Who’s Bigger: Where Historical Figures Really Rank

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Who’s more significant, Elvis or Beethoven? Napoleon or Abraham Lincoln? How do we decide who’s more important, or bigger, among historical figures? The factors that Skiena, a computer science professor, and Ward, a Google engineer, consider are all based on quantitative analysis; math, it appears, does matter when it comes to who retains historical significance and whose reputation fades away over time. The authors begin by discussing the subjectivity of historical judgment, traditional ranking methods, and the issues caused by the massive amount of data produced on contemporary people who dominate the media (Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber) vs. the much longer half-life of those we consider more traditionally significant historical figures (Aristotle, Shakespeare). Skiena and Ward then demonstrate their data-driven method of determining who’s bigger, taking into consideration temporal influences, both positive and negative. The book’s second section tackles historical figures in the context of their peers, from politicians and sports figures to artists and scientists. Charts (how we love lists!) are provided throughout, for easy skimming, as well as an approachable narrative that will lure in even the most math-resistant reader.

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