Last I looked, Elon Musk was a clear winner of the MR readers’s poll for “most admired.”
Personally, I admire successful creators, scientists, and entrepreneurs a great deal, and Musk fits into those directions very well. Still, the very top of my personal list would be shaped more by how much individuals had sacrificed. Let me throw out a few options:
1. The members of the Mexican judiciary who have stood up to the drug gangs, often at the expense of their lives. They believed in a better future for Mexico and I think eventually they will triumph.
2. Public health professionals who work under great hardship in difficult places, for years, to limit malaria or the spread of Ebola. In addition to questionable living conditions, they often face high health risks themselves.
3. How about Aun San Suu Kyi, who endured about fifteen years of prison to help bring greater liberty to Myanmar?
4. At a smaller scale, how about individuals who volunteer to work in the burn unit at the hospital? That has to be fairly icky labor, yet as medical care it can be effective.
You can do variants on my 1-4, but I would start with examples such as those. Not at the very top of my list, but I also would think about good parents who work as primary caregivers.
If we are restricted to political/public figures, I would opt for Ben Bernanke.
Overall I was surprised how few of you approached the question the way I have, rather as a group you picked too many nerdy white guys. Now I don’t like to play “the PC card,” and if a process generates a lot of nerdy white guys, I don’t then assume that process is necessarily biased or requiring correction. Still, the fact that my list creates so much room for women (and non-whites) suggests it reflects the universality of human experience more than what most of you came up with.
It is also notable how few of you picked entertainers or sports figures, as such individuals have figured prominently on such lists in the past (see my What Price Fame?). In 1971 a lot of people would have said “John Lennon,” and in his day Ted Williams placed high in such surveys. These days, for better or worse, the tech world and politics seem to exercise a stronger hold on our imaginations, all the more among MR readers I suspect.
Addendum: Here is Noah Smith’s list.