinking.
Founder and CEO, Amazon
What started out as an online bookstore in 1994 now touches just about every aspect of commerce, revolutionizing how people around the world browse and shop for all kinds of products. Today, Amazon is one of the world’s five biggest companies in terms of market capitalization, and its stock valuation has turned Jeff Bezos into the richest man in modern history. Bezos plans to use the money to expand Amazon’s reach, develop more innovations like the voice-activated virtual assistant Alexa, and conduct research into artificial intelligence and cloud computing. He has also made forays into space travel and mass media: Since buying the Washington Post in 2013, Bezos has pumped big money into the paper, helping to turn it into a key chronicler of the Trump administration.
40 & Under
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Jacinda Ardern, 38 years old, embodies a progressive political counterexample to the age of Donald Trump, one built on inclusiveness and equal rights. In her short time in office—she became New Zealand’s prime minister in October 2017 and then took a six-week maternity leave starting in June 2018—she has championed social welfare reform and stepped up health and education spending while also embracing New Zealand’s indigenous population by pledging to ensure that the Maori language is taught in all schools by 2025.
As China’s most prominent #MeToo activist, Yue Xin, a college student, has paid a high price for demanding that the government live up to its stated values. After crusading for transparency over a sexual assault case at Peking University that culminated in the victim’s suicide, Yue faced online censorship. She then turned to labor activism, joining workers in Shenzen campaigning for the right to form a trade union. In August 2018, authorities detained her, and she has not been heard from since.
Kim Jong Un
Leader of North Korea
In 2018, Kim Jong Un, who is believed to be 35, managed to dramatically improve the long-term security of his regime. His determined pursuit of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles—in the face of sanctions and diplomatic isolation—won him a long-cherished prize: a personal meeting with a U.S. president. The June summit with Donald Trump in Singapore raised the promise of North Korea’s economic development and cost Kim little in return: No serious expert believes that Kim will ever give up his nuclear weapons, no matter what he promises.
Mohammed bin Salman
Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
Mohammed bin Salman’s shine may have dulled in 2018—but his power has only grown. When the 33-year-old Saudi crown prince’s lieutenants allegedly killed the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, they confirmed the brutal recklessness with which the prince approaches problems. The U.S. Congress responded by increasing its scrutiny of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and several influential public figures pulled out of the prince’s “Davos in the Desert” investment conference that same month. But while his reputation has suffered, the events have done little to diminish Mohammed bin Salman’s importance—not least because the prince continues to boldly stake his country’s future on ending its dependence on oil. The outcome of that initiative will shape the Middle East for generations.
Chancellor of Austria
Anyone interested in the future of European politics must now contend with Sebastian Kurz. The 32-year-old Austrian, who was elected chancellor in 2017, reworked the traditionally center-right Austrian People’s Party by combining an emphasis on tough border policy and national identity with business-friendly economics. This shift allowed Kurz to create an alliance with the once shunned far-right, anti-immigrant Freedom Party of Austria, which shattered political convention and produced something rare in Europe today: a stable government.
Prime Minister of Ireland
The gay son of an Indian immigrant, Leo Varadkar, 40, symbolizes the social changes sweeping modern Ireland. In 2017, two years after coming out, he was elected taoiseach—Ireland’s prime minister—and successfully campaigned in favor of liberalizing abortion rules in the historically conservative Catholic country. He also faced down the U.K. government in Brexit negotiations, driving a hard line to maintain a soft border with Northern Ireland.
U.S. Representative from New York
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez channeled the rage triggered by Donald Trump’s presidency into something that was once almost unthinkable in the United States: victory by a 29-year-old Latina democratic socialist over a white male Democratic Party machine politician. Now the youngest woman to ever serve in the U.S. Congress, she stands at the forefront of a newly resurgent progressive movement, whose candidates are winning elections on pledges of universal health care, a federal jobs guarantee, and criminal justice reform.
Power to the People Across the globe, new political players, often from outside the mainstream, are displacing the usual suspects. By Benjamin Soloway
Journalist and author
Perhaps the foremost investigative journalist of his generation, Ronan Farrow, 31, proved his range as a reporter in 2018. Not only did he continue to expose allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men—including CBS chief executive Les Moonves—but he also published the best-selling book War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence, which pays homage to U.S. diplomacy and its losing battle with militarism.
Senior advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump
Stephen Miller has accrued power by feeding his patron’s appetite for provocation. Miller, 33, is the engineer of the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policies and behind the nationalist rhetoric that defined its first two years in office. Miller has also proved to be a wily survivor, holding down his job in a White House that has seen unprecedented turnover. His status as a rare constant at the president’s side has only increased Miller’s influence.
Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
Emir of Qatar
2018 started badly but ended well for Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. More than a year into a punishing blockade against Qatar by a coalition of Persian Gulf states, the 38-year-old emir has outplayed Saudi Arabia, his regional rival. By cozying up to the Trump administration, continuing to spend lavishly on investments, and masterminding a global public relations offensive, the ruler of Qatar has emerged as a cunning force to be reckoned with in the Middle East.
Defense & Security
Commander of Iran’s Quds Force
Qassem Suleimani has led Iran’s covert military efforts for two decades now, but his role has never been larger than it is today. Suleimani’s fingerprints are everywhere that Iran is active, from Yemen to Iraq to Syria. He has also become the public face of Iran’s response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats. “We are near you, where you can’t even imagine,” Suleimani warned in July 2018. “We are ready.”
Iran’s Deadly Puppet Master Gen. Stanley McChrystal explains exactly why Qassem Suleimani is so dangerous. By Stanley McChrystal
Ursula von der Leyen
Defense Minister of Germany
Since her appointment in 2013, Ursula von der Leyen has transformed the German Defense Ministry, traditionally one of Berlin’s political backwaters, into a platform for the country’s international ambitions. In 2018, von der Leyen advocated for Germany to increase its defense spending and worked to rally domestic support for replacing the country’s atrophied military hardware—a difficult mission given the lingering pacifism nurtured by Germany in the postwar period.
Olga Sánchez Cordero
Interior Secretary of Mexico
Olga Sánchez Cordero is one of the most influential voices in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s cabinet and has promised to find new ways to reduce the high death toll of Mexico’s drug war. She is on the front lines of the new government’s plans to decriminalize drugs, sideline the military from day-to-day law enforcement, and offer amnesty to nonviolent offenders. A former supreme court justice who has supported limits on presidential power, Sánchez Cordero is the first woman to serve as her country’s interior secretary.
Prime Minister of Ethiopia
In less than a year in office, Abiy Ahmed has already made history in Ethiopia by forging peace with its neighbor Eritrea. The move reunited families and reopened long-dormant trade networks. Now Abiy is focused on healing Ethiopia’s own divisions, and his status as the country’s first leader from the restive Oromia region has given many of his constituents hope that he’ll succeed.
President and Chief Operating Officer, SpaceX
Under Gwynne Shotwell’s leadership, SpaceX has become indispensable to Washington’s pursuit of a military advantage beyond the planet’s boundaries. Having previously flown resupply missions for NASA, SpaceX won its first contract—for $130 million—with the U.S. Air Force in 2018. Shotwell will soon be responsible for launching into orbit satellites that could be used for secure communications and intelligence gathering—and that could one day detect and destroy incoming missiles.
Co-founder and CEO, Palantir
Palantir is in many ways a Silicon Valley archetype. Alex Karp and most of his co-founders are Stanford University graduates, and the company’s name is a geeky nod to palantíri, seeing stones used to communicate and view distant events in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. What sets Palantir apart is its work with the U.S. government—a relationship that goes all the way back to the company’s initial funding by In-Q-Tel, the U.S. intelligence community’s venture capital arm. Karp has positioned Palantir to take on an ambitious span of tasks: The company is now running analysis for the majority of the U.S. government’s executive departments, taking on cybersecurity for the Defense Department and drug review for the Department of Health and Human Services, among other missions.
Journalist and founder of Bellingcat
Eliot Higgins has shown that a laptop with access to social media, YouTube, and Google Maps can reveal more about far-flung wars than government intelligence agencies can. And it all began with Bellingcat, a website he launched in 2014 through a successful Kickstarter campaign. After breakthrough revelations from battlefields in Ukraine and Syria, Higgins used open-source intelligence in 2018 to track down the identities of two Russian operatives who allegedly poisoned the former spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom.
Taking on the Kremlin From His Couch Eliot Higgins and Bellingcat are fighting Vladimir Putin and his ilk, using little more than computers and smartphones. By Sasha Polakow-Suransky
Aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin
As one of the closest advisors to the most powerful man in Russia, Vladislav Surkov has perfected the art of propaganda. Surkov has not only fortified the Kremlin’s power by rearranging Russia’s landscape of opposition parties and civil society groups but has also exploited media fragmentation to increase the reach of Russian disinformation—at home and abroad. His approach is said to have inspired various imitators around the world, including anonymous social media trolls and the Trump administration’s press operation.
Prime Minister of Bangladesh
Sheikh Hasina has responded to the greatest security challenge facing Bangladesh with a generosity that she has not always shown her opponents at home. Rather than turn away the approximate 700,000 Rohingya who fled persecution in Myanmar, Hasina welcomed them and allowed them to remain in her country. There are signs, however, that she may not stay the course as elections near: Despite opposition from U.N. officials and human rights groups, her government is making moves to repatriate several thousand Rohingya.
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister of Indonesia
Susi Pudjiastuti is committed to regenerating her country’s vital fish stocks in ways that are accumulating both fans and enemies. She doesn’t shy away from using scare tactics—Susi is known for blowing up boats that have been caught fishing illegally in Indonesia’s territorial waters. Her brusque approach has coincided with a major downturn in poaching but also a rise in diplomatic tensions with China.
Energy & Climate
Governor of California
As California’s longest-serving governor, Jerry Brown has dedicated much of his tenure to environmental causes. In September 2018, Brown signed a bill to commit California to meeting 100 percent of its electricity needs through carbon-free sources by 2045. In a separate executive order, he put his state—the world’s fifth-largest economy—on the path to becoming fully carbon neutral by the same year. Both moves followed his efforts to create the United States’ only cap-and-trade program for pollution.
Co-founder and Chairman, Tellurian
A Lebanese-American businessman who long worked on Wall Street, Charif Souki is now leading a U.S. pivot to natural gas. In 2016, he co-founded Tellurian, which is responsible for more than a fifth of the world’s liquified natural gas (LNG) in production today. The company will break ground on its first U.S.-based LNG export terminal in 2019.
Amitav Ghosh is best known for his intricate works of historical fiction, often set in or around his native India. But his 2016 book, The Great Derangement, is a searing piece of nonfiction that questions why writers and artists consistently fail to use environmental disasters as centerpieces in their stories. Ghosh blames these omissions for the lack of public will to confront climate change—a point he tirelessly reiterates in speeches around the world.
The Coming Climate Crisis The Little Ice Age could offer a glimpse of our tumultuous future. By Amitav Ghosh
Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University
Throughout her career, Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and atmospheric scientist, has found ways to connect scripture with the data behind global warming. In doing so, she has bridged gaps among scientists, policymakers, and religious communities and continues to gain accolades for her fight against climate change. Given America’s growing political polarization, her work is more important today than ever before.
The Word From a Climate Change Believer Whatever the main issues of 2019 end up being, climate change will make them worse.
President, Environmental Defense Fund
Fred Krupp has run the Environmental Defense Fund for three decades. Unwilling to accept the supposedly inevitable trade-off between environmental protection and corporate profits, Krupp has become famous for finding market-based solutions to environmental problems. In April 2018, he announced plans to build and launch a satellite to monitor methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, among other sources. The satellite’s data will help identify new ways to both cut costs and reduce environmental damage.
Founder and CEO, Ionic Materials
In his 30-year career as a mechanical engineer, Mike Zimmerman has shaken up energy technology more than once. He pioneered a fiber-optic system directly connected to individual homes, as well as plastic housing for semiconductors. Now he’s determined to make conventional lithium-ion batteries safer through his start-up Ionic Materials, which is currently developing a solid-state battery that does not rely on flammable material. If he succeeds, Zimmerman will revolutionize energy storage and break down one of the biggest hurdles to energy efficiency.
Prime Minister of Fiji
After coming to power as a military strongman, Frank Bainimarama has led Fiji since 2007, winning two elections. He has used that time to establish himself as a global advocate for environmental protection, in no small part because his country is on the front lines. Under his leadership, Fiji was the first country to ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change. And in 2018, Bainimarama repeated an earlier offer of refuge to the people of Kiribati and Tuvalu should those islands become inundated by rising sea levels.
U.S. Senator from Alaska
Lisa Murkowski believes that when it comes to energy, the United States needs to take an “all of the above” approach. The influential Alaska Republican, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is a fierce advocate for next-generation nuclear power. In 2018, she introduced a bipartisan bill that would create public-private partnerships to fund research for advanced reactors.
President and CEO of Onshore Wind at GE Renewable Energy
A nearly two-decade veteran of the energy giant GE, Pete McCabe now leads the onshore wind division of the company’s $10 billion renewables initiative. In this role, McCabe runs one of the largest wind turbine manufacturers in the world, with more than 35,000 turbines installed to date. Over the past year, the division broke new ground with projects in places as far-flung as Ukraine and Oman.
Uma Valeti and Nicholas Genovese
Co-founders, Memphis Meats
Uma Valeti and Nicholas Genovese aim to let carnivores be carnivores—but to stop killing animals in the process. The co-founders of Memphis Meats were the first to build a meatball from the cell up. After receiving a windfall of investor funding in 2018, the company could be poised to become a major player in the global market for protein.
Yuval Noah Harari
Author and futurist
In his 2011 best-seller, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari argues that humans have been successful as a species because of our ability to believe in collective shared fictions, such as money. Since then, the interdisciplinary historian has turned to bold proposals for a frightening new world—such as how we might respond ethically to self-driving cars and the need for a new Manhattan Project to address looming environmental crises.
Who Will Win the Race for AI? China and the United States are leading the pack—and the laggards face grave dangers. By Yuval Noah Harari
Venture capitalist and writer
Known for his early innovations in speech recognition, this veteran of Apple, Microsoft, and Google—and the founder of the venture capital fund Sinovation Ventures—asserts that artificial intelligence and humankind can coexist but only if we fundamentally change our concept of work. In his 2018 book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, Kai-Fu Lee also argues that, thanks to its supercharged start-up culture, China will surge ahead of the United States in the great tech race.
Researcher, Google Project Zero
As a researcher at Google, Jann Horn independently discovered the biggest microchip vulnerabilities ever found: Meltdown and Spectre, which affected millions of devices. By finding them, Horn changed the way processors will be made in the future. Now a global celebrity in the cybersecurity field, he continues to hunt for more glitches in the system.
Formerly a site reliability engineer at Uber, in February 2017 Susan Fowler used a blog post to detail a pattern of sexual harassment at the ride-hailing giant. The post went viral almost immediately, leading eventually to the June 2017 ouster of the company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, and caused reverberations throughout Silicon Valley. After leaving Uber, Fowler joined the payment processing company Stripe and in 2018 became an opinion editor at the New York Times, where she focuses on technology’s impact on culture.
Board Chair, Californians for Consumer Privacy
After spending $3.5 million to put a tech privacy initiative on the ballot in California, in 2018 Alastair Mactaggart’s group Californians for Consumer Privacy withdrew the measure. Mactaggart had already convinced lawmakers to sign on to his cause: a landmark new privacy law that would allow citizens to review personal data collected by Facebook, Google, and others and to stop its use for commercial purposes. The wealthy real estate developer’s next fight will be protecting the regulation from federal override before it goes into effect in 2020.
Legal Fellow at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission
In 2017, Lina Khan took Amazon to task in a breakthrough paper published in the Yale Law Journal. In “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” she argued that the company’s market dominance and its accumulation of user data demonstrated an urgent need for the United States to update antitrust law for the era of tech giants. The paper got more than 140,000 hits, and Khan was suddenly a legal celebrity. In July 2018, she joined the U.S. Federal Trade Commission as the agency stepped up its scrutiny of tech companies.
Chairman and Managing Director, Reliance Industries
With a fortune of $44.3 billion, Mukesh Ambani displaced Jack Ma in 2018 as Asia’s richest man. Ambani’s fortune comes from his holdings in the oil, gas, and retail sectors, but he’s likely to make his biggest impact on India through his new telecom venture Jio. By offering cellular data and voice free for the first six months after Jio’s launch, Ambani got more than 100 million Indians to sign up—accelerating a smartphone internet revolution in the world’s largest democracy. The next stage of Ambani’s plan is to use the digital airwaves to sell content and lifestyle products, eventually competing with Google and Facebook.
India’s Digital Dreamer Mukesh Ambani is betting on a smartphone revolution—and spending big money to make it happen. By Ravi Agrawal
Founder AND CEO, Pinboard
In 2009, Maciej Ceglowski created Pinboard, a self-proclaimed “social bookmarking site for introverts.” To this day, despite Pinboard’s growing popularity, he remains its sole employee. Ceglowski’s current project is the Great Slate, an effort to raise funds from tech employees in Silicon Valley for Democratic candidates in difficult and lesser-known races in the United States. In the third quarter of 2018, the fund raised more than a million dollars; around that time, the Twitter account for Pinboard bore the display name “Dork Money Defeats Dark Money.”
Former director of the Cyberspace Administration of China
Lu Wei is an internet czar dethroned. Formerly China’s lead regulator of cyberspace, Lu pleaded guilty in October 2018 to taking $4.6 million in bribes for promotions and other profit-seeking perks. Before his fall from grace, he had reached unprecedented heights of authority as the head internet gatekeeper for the world’s largest online population—shaping how hundreds of millions of Chinese live their digital lives.
Research scientist, Google Brain
Ian Goodfellow is one of the world’s most important figures in machine learning. In 2014, by pitting two artificial intelligence (AI) systems against one another, he discovered that together they could create novel images and sounds—something AI had never been able to do before. His “generative adversarial networks,” as the breakthrough is called, are proof that machines can not only teach themselves but can approximate imagination, too. Goodfellow, now employed by Google, is only 33 years old and continues to work on cutting-edge developments in AI.
What Ian Goodfellow’s Reading
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
by Ben Horowitz
Since I became a manager at Google, I’ve been reading a lot about how to do my new job better. One great point that Ben Horowitz makes in this book is that it is crucial to invest time in training employees. No matter how talented they are when they are hired, they still need to learn how to function within your organization. Because of this book, I’ve started to invest a lot of my time in writing and maintaining guides for some of the challenging experiments my team frequently runs.
by Hassan K. Khalil
The topic of nonlinear systems, explored in this textbook and reference guide, is highly relevant to my research on machine learning. Already, friends and colleagues have successfully used ideas from this branch of mathematics to advance our understanding of how researchers might train more than one machine learning algorithm at once. Understanding that process has been useful for developing AI that can generate novel data, such as a new image, rather than simply process old information, for example by recognizing the content of an existing photograph.
From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia
by Michael McFaul
Michael McFaul recounts his time as U.S. ambassador to Russia, during which he was the victim of a smear campaign launched by the Kremlin. As a machine learning researcher, I’m interested in understanding how such campaigns unfold on social media so that I can develop strategies for mitigating them.
Economics & Business
Businesswoman and activist
Few people can claim to have fought a government in court and won. Gina Miller can: In 2016, she successfully challenged the British government’s right to implement Brexit without a vote in Parliament. The Brexit process has since continued, but this Guyanese-British businesswoman isn’t giving up: Miller has raised funds to back electoral candidates opposed to a hard Brexit. She also stood up to intense online abuse, racism, and death threats and emerged with a 2018 memoir, fittingly titled Rise: Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall & Leading the Way.
The Bane of the Brexiteers How Gina Miller threw a wrench into Britain’s plans to leave the EU. By Sasha Polakow-Suransky
Europe’s chief Brexit negotiator
When Brexit negotiations kicked off in June 2017, Michel Barnier gave his U.K. counterpart a traditional hiking stick, making what some interpreted as a mountaineering analogy about the perils of falling off the path. The Frenchman has won near-unanimous acclaim on the continent for his calm and steadfast negotiating style as the Brexit process inches toward its deadline.
Professor of history at Columbia University
Adam Tooze wants you to know that the markets are not immune to the rise of populism and other political developments. In his 2018 book, Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World, Tooze argues that the global economy is shaped by geopolitics, connecting banking and debt crises to annexations, referendums, and elections. “What we face is not repetition but mutation and metastasis,” he writes of the global recession.
Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund
Being named the International Monetary Fund’s first-ever female chief economist in 2018 was just the latest in a long list of Gita Gopinath’s accolades and accomplishments. She is also a tenured professor at Harvard University, an advisor to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and an economic advisor to the chief minister of the Indian state of Kerala. Gopinath’s latest appointment is particularly interesting because she has argued that flexible exchange rates have limited benefits—a view that runs counter to her new employers’ traditional thinking.
President of the European Council
As president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, has increasingly confronted his home nation, defending European values of integration against rising nationalism. Tusk has also faced off with the United Kingdom, warning since before the 2016 referendum about the negative consequences of a Brexit vote. His role will become ever more crucial in 2019 as he tries to hold together the European project.
United States Trade Representative
Robert Lighthizer is a man on a highly focused mission. “The basic philosophy that we have is that we want free trade without barriers,” he told Congress in July 2018. To that end, Lighthizer has spent his time in office fighting for bilateral trade deals instead of multilateral ones, since such negotiations generally give the United States more clout. No other appointed official had more influence on the Trump administration’s trade agenda in 2018—or is likely to have a bigger impact in 2019.
Yoga guru and businessman
Baba Ramdev is one of the most powerful and famous men in India. Through his television shows and ayurvedic cosmetics empire, this yogi-turned-mogul has brought commercialized wellness into the Indian middle-class home. But Ramdev is also an increasingly influential force in politics. His endorsement in the 2014 election helped Narendra Modi become prime minister, and with the 2019 election coming up, Ramdev’s clout—and his billions of rupees—will play a big role. Remember his name: Ramdev may himself end up in high office one day.
Economist and professor at Dartmouth College
At a time when trade tussles seem to be breaking out all over the world, Douglas Irwin has emerged as one of the clearest interpreters of White House trade policy. According to the Dartmouth economist, U.S. President Donald Trump’s approach to what he calls “easy to win” trade wars resembles the ill-fated Smoot-Hawley tariffs of the 1930s—and the consequences could be equally disastrous.
Understanding Trump’s Trade War This year will show what the president really wants. Here’s what to watch for. By Douglas Irwin
Governor of the People’s Bank of China
As trade tensions between the United States and China heat up, Yi Gang—newly installed as the head of China’s central bank—is fighting to defend the yuan. At International Monetary Fund annual meetings in October 2018, Yi kept talks going with other countries despite predictions that the U.S. Treasury Department would soon label China a currency manipulator. The predictions turned out to be inaccurate—for now. Should tensions escalate, however, Yi says he has plenty of monetary instruments to fight back.
Foreign Affairs Minister of Canada
In 2013, Chrystia Freeland left a successful career in journalism to enter Canadian politics. The gamble paid off: Within two years, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named her minister of international trade and then of foreign affairs. As one of Canada’s leading voices on the world stage, Freeland has emerged as a key defender of a liberal, rules-based international system, speaking out for fair trade policies and against human rights violations. In 2018, Foreign Policy named Freeland Diplomat of the Year.
Science & Health
President, Planned Parenthood
At a time when conservative critics are pushing to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, Leana Wen—named in September 2018 to run the leading provider of reproductive health services in the United States—has a big fight ahead of her. Her track record suggests that she is up to the challenge. As health commissioner of Baltimore, Wen won a lawsuit that resulted in a judge ordering the Trump administration to restore $5 million in grant funding for pregnancy prevention programs.
Inside the Mind of Planned Parenthood’s New Leader Getting to know Dr. Leana Wen. By Sarah Wildman
Michele De Luca
Stem cell biologist
Epidermolysis bullosa (EB) has long been seen as an incurable condition: It causes skin to blister and slough off at the slightest touch. Michele De Luca of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy has found a way to treat it using stem cells. De Luca and his team successfully replaced more than 80 percent of a Syrian refugee boy’s skin by deploying a viral vector to replace a faulty gene with a functional one. The experimental process not only offers those with EB hope but could also have applications for a range of other potential treatments.
Theoretical physicist and writer
Carlo Rovelli’s professional colleagues rarely prioritize writing for lay readers, but the Italian theoretical physicist has done just that. In 2018, he changed the way we understood time with his book The Order of Time. In it, Rovelli argues that time doesn’t flow forward, like a river. Instead, he contends, humans constantly project a more multifaceted sense of time. Both space and time are therefore malleable. It’s mind-melting stuff, but if Rovelli has his way, the world will be wrangling with this complexity.
In 2015, after the world’s media had crowned Elizabeth Holmes its latest Silicon Valley darling, the Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou smelled fraud. Holmes’s Theranos—at one time valued at more than $9 billion—claimed to be able to take a mere drop of blood and use it for comprehensive disease testing in a short period of time. Carreyrou doggedly investigated these claims and found that Theranos was built on a lie: The technology simply didn’t work. Despite Theranos’s threats of giant lawsuits and attempts to intimidate his sources, Carreyrou stayed the course. Today, Theranos has been dissolved, Holmes has been indicted and could face years in jail, and Carreyrou’s book on the investigation, Bad Blood, is a best-seller.
Scientist and inventor
Nearly two centuries after Louis Braille created his eponymous reading system, the vast majority of the world’s visually impaired people cannot read it. With this deficit in mind, Roopam Sharma, 23, who trained as an engineer in India, developed Manovue, a glove with a digital eye and a voice that reads text aloud when it is moved over a page. Sharma’s innovation, which has won him international acclaim although it is still in development, could help millions of people navigate everyday tasks.
Co-founder and CEO, mPharma
Patients across Africa contend with a fractured pharmacy system with erratic prices, depleted stocks, and counterfeit drugs. Ghana’s Gregory Rockson experienced these problems firsthand while dealing with thoracic scoliosis and decided to fix them. His solution was mPharma, a start-up he co-founded in 2013, which uses an electronic prescription system to track drug supplies at pharmacies and negotiate lower prices directly with suppliers. The result today: reliable stocks and a growing pool of happier customers across several African countries.
President and CEO, Human Vaccines Project
For 30 years, Wayne Koff tried to develop an HIV vaccine with no luck. Undeterred, Koff channeled his expertise into his work at the Human Vaccines Project, a group working to decode the genetics of the human immune system. The project asks scientists to take a multidisciplinary approach to research, with the intention of unlocking a new array of vaccines and immunotherapies for well-established threats, including HIV and cancer, alongside complex emerging pandemics.
Surgeon, writer, and public health researcher
Atul Gawande is the closest thing we have to a modern-day Renaissance man: a best-selling author and New Yorker writer, a surgeon at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and a professor at Harvard University. In 2018, Gawande took on yet another role: CEO of an experimental nonprofit health care collaboration among Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase. The idea behind the venture is to find new, better, and cheaper ways to provide health insurance to the 1.2 million employees working at these behemoths. If Gawande succeeds, the model he develops could recast how health care functions in the United States.
What Atul Gawande’s Reading
The Years of Lyndon Johnson
by Robert A. Caro
No one is a deeper, more incisive observer of political power than Robert Caro. I found his four-volume series on U.S. President Lyndon Johnson unexpectedly reassuring about this particular moment in the United States, if only because it shows how many other ugly, corrosive, and disturbing periods the country has survived.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
by John Carreyrou
John Carreyrou’s meticulously reported account of the Theranos health care scam, in which the company brazenly sold a machine it falsely claimed could run scores of blood tests with a drop of blood, is jaw-dropping. Of the seven deadly sins, only sloth is missing from this tale. The takeaway: Beware of medical miracles whose prophets won’t show you the data.
by Mohsin Hamid
Mohsin Hamid’s novel, which follows a young refugee couple displaced by a devastating civil war, is astonishingly imaginative and unexpectedly hopeful. He asks how much violence we are willing to inflict to keep desperate people from moving. His surprising answer is that, ultimately, there is a limit. His story persuaded me that he is right.
Back in 1990, Mary-Claire King was the first scientist to identify BRCA1—a gene sequence linked to hereditary breast cancer—making her one of the most influential researchers in a generation. King didn’t rest on that achievement, however; she took her research on DNA sequencing to the arena of human rights, helping to identify missing dissidents and victims of political violence in work spanning six continents. Today, she continues to make important discoveries: In 2018, she worked on a landmark study to find a genetic cause for the high incidence of fatal breast cancer among Nigerian women.
Prevention Is the Best Medicine From the United States to Africa, Mary-Claire King has revolutionized the fight against breast cancer—again and again. By Laurie Garrett
Diagnostic app developer
In a typical year, malaria infects more than 200 million people around the world. Though most survive, some 430,000 die. Cutting that number requires early and accurate diagnosis. The Ugandan inventor Brian Gitta may have found a global solution. His noninvasive diagnostic tool, Matibabu, beams light through a finger clip to detect infected red blood cells. The results appear almost instantly on an app. Bypassing needles and using cheap technology could finally defeat this deadly scourge across the globe.
Activism & the Arts
Singer and politician
Uganda’s firebrand singer-turned-politician grew up poor in Kampala. Today, he represents a section of the city as a member of parliament. Bobi Wine, born Robert Kyagulanyi, has rallied Uganda’s youth by arguing against a proposed social media tax and fighting for the dignity of the poor. Ugandan soldiers attempted to silence Wine in August 2018, first beating him brutally and then bringing him to trial for treason in a military court, although he is a civilian. Wine recovered, picked up attention in the international media, and his “people power” campaign continues, undeterred.
Actor, singer, writer, and director
Donald Glover forces audiences to accept discomfort in exchange for insight. On Atlanta, the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning show he created with his brother Stephen, Glover’s men are flawed, their city has betrayed them, their future is uncertain—and it’s a comedy. In his 2018 viral music video for “This Is America,” Glover, under the stage name Childish Gambino, cast himself as a shirtless, gun-toting antagonist: With more than 440 million YouTube views and counting, the video mapped out Glover’s dystopic vision of racialized gun violence, highlighting how relentless exposure to mass shootings has numbed Americans.
Writer and actor
Lena Waithe is redefining how black and genderqueer people are represented in popular culture. The first African-American woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing, Waithe has a way of making groundbreaking acts appear effortless, as she did in 2018 when she memorably dressed in menswear on the cover of Vanity Fair. It may look easy, but the effects are profound: From her work on the Showtime drama series The Chi to her star turn in Steven Spielberg’s 2018 blockbuster, Ready Player One, Waithe is shifting Hollywood’s gaze.
In 2018, Menaka Guruswamy argued for the decriminalization of LGBT relationships before India’s Supreme Court and won a landmark decision. Maintaining that the Indian Constitution must recognize love and not just sexual acts, Guruswamy artfully defined the essential problems with Section 377—a colonial-era law that penalized gay sex with prison terms. India’s decision has prompted conversations on post-colonial law reform in other Commonwealth countries, including Malaysia and Kenya.
India and the Global Fight for LGBT Rights In striking down a ban on gay sex, the Supreme Court inspired activists across the world. By Frank Mugisha
Armed with only Google Earth, Shawn Zhang, a student at the University of British Columbia, has taken on the full might of the Chinese government. In 2018, he began tracking the rise of extralegal detention centers in China’s western region of Xinjiang, where an estimated 1 million or more members of ethnic minorities, mostly Uighurs, have been imprisoned in so-called re-education camps. Zhang’s ability to match government records with satellite imagery has laid bare the Chinese government’s efforts to forcibly assimilate its Uighur citizens.
Science fiction writing has long been the domain of (mostly white) men. In 2018, when N.K. Jemisin—an African-American woman—won the prestigious Hugo Award for best sci-fi novel for the third consecutive year, it was clear that the landscape was changing. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series has brought in diverse new readers, ideas, and interpretations. On receiving her third Hugo, Jemisin said: “As this genre finally, however grudgingly, acknowledges that the dreams of the marginalized matter and that all of us have a future, so will go the world.”
Ruth E. Carter
Through dozens of projects over 30 years, Ruth E. Carter has spent her career exploring how fit and fabric can amplify identity on the screen. As the costume designer for Black Panther, one of the most influential films of 2018, she sought to balance both the divisions and the linkages between African-Americans and Africans in her representations of the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda. Through references to Masai warriors and Himba tailoring, she created a powerful vision of Afrofuturism that caught the attention of a global audience, from downtown Oakland to the mountains of Lesotho.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo
2018 was a grim year for the freedom and safety of journalists around the world. In one of the year’s landmark cases, the reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were jailed for their investigation into the ongoing violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. Their reporting from the country’s Rakhine state provided hard evidence that government forces had killed 10 Rohingya men. Prosecutors charged them with a violation of the country’s Official Secrets Act for being in possession of documents that the police gave them shortly before their arrest. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are now set to serve seven years in prison for daring to tell the truth. They are not alone. As of Dec. 1, 2018, at least 251 journalists across the globe were imprisoned in connection to their work, according to the Committee to Project Journalists. Dozens of others were killed. This widespread crackdown on the press shows no signs of subsiding.
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, then the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began protesting racial inequality and police violence by kneeling when “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played before kickoff. This small act of personal dissent has, in two years, roiled not just the NFL but also the country. Kaepernick is currently suing the NFL for keeping him off the field. But he’s far from benched: He has donated millions of dollars to social justice causes and has remained the face of athletic activism in 2018.
The Parkland Students
On Valentine’s Day 2018, a gunman killed 14 students and three staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. From that horror emerged a group of gun control activists who channeled their pain and anger into grassroots organizing. Their call to action resulted in the March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018—hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Washington, D.C., and tens of thousands more joined protests around the country. The Parkland teens—as they’ve come to be known—show how a new generation of Americans is asserting its stake in one of the country’s most bitter debates.
Digital Minister of Taiwan
The world’s only transgender cabinet minister, Audrey Tang first came to prominence as a star computer programmer and entrepreneur. In 2018, Tang showed her dedication to her portfolio as Taiwan’s digital minister by addressing the United Nations from an iPad.
Joey Joleen Mataele
LGBT rights activist
A champion for transgender rights in Tonga and a beacon of hope and acceptance in the Pacific, Joey Joleen Mataele has long been in the trenches of the fight for LGBT equality as a trans woman—or leiti, a Tongan word that translates roughly as “like a lady.” In the country’s capital of Nukualofa, Mataele co-founded the Tonga Leitis Association, which provides a counterforce against the routine marginalization of trans people and offers housing, pathways to employment, and access to health care for those who are struggling to find them.
President of South Korea
Moon Jae-in’s quiet, backroom work to forge an opening between the West and North Korea was one of the world’s defining diplomatic achievements of 2018. Despite repeated setbacks and deadlock, he relentlessly pushed negotiations forward, helping to guide the peninsula toward a new era of peace.
An award-winning musician, model, and actress, Janelle Monáe consistently busts stereotypes as a queer black woman in the United States. And while her career has been in full swing for more than a decade, the 2018 release of Monáe’s album Dirty Computer—along with her film of the same name—shows the artist overcoming shame, fear, and feelings of disempowerment with the sheer force of her creativity.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
The former Chilean president assumed her new role at the United Nations in September 2018 and immediately called out Myanmar for its atrocities against the Rohingya. Michelle Bachelet has an important job under normal circumstances, but her role is even more crucial given how basic human rights are coming under severe threat in so many parts of the world today.
Author and clinical psychologist
The Toronto-based Jordan Peterson, a polarizing culture warrior, has been called “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world,” as well as “the professor of piffle” and “the stupid man’s smart person.” In 2018, Jordan’s book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos became an international best-seller.
Best-selling author and former first lady of the United States
A searing, powerful, authentic voice addressing America’s racial divides and inequality, Michelle Obama is an example of how to wield influence with grace. Her best-selling memoir, Becoming, narrates the deeply compelling story of her journey from the south side of Chicago to the highest reaches of power with an eye to the impact of identity, race, opportunity, and privilege.
Prime Minister of Pakistan
In 2018, Imran Khan, a former cricket star, finally got the job he had long coveted: prime minister. His reward was an incredibly difficult to-do list, starting with Pakistan’s looming fiscal and debt crisis. Just a few months into his term, Khan now must come up with a strategy for dealing with the fallout from an impending U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Bahraini human rights activist
Nabeel Rajab played a leading role in Bahrain’s 2011 pro-democracy uprising but has been imprisoned for several years for dissent. In February 2018, he was sentenced to five years in prison for his tweets documenting torture in Bahrain’s prisons. The draconian ruling has been denounced by human rights monitors worldwide. He has reportedly been subjected to inhumane conditions and denied medical care in prison. Human rights organizations are campaigning for his release.
1928-2018 | Filmmaker and writer
Marceline Loridan-Ivens was 15 when she arrived at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where she was examined by the infamous Josef Mengele. Loridan-Ivens survived the camp and went on to become a voice of moral clarity. In films and books, she chronicled her experience as a survivor and revealed the Holocaust as a campaign of not just mass violence but also sexual assault. In her later years, as anti-Semitic violence returned in force to Europe, she became a powerful voice for tolerance. “All I can say is that everything I can write, everything I can unveil—it’s my task to do it,” she said in early 2018.
Love After an Apocalypse Holocaust survivor Marceline Loridan-Ivens never stopped grappling with loss—or fighting to live. By Jean-Marc Dreyfus
1938-2018 | Diplomat
Kofi Annan, the seventh person to lead the United Nations, embodied the organization’s best and worst. As the first secretary-general from sub-Saharan Africa, Annan championed diplomacy and the need to talk to one’s adversaries. But as head of U.N. peacekeeping forces, he failed to prevent the slaughter of more than 800,000 people during the Rwandan genocide, which stained his legacy. Even so, Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 (along with the United Nations) for working to contain the spread of HIV in Africa, combating international terrorism, revitalizing the U.N., and promoting human rights.
1958-2018 | Journalist
Jamal Khashoggi’s Washington Post columns were grounded in a central hope for his native Saudi Arabia: a future marked by greater freedom. Khashoggi came of age as an Islamist but later embraced democratic reforms. He exposed the corruption at the heart of the Saudi government and advocated for political change across the Arab world. A onetime confidant of the Saudi royal court, Khashoggi was killed, allegedly by operatives linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in October 2018 while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
1932-2018 | Writer
On awarding V.S. Naipaul the Nobel Prize for literature in 2001, the Swedish Academy called him “a literary circumnavigator, only ever really at home in himself, in his inimitable voice.” To his critics, the Trinidad and Tobago-born Naipaul was a bigot. To his admirers, he was a fearless observer of humankind, with all its cruelties and ironies. An acclaimed literary craftsman of both fiction and nonfiction, Naipaul turned his unsparing gaze on a range of big topics: colonization, globalization, Islam, Africa, India, and the Deep South of the United States. “If a writer doesn’t generate hostility,” he said in 2001, “he is dead.”
Koko the Gorilla
1971-2018 | Communicator
Koko the gorilla captivated the world with her ability to communicate using sign language. By the time of her death, her vocabulary included approximately 2,000 words—thus offering powerful new evidence of the cognitive abilities of great apes. Though research into her language skills was persistently dogged by questions about its scientific efficacy, Koko became a symbol of interspecies communication. In 2015, she starred in a public service announcement to plead for action to combat global warming, providing a compelling voice on behalf of biodiversity and fodder for fact-checkers who attacked her comprehension. Asked in 1981 where gorillas go when they die, Koko signed, “Comfortable hole bye.”
1942-2018 | Physicist
Stephen Hawking’s diagnosis of ALS at the age of 21 lit a fire in the young physicist. A string of path-breaking research in cosmology placed him in the firmament of British intellectual life, but it was his 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, a humorous stroll through the history of the universe, that brought him global renown. As he aged and his health worsened, Hawking refused to give in. Among his many adventures, he traveled to all seven continents and took a roller-coasterlike ride aboard a Boeing 727 jet to experience microgravity—coming to symbolize, along the way, the defiant possibilities of human life.
To Infinity and Beyond Stephen Hawking’s insights about the universe were profound—but his insights into humanity were even more important. By Carlo Rovelli
1936-2018 | Politician
When her husband, Nelson Mandela, was sentenced to life in prison in 1964, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela rose in prominence as a leader of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle. More militant than her husband (the two divorced in 1996), Madikizela-Mandela was imprisoned repeatedly and subjected to torture and solitary confinement. Her unwavering activism would earn her the honorific “Mother of the Nation,” though her reputation was tainted by allegations of murder and fraud.
1916-2018 | Historian
No historian had a greater influence on neoconservative thinking about foreign policy, and the administration of George W. Bush, than Bernard Lewis. The British-born historian saw Islamic extremism as representative of a three-century “downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression.” Widely respected for his scholarship, Lewis could also be strident. He once skeptically suggested that the odds of Yasser Arafat giving up terrorism were like those of Tiger Woods giving up golf. Unsurprisingly, his critics frequently accused him of being condescending toward Arabs.
1956-2018 | Writer and TV host
Anthony Bourdain’s love of food became the lens through which he understood the world. A chef-turned-memoirist-turned-CNN host, Bourdain traveled widely and relentlessly, eating whatever was put in front of him and interviewing the people who had made it. His genuine interest in ordinary people informed his journalism, which elevated the stories of marginalized people and their cuisines. That concern for everyday men and women also informed his politics. “Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands,” he wrote in 2001.
1936-2018 | U.S. Senator
During more than three decades on Capitol Hill, John McCain carefully cultivated his role as a rule-breaker. A media darling, he rarely shied away from controversy, championing campaign finance and immigration reform and pushing through a ban on torture—a policy informed by his own experience as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. After 9/11, McCain became one of the U.S. military’s most forceful advocates in Congress. His ambition to become president eluded him, but he pursued the office with what now appears to be an almost extinct political style, marked by grace toward his opponent.