Who has led the most interesting life?

In recent times, that is.  Devon Zuegel asks:

Who would you name as a contender for having led the most interesting life in the last 100 years?

Keynes pops to mind as one contender.  He was a top-tier intellect and economist, he was closely connected to the arts, had plenty of brilliant Bloomsbury people to chat with, married a ballerina, played a major role in politics several times, and he participated in several critical and indeed formative moments of history (Treaty of Versailles, fiscal policy, Bretton Woods).  He experienced both world wars (no one said “interesting” has to be good!).  Still, he didn’t travel enough to be a slam dunk (I can’t quite bring myself to write “nor did he have the internet.”)

How about Bill Clinton?  He was president twice, oversaw the 1990s, has indeed traveled the world, and known many of the most interesting people of his lifespan.  He also has had rather, um…diverse…experiences in one realm of life.  And he married Hillary.

Paul McCartney was a Beatle, wrote amazing songs and hung out with John Lennon, had domestic bliss with Linda for a few decades, raised lots of kids, was successful as a businessman, and also has a history of…um…diverse experiences.  But did he smoke too much pot?

This list of “best lives” includes Hugh Hefner, Tyra Banks, and Elon Musk.  Here is one Quora answer for “most interesting”:

Personally, I find the following people intriguing: Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Sir Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Marie Curie, Diego Maradona, Michael Jordan, Socrates/Aristotle/Plato, Samori Toure, Nelson Mandela, Michel de Nostredame. It’s a long list. There are even some historical figures that I do not admire, but would like to know more about – people such as Joseph Stalin, Napoleon Bonaparte, Judas Isacriot, among so many others.

I hope you are not offended if I rule some of those lives out on grounds of insufficient length, or too much time spent in prison.  Here is a list of interesting writers’ lives, topped by Ernest Hemingway.

Contrarian but not crazy answers would cite the person who raised the greatest number of children, the person who lived the longest in decent health, “whoever you are,” and the person who has traveled the most, at least adjusting for the quality of the trips (working on an oil tanker may not count).

Is it possible for a very famous person to win this designation?  Their very fame limits the possible range of experiences they have, and perhaps at some margin the consumption of additional status and adulation, however fun (?) it may be, just isn’t all that interesting.  Can Paul McCartney or Bill Clinton go out in public much?  Is the real answer someone most people never have heard of?

Who is your nominee?

Comments

easy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Churchill

Here is his story in a a more narrative form

https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/mad-jack-churchill-a-rare-breed-of-warrior/

My mother

She gave birth to me

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Interesting thanks for your post.

Interesting thanks for your post.

I nominate myself. Nobody would do otherwise. Most people would not trade their life for somebody else's. Agree?

I wouldn't trade my life, but my life is certainly not one of the more interesting. I mean for starters, I've never raised chickens in the Philippines.

@apoptosis - (cell death?!) - you are engaging in Keynes' "Beauty Contest" logic, trying to figure out what the average person thinks is interesting. Your life is interesting my friend! Raising chickens, especially "45 day" CornishX birds which poop all day, is not that interesting, very smelly, not that profitable (I stopped, zero profit operating profit, capital expenditures were a loss). We also have a bunch of other animals, including a pond now with PH snapping turtles ('snakehead') and frogs (green, pretty), and pigeons, and the most interesting was the monkey, which we gave away to a relative. The PH mountain monkey, I've seen in called an ape but it looks like a macaque, is like a child. Lots of drama. I wish the people here would not catch them from the wild (we rescued it from a seller, but objectively, like paying ransom for a kidnapping, perhaps we encouraged the sale?). At least nobody ate it, which happens. BTW like a traveler wrote about China 100 years ago, there's little visible wildlife in PH, a biodiversity hotspot (more animals seen in DC, IMO) since the people eat them (even in the countryside, you rarely see animals, even birds, you see English sparrows, a pest that feed on rice, but no hawks, swallows feeding on the numerous mosquitoes but no other birds (the people can't catch the swallows it seems), and thankfully no English blackbirds). Sad!

cheers ;-)

btw, speaking of lack of wildlife - you likely already know this, but if not a story you may appreciate. I was listening to a podcast on Mao's famine in China (from Russ Robert's recent podcast) and the author indicated to maximize rice harvest bounties were placed on sparrows to stop them from eating grains like rice, and the bird was driven to near extinction due to the campaign. Later they found without sparrows the insect population exploded causing the rice harvest to plummet contributing to mass starvation.

Apocryphal but interesting. I found trapping sparrows is very tough. Despite having a sophisticated net system that can be activated at a distance, and hiring boys to watch the trap to trip the net, and putting lots of grain out so sparrows get used to eating, then trying to spring the trap, I've only caught about a half dozen sparrows in one month. Wild sparrows are very smart*, and when one sparrow gets caught, seemingly the whole flock will avoid the trap (they eat like crazy elsewhere). I really don't think you can trap enough sparrows to affect the population. In the USA some birders will trap English sparrows and blackbirds and then destroy them, but they fail to put any sizeable dent in the population. That said, they said the same thing about the passenger pigeon, so who knows? Maybe if enough people trap the birds, the population drops below a critical mass and the birds rapidly disappear.

* but domesticated chickens are quite dumb, even Rhode Island Reds, the smartest of them; I routinely catch chickens in this trap that I want to put into a hen house and don't feel like running around trying to corner them, which takes a lot of energy and usually two people, plus adult chickens can fly up into trees.

I'm like the cat with 9 lives. Been around the block a few times. Been up. Been down. Been up again. I wouldn't have it any other way. I think its been pretty interesting but...ymmv.

The Dos Equis guy of course!

But who cares who led the most interesting life? As the classics would argue, what matters most is who led the best life because excellence ranks higher than merely interesting.

Christine Blasey Ford

Spoiled rich girl as I recall. I have on my books to read list a biography on "Bunny" Mellon I think is her name, and she lived in horse country Virginia, and would routinely go shopping on a 747 jet plane to Paris, like the Zaire dictator, and on occasion the plane would take off, turn around in the air, and land at the private airport. The staff would say "Bunny must have forgotten her favorite scarf". She was however loyal to the staff, keeping them fully employed for life even if they were not needed. Tata Steel in India, before it went global, was the same way (jobs for life and even for the employee's children, guaranteed).

Winston Churchill? He fought in the last great British cavalry charge against the Mahdi's army, escaped captivity during the Boer war, became a celebrity and member of Parliament when still a young man, saved Britain and maybe the world...

Churchill was possibly homosexual, like the brilliant Epaminondas of Thebes who shockingly defeated Sparta. Recall the incident, litigated, between Churchill and that school boy. Of course in English schools this is normal behavior. Also Frederick the Great almost certainly was, and it explains why his father put to death his boyhood friend as I recall (probably caught in the act). Gays make good solders, like in the US Marines, it is said. The Thebes sacred band comes to mind too.

Churchill was a journalist, soldier, politician, statesman and author. Plus Nobel prize winner! I'm staggered he missed Tyler's shortlist.

Yes, Churchill.

Churchill's 1930 memoir for boys about his life up to about age 25, "A Roving Commission," is fantastic.

My prejudice is that English prose peaked in Britain between the wars, so there is an especial glamor to people who were famous then because their memoirs tend to be especially well written and so many other outstanding writers wrote about them.

I think it was William James who noted that great adventures only happen to people who know how to tell them. This surely applies to Churchill: his account of how he escaped from the Boers by swimming across "the mighty Apies river", for example, is rather amusing if you've ever seen the Apies river. (I have. A mighty river, it is not.)

A generation or two before Churchill, there were a number of British men who arguably led more interesting lives. Richard Francis Burton is my personaly favorite. Wikipedia does not exaggerate when it describes him as "a British explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat." Moreover, it is not merely that he was e.g. a linguist: he was an extraordinarily gifted linguist. (Spoke more than 20 languages fluently, and translated works as different as Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra.) Similarly, his feats as an explorer and a fighter are rather amazing. They don't make them like that any more.

Burton is my pick too (and others' here) but the post did say last 100 years...

If the rules exclude Burton, I'd still nominate him just to remind people what really interesting people used to be like:-)

I'm struggling to think of any worthy living candidates. Well, there's always Jason Everman, who was a member of both Nirvana and Soundgarden before he became an Army Ranger and then a Green Beret. Other than that, he worked as a bike messenger in NY, completed a philosophy degree, and spent time in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet. Bit cliched, but still a far better candidate than, say, some silly Beatle or Hollywood actor.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Everman

If you include Churchill, you must also include Jan Smuts, Churchill’s best friend. An Afrikaner farm boy, who started his education aged 14, and finished it at Cambridge with a double-first in law. Served Kruger’s war cabinet, before taking up arms directly as a boer commando and running an insurgency campaign behind British lines. Indeed, Smuts may have been present when a captured Churchill was questioned. He later became Churchill’s most trusted advisor, serving in the WW1British cabinet and running the WW2 cabinet on behalf of Churchill for much of the war. Architect of the League of Nations, forerunner to the UN and Royal Air Force, Smuts gets my vote. His face credentials would not pass muster today, but neither do Churchill’s. Smuts was the true warrior-philosopher-statesman.

He also served as First Lord of the Admiralty during WWI and then later actually fought in the trenches as a Lt. Colonel, I believe.

And pretty much abandoned the Admiralty to personally conduct the defense of Antwerp. Brave and crazy. Being Churchills boss was impossible.

Churchill caused the India famine of 1943

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bengal_famine_of_1943

He's no different from Mao or Stalin. British Imperialism in India no different from Great Leap Forward or Holodomor. Genocidal levels of cruelty and incompetence. No wonder he buddied up to Stalin.

Teddy Roosevelt. If we're including all of history, maybe some of the first Europeans to explore the new world.

Teddy Roosevelt was pretty comparable to Churchill, but he died at 60 rather than 90 and didn't quite get that second act.

Plus, I can't help feeling NY/DC was more provincial than London at that time.

But how many manta rays did Churchill take down?

http://www.pineisland-eagle.com/page/content.detail/id/528188/Macomber-speaks-about-Roosevelt-trip-to-SW-Florida.html

I'd vote for FDR. He interacted with Stalin, Churchill, and Hitler. Dealt with a world war and the great depression. He dealt with two future presidents in Truman and Ike and towering US generals Patton and McArthur. Plus he was married to Eleanor who you could argue had more influence on her husband than Hillary.

Ronald Reagan was a movie star before reaching the White House (and married to women even hotter than Eleanor Roosevelt, in their time). Certainly he wins among modern US presidents.

After Richard Garriott made a fortune designing the "Ultima" series of computer games, he travelled to the bottom of the ocean and to the International Space Station, becoming the most vertically travelled person in history.

-- I mean, aside from the Apollo astronauts of course.

Richard Feynman definitely up there. Christopher Lee honorable mention.

+1 on Feynman. Quite the Renaissance man.

+1 for Feynman. Just putting aside his scientific reputation, (in mo particular order), taught himself radio engineering, hacked the Italian language, cracked safes, became a master seducer, learned to paint and sold works under the name ‘Ofey’, experimented with ketamine, lucid dreaming and flotation tanks, and played the frigideria as part of a Brazilian band. I don’t know how much he travelled, but in a league of his own? Undoubtably. Of course his intellect was another matter. David Deutsch called him the smartest man in history.

His books are highly recommended, as his James Gleick’s remarkable biography.

Feynman was a great storyteller about himself, and without being a professional writer. The problem with great writers in terms of being interesting is that they spend an awful lot of time at their desks writing. But Feynman wasn't a writer, he got his neighbor to write up his anecdotes for him, which saved a lot of time for doing interesting stuff.

"became a master seducer" uh, do we have evidence for that beyond his own claims?

Yeah, one criticism of Feynman in a book "Read This Next" (recommended books to read) is that he was too full of himself, so perhaps he embellished his expertise.

I by contrast am the world's most interesting man and greatest lover too.

Yeah, that part just have been in quotes. But the way he approached 'the game' was interesting, which is what I was highlighting. That's how he spoke of it in any case; of course we'll never know.

Because I lately read an Einstein-centric book, I'll nominate him for Unexpectedly Good Writer (which I should have known already, as a relation of mine swears by "The Evolution of Physics" for rendering many popular science books superfluous):

"I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today - and even professional scientists - seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is - in my opinion - the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth."

I think there's interest too in Einstein's being the greatest or 2nd-greatest physicist ever, and the most famous scientist in the world, yet being an outcast, to some degree, in his own field. Makes for a more interesting journey, perhaps, than had he accepted the more mystical mutterings of Bohr.

A path that is not smooth, strikes me as a requirement for an interesting life.

+1 Feynman

Also turned out his best friend on the Manhattan project was the Soviet spy who stole the atomic technology

more on this? Don't recall it being in Surely You're Joking.

We're talking about Feynman but we didn't mention Niels Bohr? He had his own institute on the campus of a brewery and was a central figure in the last great scientific revolution (and played mentor to almost everyone else who made big contributions). As far as I know, Bohr was the only Olympic athlete to win a real Nobel Prize. He was uniquely responsible for the survival of thousands of Danish jews, played a role in global intrigue (see the play Copenhagen), had six sons, happy marriage, long life...

The only thing that interesting lives tend to have but Bohr's life lacked was a string of fiery international romances with young women and men who were themselves interesting. But he was the epicenter of the most interesting scientific revolution that will ever be, a revolution that put him in close contact with many other interesting people from around the world.

+1. Bohr still keeps interesting company: he is buried in the same cemetery as H.C. Andersen, Søren Kierkegaard, etc.

Generally my impression is that Bohr was not only a great scientist but also a real mensch.

The Bohr brothers
"A teenage Harald missed out on the tournament as he was helping Niels defend his doctoral thesis, but did play a starring role in Denmark’s first official international matches at the London Olympics in 1908 "
https://www.fifa.com/tournaments/archive/mensolympic/london1908/matches/round=196957/match=32250/index.html

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Ah dangit, ninja'd! See below...

Tyler, not to sound like a troll or anything, but is it certain that Jesus Christ ever really existed? (Or Prophet Mohammed for that matter? ) Again, this wasn't meant to offend anybody.

It's not certain, but there is good evidence for the historical Jesus from non-Christian sources. Tacitus, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacitus_on_Christ

Mohammed much more likely to have existed. Which might be part of the problem, I guess.

Mohammed is really much more liked to have existed or is more a question of being more dangerous to do revisionist research about the issue?

Mohammed was centuries more recent, obviously, so more evidence he existed. Both probably did but as K. Roman says below the question is not if they lived but if they were who they are worshipped as.

They are who we thought they were!

Thread winner, shut it down.

There is a lot of proof they did indeed exist. The question is not whether or not they existed, but whether or not they showed real miracles and therefore proved they were a child / a prophet of true god.

Lots of names to consider: many listed in the post definitely, plus how about Arnold Schwarzenegger? Is Sir Richard Burton (Victorian era explorer) not recent enough? Moe Berg? Roald Dahl?

Good suggestions.

Perhaps some other Hollywood figure? John Huston? Maybe one who fought in WWII, such as David Niven, who was aso an immensely popular dinner guest.

Screenwriter Ben Hecht's autobiography Child of the Century is prodigiously entertaining.

The stepfather of a friend of mine, intermittent movie star Sterling Hayden (Col. Jack D. Ripper in "Dr. Strangelove"), had an awfully varied life:

OSS agent who parachuted enemy lines in WWII
Red Scare
Movie star
Sailor
Writer
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sterling_Hayden#War_service

+1 to Hayden and Niven

Hollywood guy with an interesting life: Ronald Reagan.

I almost said him, but came up with another: Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner (Olympic legend, Kardashian dad #2, most famous transgender)

Henry Kissinger?

George H.W. Bush?

As Hollywood figures go, there's Merien C. Cooper:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merian_C._Cooper

His Wikipedia page doesn't tell you enough about "Grass":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grass_(1925_film)

Here are some highlights from "Grass":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdnL0CkRdkk

Concur. I only skimmed but the part about his rewrite of the screenplay of "Gone With the Wind," a book he hadn't read, with a tragic figure in Ashley that he couldn't grok at all, is wonderfully amusing.

James Cook's names gotta go in the Victorian Era Explorer category, as well. Warren Hastings, maybe, as well, if you don't mind the notoriety.

"Perhaps some other Hollywood figure? "

People who make their living by pretending to be someone else are probably not particularly interesting themselves.
Obvious exceptions are actors who initially got famous for doing something genuinely impressive - e.g. Audie Murphy.

Richard Feynman surely - surprisingly does not make any lists. Reached top of his profession - learned arts too - drums, sketching - decrypted mayan script - travelled and lived in Japan, Brazil etc - inspired generations!

The name that popped into my head was Mia Farrow
Married to Frank Sinatra
Married to Andre Previn
Long-term relationship with Woody Allen
Has anyone ever had a more diverse list of romantic partners?

Alma Mahler according to Tom Lehrer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QL6KgbrGSKQ

For romantic diversity, don't forget Paulette Goddard -- she was married to Chaplin, The Penguin, and Remarque.

Well, certainly not a diverse set of romantic partners, but I've always envied Roger Vadim's love life - Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, and Jane Fonda. And those are the just the ones he married.

His love life was certainly interesting.

Perhaps not as diverse, but Lou Salome was romantically involved with Nietzsche, Freud, and Rilke, which is pretty impressive.

Francoise Gilot had two kids with Picasso and later married Jonas Salk.

Sometimes, the amount of knowledge being displayed here is fascinating - 'He also has had rather, um…diverse…experiences in one realm of life.' Clinton was the purest vanilla compared to Keynes.

As it is again becoming difficult to know what texts are beyond the tender sensibilities of this comment section, one hopes a major UK paper is acceptable, with just enough of a citation to allow those interested to read the whole article - 'Putting "sex lives of politicians" into Google yields 6,820 hits. The Roman emperors score 3,220. For great artists, it's a respectable, if that's the word, 2,090 hits. But "sex lives of economists"? "No results found".

Perhaps that's to be expected for what Thomas Carlyle described as the "dismal science". Yet the greatest and most revolutionary economist of the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes, applied the same sort of unconventional adventurism to his sex life, and this most intellectual of men was also possessed of considerable carnal curiosity. In the latest biography of him, by Richard Davenport-Hines, we learn a great deal more about his habits.' https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/john-maynard-keynes-new-biography-reveals-shocking-details-about-the-economists-sex-life-10101971.html

Bertrand Russell led an interesting life. So did Muhammad Ali (formerly known by his slave name of Cassius Clay; not the founder of Islam formerly known as Ubul Kassim). Information about Russell is not scarce, see his three volume autobiography, and Thomas Hauser's authorized biography of Ali (the heavyweight boxing champion, not the founder of Islam) is tops.

I agree about Paul McCartney, Richard Feynman, and TR also.

Russell vs. Keynes would be a pretty fair fight. Russell said he found Keynes' intelligence intimidating.

Yeah, Russell is a contender, no doubt about it. Did you know that he survived a fatal plane crash at age 76, and then went on to live another 20 lucid and productive years? But was Russell's life more interesting than Wittgenstein's? [Probably, but my opinion is colored by the fact that I think Wittgenstein was a more interesting person, and more interesting to read about. Surely being an interesting person increases the likelihood of living an interesting life, but we have to keep these things separate. For the latter, fate has to jerk you around in interesting ways, which happened to interesting people like Russell, Oppenheimer and Bohr, but less to potentially more interesting people like Wittgenstein, Freud and Von Neuman.

I feel like we should invent a life that we could all agree approaches the maximum of being interesting. I think it must include: being an interesting person with many original, good ideas; having had interesting, intense relationships to a diverse set of other interesting and important people; playing a pivotal personal role in the resolution of important historical events; being at the epicenter of some important and thrilling movement; having adventures that involved great risk and danger; having a large diversity of experiences in diverse places and settings; and plenty of opportunities to show second-order virtues like courage, kindness, loyalty, wit and grit.

What am I leaving out? What doesn't count? I would say that we shouldn't count whether the person was ultimately shown to be right, whether they forged a lasting legacy, or whether we think that their lives were ultimately important. The people we're considering all were important, but what matters is that their lives felt important from their perspective.

This description of "interesting life" brought to mind a recent biography of Humboldt by Andrea Wulf. Wulf wrote nice meandering chapters on various people who Humboldt spent time with: Goethe, Bolivar, Jefferson, Darwin. Humboldt would be a contender for the title.

Stanley Ho - 4 wives, a variety of shady businesses, has certainly had some interesting conversations with the Chinese government. I’m guessing he has a very pleasant life too. Horrible person.

If we are talking about people whose lives are the most interesting from the outside, I’d nominate someone like Paul Kagame. But I’m pretty sure his life has never been particularly pleasant, and probably not very interesting to him.

If we’re talking about people whose lives I would like to live, probably some sort of very successful music/arts journalist. Greil Marcus? They essentially get to spend all their time around things they find interesting, without dealing with a lot of the mundane aspects of the work.

Or how about Andre Breton! Started one of the most interesting arts movements of the 20th century, his art collection transformed tastes in art, wrote lovely books about his life, lived through two wars. Met hundreds of extremely interesting people. Yes, Andre Breton. 100%

I nominate the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Great impact on the Court's way of thinking - even the liberals embrace Originalism, loved his job and enjoyed razzing the liberal majority when writing dissenting opinions, raised nine kids, traveled frequently, avid hunter, and died painlessly in his sleep.

Not to mention the interesting drives he must have had when trying to attend a Latin Mass - 'Scalia was a Roman Catholic, one of six on the Supreme Court. But Scalia was a very traditional Roman Catholic. He was not comfortable with the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council. He was so traditional that, in fact, he searched out and attended a Tridentine Mass in Latin when he lived in Chicago, and later in Washington, D.C. Reportedly, he travelled to St. Catherine of Siena church in Great Falls, Va., to attend a Latin Mass -- a distance from Washington, D.C. ' https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/justice-antonin-scalia-very-traditional-catholic

I'd nominate Freud or Jung. They must have heard lots of weird stories from their patients.

I always liked this Margalit Fox obituary of John Fairfax.

"t 9, he settled a dispute with a pistol. At 13, he lit out for the Amazon jungle. At 20, he attempted suicide-by-jaguar. Afterward he was apprenticed to a pirate. To please his mother, who did not take kindly to his being a pirate, he briefly managed a mink farm, one of the few truly dull entries on his otherwise crackling résumé, which lately included a career as a professional gambler…"

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/us/john-fairfax-who-rowed-across-oceans-dies-at-74.html

Witold Pilecki. And it’s not even close. Imagine a life story that’s equal parts Oskar Schindler, James Bond, and MacGyver.

He’s often referred to as the man who volunteered for Auschwitz. By volunteered, I mean he walked into a Nazi street roundup in Warsaw to get himself arrested and sent to Auschwitz. To call him brave is perhaps the understatement of the century.

His goal was to to smuggle out intelligence about the new German concentration camp, and to organize inmate resistance with the goal of helping the Allies liberate the camp from the inside. In doing so, he became perhaps the first person to figure out what the camp’s true purpose was. His report narrates the industrialized slaughter with amazing clear and concise language. 

Prior to Auschwitz, he founded the Secret Polish Army ("TAP"), the first underground organization in Poland, numbering some 8,000 men, which later became the core of the Polish Home Army.

After Auschwitz—he decided to escape one day—though shot during his E&E, Pilecki volunteered during Warsaw Uprising, concealing his rank and fighting as an grunt. Only when his commanding officers were killed did Pilecki disclose his identity and accept command. His forces later withstood weeks of constant attacks by the German infantry and armor during the siege at the "Great Bastion of Warsaw." When Warsaw capitulated, Pilecki hid some weapons in an apartment and was taken into captivity to the POW camps at Lambinowice and Murnau.

After his liberation, while completing his famous report, he ran special operations in Italy for the Polish II Corps.

He then accepted orders to return to Poland under a false identity and gather Intelligence for the Polish government in exile. Despite his cover being blown, Pilecki remained so he could document Soviet atrocities against the Poles.

He was arrested on trumped-up charges, tortured (without confession), tried, executed, and buried in an unmarked grave. Even his final words were bad-ass: "I tried to live my life in such fashion, so that in my last hour, I would rather be happy than fearful […] I found happiness within me, resulting from the realization, that this fight was worth it."

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/10/the-man-who-volunteered-for-auschwitz/263083/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witold_Pilecki

poor old Poles.

Master spies like Richard Sorge and Sidney Reilly tend to be interesting if not long-lived.

See also Christine Granville (née Maria Krystyna Skarbek), callsign “Willing.”
Not only one of the SOE’s longest-serving of agents, but also Churchill’s favorite spy. “She is absolutely fearless,” a secret service report noted, a “flaming Polish patriot, . . . expert skier and great ­adventuress.” Irresistible to men. Trained in explosives and silent killing. Parachuted and skied into Nazi-occupied territory. Once walked into a jail and convinced Nazis to release her colleague. Slept with a dagger strapped to her thigh. She survived the war only to be murdered by an obsessed former lover in the lobby of a London hotel.

Also, she was not only a friend of Ian Flemming, but rumored to have been the model for Vesper Lynd, the female agent in Casino Royale. Perhaps appropriately, then, the woman who played her in the Casino Royal—Eva Green—also played her in the biopic of Christine Granville

And, to come full circle, had extensive “contact”—the exact nature is unknown—with Witold Pilecki. Which makes it even more of an utter f——ing travesty that Hollywood continues to pass on making a slam-dunk Oscar-worthy blockbuster.

https://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/books/review/the-spy-who-loved-by-clare-mulley.html

I'd never heard of this man, thanks for posting this.

I nominate beloved BBC nature documentarian David Attenborough:

- sometimes claimed to be the "most traveled" human being in history, admittedly a claim difficult to prove. But he's certainly up there - he travelled 256,000 miles while making "The Life of Birds" (1998) alone, and has visited just about every country on earth.
- lived through WW2 (his parents fostered two Jewish refugees) and witnessed the fall of the British empire.
- director of programming at BBC during the late 1960s, during which he greenlit Monty Python's Flying Circus.
- has personally contributed to the discovery of a number of incredibly interesting previously-unknown species, including some of the bioluminescent undersea creatures in "Blue Planet."
- sibling was an exceptionally talented actor who, among other things, played the creator of "Jurassic Park."
- has yelled at sloths on more than one occasion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndMKTnSRsKM

Pretty hard to beat in my opinion!

People who appear to lead interesting lives often have a low tolerance for boredom. Hence they do interesting things. But this means that subjectively their lives may be no more interesting that average and may all loose out to some accountant who is regularly subjectively thrilled by minor changes in tax law.

I think we're supposed to pick people whose lives were interesting to the rest of us, not themselves.

I'll add two more (1) Orson Welles and (2) Kenny Burrell. Everyone knows who Orson Wells was (overrated windbag according to that guy who assessed Beatles as overrated bubblegum pop musicians, far below Kanye West and JZ in creative output.) For those who aren't up on their jazz guitar history, Kenny Burrell had the most amazing career and last I heard is still alive and kicking (at one time taught at UCLA).

As for the NYT obits, they are unreliable. Their obit contributors "reach out" to the family and business associates for information or little special anecdotes to spice things up. Good story beats facts. Don't believe everything you read.

Don't let a little exaggeration get in the way of enjoying a good story.

Paul Le Roux: Programming whiz kid, turned international crime king, turned DEA informant.

I highly recommend Atavist Magazine’s long form articles on him.

Marquis de Lafayette

French aristocrat who left home in his twenties to fight for the Americans in the Revolutionary War, suffering the depths of Valley Forge and the triumph of Yorktown, returning home a war hero but to a country embroiled in fiscal crisis, soon finding himself central to the French Revolution, initially playing the role of the moderate liberal, soon trying to extinguish the flames of an out-of-control crisis and personally protecting the monarch (unsuccessfully) from death.

Called a traitor by his own government, taken prisoner by the Austrians, his property and wealth confiscated and sold. Refused to serve under Napoleon, returned to politics under the Bourbon restoration, participated in the revolution of 1830 and hailed as a revolutionary leader, the (unconstitutional) Chamber of Deputies voting him as ruler, which he refused.

Died in 1834 at 76 years of age, including half a century of strenuous public life.

And if you think that's interesting, wait till you hear about Giuseppe Garibaldi!

Among Lafayette's contemporaries, Talleyrand had a pretty interesting life.

I've always liked Mozart's librettist Da Ponte: Jewish kid who became a Catholic priest, became pals with Casanova, defrocked for being a pimp, fled from Venice to Vienna, got job as king's librettist, met Mozart and made excellent decision to let Mozart be boss in their collaboration, had to flee because of scandal, had to flee England, then fled to America, wound up poor in the United States, then in the 1820s became a Manhattan celebrity and Ivy League professor, helped introduced opera to America, and rejoined Catholic Church on his well-attended New York deathbed in 1838 at 89.

Yep. Learned about him from David Wallechinsky, decades ago.

I'm going to bring up a whole family, the Darwin-Wedgwood family, and see who other posters think had the most interesting life of the bunch. Charles Darwin? Francis Galton, the man with a sprained brain? Someone less well known?

So, are sports not that interesting anymore? =)

I'm trying to think of a famous athlete who went on to do something else at an equally high level. The problem with jocks' life stories is the Rabbit, Run one of it's all downhill after age 27. I'm sure there are a few who became a big deal in something else, but I can't think of any off the top of my head.

OJ, obviously

.. And the aforementioned Arnie

Ted Williams has some actual experience as a fighter pilot. He was John Glenn's wingman in Korea. Has a claim to being the greatest hitter who ever lived. Was a great fisherman (a Hall of Fame fisherman). Apparently married a few models.

And if he is still frozen perhaps he is not done yet ...

+1.

Other athletes: Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner (I mentioned above), Moe Berg (ditto), Jack Kemp, Muhammad Ali (someone else mentioned)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Bannister
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._B._Fry

Byron White finished 2nd in the Heisman, led the NFL in rushing yards, and went on to be a Supreme Court Justice

Gerald Ford -- President
Byron White --Supreme Court
Bill Bradley -- Senator
Jack Kemp -- Cabinet, Congress, Candidate
Jim Brown -- Actor

Almost certainly someone you've never heard of.

I nominate Joseph Kessel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Kessel

French writer with Russian (Litvak) roots, born in Argentina. He was an aviator during WW1, a member of the Résistance during WW2, he wrote the Résistance anthem (well, translated it from Russian).

He was a journalist (Grand Reporter), wrote novels about his travels, never stopped moving, meeting the most interesting people of his time. He was passionate, he even got himself voluntarily excluded from all casinos in France after a ten days gambling spur in Cannes that left him ruined (https://www.indeauville.fr/kessel)

Definitely a contender.

People get him confused with Georgie Jessel.

How about Savielly Tartakower? World class chessplayer, writer, gambler. Fought in both world wars, first for Austria than for France. (Parachuted behind enemy lines in WW2).

Socrates (Brazilian footballer). 14th Dalai Lama. Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. Paul Erdos travelled and collaborated extensively, but would be a terrible pick. Von Neumann for intellectual diversity. Ronald Reagan never served overseas during the war, which is almost a disqualification. Christopher Lee, Feynman, and Schwarzenegger come to mind. Teddy Roosevelt died just shy of 100 years ago, but certainly led an interesting life. Turing almost qualified for the Olympics and did some other interesting stuff.

We seem, collectively, to think that to live an interesting life we need to have fought in at least one war. Most of those suggested here, including both Churchills, have some sort of wartime heroics in their story.

War is power, and death, and deep uncertainty, and chaos. What could be more intrinsically interesting? One is reminded of that line from Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian: "War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner."

Right. If Reagan had seen combat in WWII, he'd probably be the easiest choice:

Golden Age Hollywood
WWII
White House

Among people still living, I think Rory Stewart would be a good candidate.

+1. Yes, was hunting for his name in the comments.

He’s a trenchant self-publicist. And was caught out on his Wikipedia page embellishing his “interesting” life. For example he claimed have been in the army, when in fact it was a few months on a gaaaap year. If he’ll BS about that, then where’s the limit? But then he is a political hack.

Ryszard Kapuskinski (Polish journalist who covered Africa and the Middle East for nearly 60 years) and Ibn Battuta (Moroccan who spent decades traveling the world) are my top 2.

How about Trotsky (depending on how 'person from the last 100 years is counted'). Contributed to world historical events, fought in a war, consistent contact with thinkers around the world, travelled extensively in and out of russia (being exiled will do that to you), had an affair with Frida Kahlo, and murdered with an ice ax. While I wouldn't want to live there, Russia in the early 20th century is a more interesting place than the US, and certainly more than the UK.

Trotsky is up there.

Wild stuff like sitting down with some textbooks and teaching himself how to command an army.

Albert O. Hirschman, Steven Runciman (instead of Keynes)

Aldous Huxley. Reviewing the Wikipedia entry just now--- Hmm. He probably had 'Cortical Visual Impairment' (A Wikipedia page title.) Omits important shift to talks and two long series of lectures in his final years ~1959-1961, if I recall correctly 21 talks at UCSB (then a State college), 13 at MIT cut short as he was becoming too ill, and UC Berkeley. He was still in good health during his Santa Barbara series of talks (later published as a large book) and many of them were symposia with panels of famous academics and intellectuals of the time. Also omitted, perhaps because it was poorly documented, was his participation during founding years of one of the major public policy think tanks of the 1960's, the 'Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions' near Santa Barbara in Montecito. (Also a Wikipedia page name.) (Long ago I tried to track down and get access to some storage boxes relating to his involvement at the old grounds of the CSDI campus but without success. Those boxes might not even exist anymore.) Another mention, same era, -- H.G. Wells, when he visited Stalin, told him he'd have to put the engineers in charge for the revolution to be successful. (Hmm, let's see now, what's the academic background most of the most powerful politicians in China?)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Benjamin Franklin, Augustus II the Strong, Yukio Mishima, and Adrian Carton de Wiart are all worth a mention, and at least a browsing of their Wikipedia entries. Interesting, though of course obvious, is the fact that some level of fame is necessary just to be included in the discussion. Another thing that strikes me as eminently interesting is that while I might not find a particular famous person interesting (say, any member of the Kardashian clan, or Donald Trump), the cultural phenomena surrounding them certainly are. Is a person's 'interesting-ness' to be separated from their effects on others/society/public discourse? If not, what value do we ascribe to this influence?

Franklin would be up near the top of list of most successful individuals ever. The stuff he did after age 75 is ridiculous:

- Negotiated highly favorable end to Revolutionary War
- Invented theory of volcanoes causing cold years and bad harvests
- Introduced bifocals to North America
- Served as senior statesman at Constitutional convention
- Took up abolitionism

This exercise gets much wider if you don't have the "last 100 years" constraint mentioned in the post.

Jimmy Carter: peanut farmer, graduate of the Naval Academy, submarine officer, devoted husband, father, and grandfather, governor, president, ambassador for democracy and world peace, and fly fisher in the world's best streams and rivers. And he is from and continues to reside in Plains, Georgia.

These guys?

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/BadassBookworm/RealLife

Fashion designer John Weitz, who was the world's most famous sock designer when I was young, checks off an awful lot of boxes:

- Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany at about 13
- OSS in WWII
- Race car driver
- Yachtsman
- Married a movie star
- Fashion designer
- Bestselling novelist
- Friend of the famous
- Sons are movie directors

Love this pick. When I was a teenager, his book “Man in Charge” was my bible.

Miles Davis: Be Bop, Cool, Hard Bop, Post Bop, Free Bop, Fusion, Electric Jazz. He played with Bird. His sidemen included Coltrane, Monk, Horace Silver, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, some of the best rhythm sections of all time. Howcan top that in any field? He traveled the world, drove a Ferrari, had plenty of women, stood up against racism and segregation, was wealthy.

I nominate:

- Maria Montessori, a medical doctor with an interesting and challenging personal life who shifts to education [abridged story here https://italianstyle.me/women-of-impact-maria-montessori-broke-gender-barriers/]

- Rita Levi-Montalcini, a small and smart woman who lives to +100 and left a legacy in neuroembryology, despite it not being easy. She was born, in 1909. Good sense of humor and got the job done, too. [more thoughts here https://italianstyle.me/women-impact-rita-levin-montalcini/]

- Enrico Fermi. Taught himself German and English to publish about physics before it was a thing in Italy. Lived at an interesting time between wars, created a Lab to test ideas (he was as passionate about theory as he was about execution - rare in his field at the time). Won a Nobel Prize for something it turns out he did not discover (not in that form), but leveraged the opportunity to move overseas where he participated in key experiments personally. He was a collaborator, elevating colleagues and students, and giving other scientists credit for their discoveries. His wife was also quite smart and published scientific papers. See "The Pope of Physics".

- Dante Alighieri, a conservative in liberal times, an artist with definite ideas about politics, a writer who completed what we still consider a masterpiece of Italian language vs. Latin (Florentine dialect elevated to writing with inventive metric) that taught generations about blending philosophy, politics, and opinion/POV way before blogs came to be. An exiled Florentine who finished his life work in Ravenna. Traveling in Italy at the time was like going between countries. Some days it still feels the way today... why we call it "il Paese" or "il bel Paese," a collection of towns (culture).

Did Leonardo da Vinci live an interesting life? His work is interesting. He was curious about how things came to be and applied his considerable talent to test ideas out with methods we can inspect today.

If I think some more, I can come up with storytellers - movie directors and scientists who left considerable legacies of substance and style.

Cara Valeria, ha dimenticato il più interessante di tutti: Girolamo Cardano.

Addizione affascinante, Attila. Grazie.

An aside: In Martin Gardner's Aha! Gotcha comes the interesting person paradox: Say there's a list of the most interesting people in the world, ranked. Someone at the top implies there's someone at the bottom. But--aha!-because he's at the bottom makes him interesting! Off he goes, and the next one... and so on...

For sure, Arthur Koestler.

This is a great answer. Journalist who traveled widely, was sentenced to death during the Spanish Civil War by Franco (but freed in a prisoner exchange), traveled in Stalin's USSR, newspaper man in Weimar Germany, enlisted in the French Foreign Legion to escape Nazis and deserted, friend of Orwell and Russell, wrote a sex book under a pseudonym, and on and on.

Attenborough was a great call. I nominate Agoston Haraszthy.

"... nobleman, adventurer, traveler, writer, town-builder, and pioneer winemaker in Wisconsin and California, often referred to as the "Father of California Viticulture," or the "Father of Modern Winemaking in California"

... And he was eaten by alligators in Nicaragua.

Also the continual Beatles fellating is sad and so specific. There have been many better and more interesting composers in the last century even within the confines of rock music (and, it goes without saying, far better musicians).

Eddie Van Halen, David Gilmour, Tony Iommi, Ozzy, Frank Zappa, John Zorn, crikey even James Hetfield.

So totally true. Overrated dead white males (well, two of them anyway), couldn't carry Beyone's jockstrap. Eddie VH has written so many more awesome songs than Lennon/McCartney and George. Just take Eruption for example. Way cool than Beatle's. People should just stop fellating those Beatles.
Keep keeping it real, Simiansecurities.

I'm fine with revisionist Beatles bashing (that's the lazy take now by the way, ragging on the Beatles is no longer edgy), but Ozzy? Hetfield? Gimme a break.

The other names maybe.

Zappa's life wasn't all that interesting, living in the SFV with the kids. And we've all known guys like Kenny and Ronnie, growing up, so that doesn't help much.

Intriguing how many people seem to think Hollywood is required to lead an interesting life.

Of course, being the first person to actually take a step on another surface than the Earth's doesn't even seem to merit notice.

Considering how no one has done that for more than 4 decades, it must have been anything but interesting to go where no man has gone before.

A very good argument can be made for nominating all sorts of people who've been neglected here so far. Jeffery Dahmer. I see that Bill Clinton's rapes and sexual assaults have been whitewashed into "diverse experiences" by his apologist TC, who probably isn't ashamed of such a lack of accuracy. To the guy who has lost his short term memory, every day s/he wakes up is a most interesting day. An then there are those (unfortunates?) who suffer from delusions and hallucinations and are completely detached from reality. Or did you mean "interesting to the rest of us"?

George Orwell - colonial police, dishwater in Paris, bum, famous writer, fighter in Spanish Civil War (where he had to live some days underground as a "Trotskyte" persecuted by the Communists)

Basil Zaharoff

Basil Zaharoff's greatest claim to fame is to have been caricatured (as Basil Bazarov) in Tintin's adventure "L'Oreille Cassée" (The Broken Ear).

Hunter S Thompson

Is it still interesting if you don't remember it?

Sure, interesting to US is the criterion.

Aha... most interesting life to observers, not necessarily to the person living it. Was that the criteria in the OP?

FWIW, I bet HST's life was pretty interesting to live

Agree 100% but then we're back to your question, was it interesting to HST if he couldn't remember it? I suppose so since he wrote it all down.

Interesting from the perspective of the person or of blog readers in 2018? The internet has made most things LESS interesting by eliminating a sense of real discovery. What is the point of traveling when I can watch unlimited YouTube videos and view unlimited photos online? Nothing is more interesting than war so I vote for a soldier in Vietnam or Napoleon, or a manifest destiny era settler. Why do people think being famous is necessary to have an interesting life? Fame can be a yoke.

I find Tyler Cowen quite intriguing.

+1
Not sure Tyler tops the list but I get the impression he is in the top 1% if "interesting" life can be measured on a inter-person comparable scale (I guess the concept has similar properties to "utility").

That's what I was going to say as well. I'm sure I want to be more like Tyler much more than he wants to be more like me.

Christopher Lee

How about the writer William Vollmann? He seems to have done everything to make his life as interesting as possible. Here are Tyler's posts on his writings: https://marginalrevolution.com/?s=vollmann

Appalling choice. He thinks the world would be a better place without you and me and the rest of the human race in it. I don't have the heart to say the same thing about him.

Is this exercise some kind of clever prelude to a Reality-as-a-simulation question from Tyler?

All time:

Hands down Julius Caesar. Has to be. The guy got captured by pirates and told them he would hunt them down and crucify them and he did. Plus the Gaul thing and the Rubicon... interesting X10000. Don't know if I'd want his life because I think more often than not people like that get stabbed in the back much earlier in life (as he could have been many, many times over).

In the past 100 years: Sorry has to be Adolf Hitler. Going from homeless to nearly bringing about a new world order. No one said interesting had to be good."

Queen Elizabeth II. She has known every major world leader and has been privy to every state secret since the Korean War - an unparalleled platform from which to have watched post-war political history unfold.

How about John Perry Barlow. "[A] long-haired hippie who was Republican by region and family, liberal in his insistence on questioning authority and tradition, and libertarian in his reflexive (but not insuperable) doubts about government." Public school and boarding school. Friend to and writer for the Grateful Dead. Lapsed Mormon. Took LSD and was friendly with Timothy Leary. de facto student body president Wesleyan. Talked his way out of the draft. Accepted to Harvard Law School but doesn't attend. Dates the Dalai Lama's sister. Cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Friend or friendly with John F. Kennedy Jr., Edward Snowden, Dick Cheney, Andy Warhol, Neal Cassady, and Augustus Owsley Stanley. Active in The WELL. Writer for Wired and The New York Times and of A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.

Seems to have had an insanely fun and interesting life.

Second that. Also his buddy Stewart Brand, who's a major figure in a book I'm writing.

Trump

Donny from Queens gets my vote as well.

Funny how it took 113 comments before anyone made this very obvious suggestion

McCarntney recently described (on Marc Maron's podcast) that he rides the London subway regularly, and people don't generally say anything as they're buried in their screens. So, I guess he does go out in public alone, regularly

Kris Kristofferson is pretty neat:

Army brat
Rhodes scholar
Helicopter pilot
Graduate Army Ranger school
Janitor at Columbia Records in Nashville
Landed a helicpoter in Johnny Cash's front yard to deliver demo tapes
Singer/songwriter/actor
Member of the Highwaymen
Member of the Country Music Hall of Fame
Dated Janis Joplin
Father of 8

Paul Bowles. Studied under Aaron Copland, wrote musical theater in NY. Became a fixture in the Paris art scene in the 30s. Settled in Tangier, where he wrote fiction about north Africa and documented the music and culture. Seems to have known every significant author or musician from the 1930s to the 1990s. His best novel, The Sheltering Sky is IMHO better than anything Hemingway ever produced.

If we're going to consider pre-20th century, then a major candidate is Richard Francis Burton, the 19th century British explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat.
- Mastered 29 languages
- Passed as a Turkish Muslim and managed to sneak into Mecca without getting himself killed.
- Tried to pass as a Mormon in 19th century Salt Lake City, but got caught by Brigham Young
- Explored the source of the Nile
- Translated the Kama Sutra, the of One Thousand and One Nights , the Perfumed Garden, the Lusiads, etc.

Yep I picked him above too. If we're not limited to last 100 years he might be the all time winner.

Patrick Leigh Fermor perhaps? Traveller, writer, polyglot, abductor of Gen. Kreipe in Crete.

Seems to be a bias towards someone famous, and someone who operated at the top level of a field. Additional bias is towards accomplishments in multiple fields. (Not saying I disagree).

I have read biographies of mountain men and explorers who had pretty darn interesting lives, but aren't really famous. Some of course are mythologized.

So what's the definition of interesting?

Is it more interesting to make decisions (i.e. Nixon) or be privy to a lot of decision-making (i.e. Kissinger), just for example.

Of course by the standards above, JFK ought to be in the list.

If we place much value on politics (I don't) George HW Bush has been involved in a lot of things, including being president when the Cold War ended, after other international & intelligence appointments.

Bush is a great nominee. Son of a Senator, All American baseball player in college, fighter pilot, oil man, intelligence officer, ambassador to UN and Red China, head of the CIA . . . and of course President

And father of a president too, of course

Francisco de Miranda

Famous people will top the list because their fame is an interesting-ness multiplier. Its more interesting to sit down to dinner with a head of state than at McDonald's.

Re: the last point, I do agree that it shouldn't be someone world-famous. If you can't walk down the street unencumbered in normal circumstances, or if you need a security detail for routine tasks, I don't think you can qualify. So this removes McCartney and Clinton from consideration.

I think the most interesting person would probably be someone who has about the stature of Keynes: famous within his field, successful enough to be highly influential and have hobnobbed with the great and powerful, but not SO famous that you can't do ordinary tasks without being mobbed (or threatened) by admirers.

Churchill might still qualify, because I don't think he became world-famous until relatively late in life.

I don't know if he's had the most interesting life, but if I could come back and live somebody else's life, I'd pick George Clinton. He's the dude who's most different from my actual life but I think I would have really enjoyed his life too.

I am not a fan of his work nor a member of his organization . . . but when you read the personal history of L. Ron Hubbard, it's hard not see his life's journey as highly interesting.

Actually interesting, or just really creepy?

What about Deng Xiaoping? Living through a couple of wars while serving as a military official, constant political maneuvering to influence policy (and to fend off assassination), including facing off against one of history's most violent rulers, and then ruling the most important country in the history of the world.

In a similar vein, there is Lee Kwan Yew, and some of the early leaders of Israel.

Problem with metrics: those who have lived interesting lives might not be that interesting to talk to. People who are interesting to talk to may not have led very interesting lives. So are we using a biographical or conversational metric?

For a biographical metric, I would nominate Patrick Leigh Fermor, TE Lawrence, James Brooke, Louis Lamour, Isabelle Eberhardt, WS Burroughs, Aleister Crowley. I think some of these people would be fun to have a drink with, as well.

Francoise Gilot, Picasso's mistress that became Jonas Salk's wife is someone in a lot of interesting positions and subject to potentially massive swings in social standing and immediate culture. to me an interesting life isn't necessarily in the doing, authors, sculptors, scientists, etc all seem to have very similar arcs to their creative works, and creative processes can be boring and tedious, we never see these folks practice, we drop in on the performance, catch them around town and don't account for the work. now if a person's work is intensely interesting I suppose you could give points for that. to me, very personally i am interested in people who've boomed busted boomed again, intrepid deviants to the one act arc.

It's tied between Steve Irwin and Rick Steves.

Caro's subjects, Robert Moses and LBJ, should be up there.

Graham Greene, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Bob Dylan, and John Muir all come to mind.

I think I'd add Jimmy Carter to that list too.

Among those who lived in the last 100 years: Begin: Einstein; Fermi; Gandhi; Kissinger; Hedy Lamarr

John Huston once said he had done everything once except homosexuality ( he did not clarify if that number was greater or less than 1 ), so he probably deserves thought.

There are probably spies diplomats and mercenaries who are not on most of our radars who could make a good claim.

From the “This list” link in the post, I would select Richard Branson

Neil Cassady: Casanova, car thief, endless road-warrior and adventurer (back when the world was bigger), Merry Prankster, written about by 3 different novelists: Kerouac, Wolfe and Kesey, risk-taker till the day he died, which was of a heart-attack on a railroad track in Mexico after he'd bet the locals at a bar he could walk from one town to the next and count every railroad tie.

Last words: 64,528

The Count of Monte Cristo

Tom Lehrer, singer & mathematician: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhuMLpdnOjY

Kris Kristofferson

Robert Benchley

Hedy Lamarr

Mike Tyson

Lot's of words, few nominations. Let's add:

John Paul Getty, Howard Hughes and Bob Uecker.

Everyone seems to think what makes a life "interesting" is being very active and doing new things all the time, but maybe there's an overtone or element of drudgery and boredom (and/or its escape) in some of these stories. Who is to say the most interesting life isn't one that is contemplative?

I nominate the guy who once remarked "if I were asked to name the chief event in my life, I should say my father's library," Borges. (Quote from Wikipedia). His family did travel around Europe for awhile and he got married briefly in his late sixties, but I've always had the sense that mostly he just did a lot of reading - and was very good at it, of course.

I think that physicists, mathematicians, philosophers, and certain types of artists are underrepresented in the comments. I suspect that when you have a mind that is fascinated by the things that the human mind can do and create, and you get to spend most of your waking hours exploring those things, you probably have a very interesting life (at least subjectively speaking). It kind of makes me think of Aristotle's friendship of the good.

I guess the question is, who is this life most interesting to? Is the measure whose life is most interesting to others, or to themselves? The person I am most endlessly fascinated by is Bob Dylan. He is the modern Sphinx.

Forrest Gump:
-Overcame a crippling desease,
-Fought in Vietnam,
-Ran across America,
-Met several presidents and famous people (Kennedy, Nixon, John Lennon).
-Came up with several famous phrases: "Shit Happens", "And no religion too",
-Played football professionally,
-Played ping-pong professionally and got an olympic medal for it,
-Started a multi-million dollar business with Lieutenant Dan.
-Has a kid that is smarter than he is.
I'm probably forgetting other interesting facts.

Downsides:
-Pretty much celibate (other than one encounter with Jenny),
-Not very accomplished on the intellectual side.

Che Guevara, though maybe his death at 39 disqualifies.

OTOH, from the subjective view, long lives are probably less interesting per day than the shortest of lives.

A mass murderer -- I guess you could call that interesting.

And somehow preferably to people's fascination with serial rapists like Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton raped the same number of people as Brett Kavanaugh

Why would you even say, "But did he smoke too much pot"?

Mao. I suspect he did not have the breadth of experiences others listed here have had, but did anyone, ever, literally preside over such an earth-shattering change of an entire, very large, civilization? He was there at the beginning, middle, and end. He didn't just see it, he directed it. It was about him. The range of experiences directly under his control had to be unparalleled. I realize this is an argument for him as "most influential," but he was the single-biggest human reality in millions and millions of people's lives. That's interesting.

I would vote for Angela Merkel in that she lived in East Germany and would become the leader of a unified Germany (that nobody predicted) and lead for 13+ years with 4 elected terms. She has worked with a number of leaders (including Bush, Obama, Trump & Putin) and led the steadfast nation in the post-Great Recession period all the while sort of creating a Germany led Europe with hard money central bankers. (As opposed other German leaders who failed with military means.)

And she sort of became the de facto leader of the EU/Euro all the while other nations (except France maybe) are blaming her for everything wrong.

In a political sense she does come across as the modern Iron Lady. (I like Clinton a lot but he really does not seem to understand his failures at all.)

In many ways, Trump is an incredible if you think about it.

Alexander Grothendieck. Didn't go to school, escaped being sent to Auschwitz like his father and became the greatest mathematician of all times. About 0.005 % of the world population has heard of him (my Fermi estimation).

For the sake of argument, was Richard Frances Burton really more interesting than say Alexander von Humboldt?

"Most interesting" to me could be some sort of adventurous polymath. Limiting to the last 100 years, people like Albert Schweitzer, the Alsatian theologian, organist, writer, humanitarian, philosopher, and physician and medical missionary. Anti-colonialist but realist enough to anger a lot of African celebrities. Unfortunately a bit of a crusader so that knocks him out, nothing more boring than someone with a cause.

It could also mean someone with penetrating insight who opens up new areas of inquiry and asks important questions. Nikolaas Tinbergen (not Jan Tinbergen the economist) the Dutch biologist and ornithologist who shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Karl von Frisch and Konrad Lorenz for their discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behavior patterns in animals, would be my pick. One of the principal founders of modern ethology, the study of animal behavior, the 4 questions he asked about animal behavior, known as "Tinbergen's four questions" provide a comprehensive, logical approach to studying behavior that is relevant in many other fields. I suspect economics would be vastly improved as a field of inquiry were researchers to approach issues by systematically incorporating adaption, evolution, causation, and development into their theses rather than just one or another of these questions.

Frank Sinatra. He did it his way.

Ray Lopez: polymath, chess player, world traveler, Greek, his girlfriend is half his age, read all of Wikipedia by the age of 58, fluent in 2 languages, often first to post a comment on MR.

Francesco Forgione (male European)
Adrienne von Speyr (female European)
Solanus Casey (male North American)
Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (female North American).

no ideas about other continents.

Choose love not in the shallows but in the deep (C. Rossetti)

Freddie Oversteegen, Dutch resistance fighter who killed Nazis through seduction, died over the weekend.

"They sabotaged bridges and rail lines with dynamite, shot Nazis while riding their bikes, and donned disguises to smuggle Jewish children across the country and sometimes out of concentration camps. In perhaps their most daring act, they seduced their targets in taverns or bars, asked if they wanted to “go for a stroll” in the forest — and “liquidated” them, as Ms. Oversteegen put it, with a pull of the trigger."

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/freddie-oversteegen-dutch-resistance-fighter-who-killed-nazis-through-seduction-dies-at-92/2018/09/16/7876eade-b9b7-11e8-a8aa-860695e7f3fc_story.html?utm_term=.f57ec3c74635

The last line of the article will stay with you.

I am an expert in nothing, so I apologize if this is uninformed, but I wonder what Marc Antony lived though. Swimming in the high circles of (broadly) Roman society... Caesar, Pompey, Augustus, and Cleopatra seems incredibly intersting from our distant eyes. Did he realize the amazing era he lived through, saw first hand, and lived through a decent amount of?

Teddy Roosevelt for me, though he died 1/6/1919, so barely makes the 100 years criteria. The River of Doubt trip, 1,000 miles into the unknown Amazon 4 years AFTER his presidency seals it for me.

I'd also argue that the most interesting life was likely led by someone of whom we've never heard. Picturing a Crocodile Dundee type moving from pre-industrial life to the modern world.

Ernest Hemingway has also got to be up there.

I'll also add the names submitted so far are dominantly male - great example of both how womens' lives have been limited by social norms and how social norms/sexism affect(s) how these types of "interesting life" stories are propagated.

But Joan of Arc would be a strong contender.

Lawrence of Arabia.

Hunter S. Thompson, Jimmy Buffett, or maybe Bill Buckley - Yale, Skull and Bones, CIA, Mayoral candidate for NYC, bon vivant, political confidant, novelist, publisher, editor, blue water sailor, hell he should be on the short-list just for getting to hang out with all his guests on Firing Line.

"Alexandra David-Neel, the Franco-Belge éxploratrice whose life reads like an Oscar-winning film. She was an opera singer, and an anarchist; a student of philosophy, feminism and (rumoured) seductress of monks. And when she wasn’t meeting in secret to help the exiled Dalai Lama, she was catching rays at her “fortress of meditation” in the South of France, reflecting on what her journeys east could teach her next"

http://www.messynessychic.com/2018/09/14/she-was-the-bridge-between-paris-and-the-east/

if your criteria is having met large numbers of interesting People than Queen Elizabeth should be on the list.
For over 60 years she met just about every important politician in the world. She met every single American President since Truman.
She met just about every interesting or importan British citizen.
Plus she is the only current head of state who served in World War II.

Magic Johnson. Grew up in the midwest, obviously felt a connection there, choosing to play at Michigan State. Played awesome showtime Lakers basketball for 13 years with incredible teammates and coach. Was undisputed leader of the team. Had one of the greatest sporting rivalries of all time with Larry Bird. Won 5 championships. Lots of women. Didn't seem to suffer from pathos of many great sporting figures. Saw Jordan become Jordan first hand. The Dream Team! Then, he gets HIV. Seems to have defeated AIDS in the same way Rocky IV destroyed the Soviet Union. Fails big time as a coach and a talk show host. I count this as VERY interesting. Reinvents himself as a businessman with a focus on inner city businesses. Succeeds. Now, starts a new chapter as the owner of LA sports franchises. Come on. This is a way more interesting lives than many of the political figures mentioned. Being at the top of a sport must feel like something beyond - just the physical aspect of it. I'd rate it above artistic or political accomplishment in terms of "interesting." Question wasn't about a meaningful life.

quantifying "interesting life" is kind of difficult, i am characterizing it as "someone you want to know more about" maybe? anyway, i nominate Lyudmila Pavlichenko or Anthony Bourdain. love this blog BTW.

I would like to have a meal with the IBM executive who decided, upon being forced by the Justice Dept. to choose between pc hardware and os, that IBM would focus on pc hardware and would sell MS-DOS to Bill Gates.

I'll throw Tim Ferriss in the ring for one of the most interesting ~40 year old people currently living.

This is a guy who has traveled and lived all over the world, invested in significant companies (Facebook, Uber, Wealthfront, Twitter, Evernote), is known for his varying hobbies and habits (acroyoga, meditation, ketogenic diet, etc) and facilitated hundreds of podcasts with people from all walks of life. He learned sumo wrestling as a child while living in Japan and competed in the Buenos Aires Tango Championships while living in Argentina. He's also open discussed his use of psychedelics and is currently helping to fund an academic study on the benefits of psilocybin when treating depression. The list goes on...

Lebron James will one day make the list.

Bill Tilman - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Tilman. Fought in both World Wars, including behind the lines partisan support. Owned a coffee plantation in Kenya after WWI. Rode a bicycle across Africa when there were no roads. Climbed all over the world, with and without Eric Shipton, including early attempts on Everest in the 1930s. Disappeared while sailing. Excellent, prolific writer. Sardonic view of Western civilization, but generally a more enlightened view of African and Eastern cultures than was common at the time.

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