Some of these people are known for their academic brilliance and others for their bravery in standing up for what they believe is right. There is no particular order to the list that I present below. It is just as it comes.
Paul Erdős was a brilliant and eccentric Hungarian mathematician who had a long and productive career. He spent most of his adult life living out of a suitcase and worked ceaselessly. He was truly single-minded in his devotion to the subject.
Albert Einstein revolutionised physics in the twentieth century. He was responsible for shaking up its foundations and introducing relativity. The idea behind special relativity theory is very simple. The laws of physics must be the same as seen by any observer in the universe. He was also a respected social commentator. He believed in compromise as the best approach to any problem.
Paul Dirac, the English physicist responsible for helping to develop the quantum theory , was a very reserved man. He had a very overbearing father and Professor Dirac was scathing in his attitude towards his father in later life.’ I owe him nothing,’ he said. He developed the mathematics of quantum theory and put it on solid foundations.
Richard Feynman was an extrovert and a remarkable thinker. He worked with J. R. Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project as a young man at the Los Alamos laboratories in New Mexico. He had great insight into physical problems and was renowned for his series of lectures on physics that he gave at Caltech. He was not afraid to ruffle feathers in the search for truth. He was uncompromising when he believed he was right. He had a strong belief that science was the only truth. He had a healthy contempt for so-called philosophers. He managed to solve the cause of the Challenger disaster in 1986, isolating it to a problem with the o-ring seals that sealed the solid booster rockets. In cold weather, he said, they became less able to expand to fill the gap and this resulted in the failure of one of the solid booster rockets in the 1986 disaster. On that day, it was extremely cold at launch from the Johnson Space Center in Florida.
John Pilger, the Australian journalist and author of ‘The Hidden Agenda’ and ‘Freedom Next Time’, has strongly held views on the dangers of allowing the United States of being global policeman. He believes that the USA conceals its global intentions of economic subjugation behind a rhetoric of scaremongering and that the ease with which it has found willing allies in Europe and around the world, for example in extrajudicial renditions, is particularly disturbing.
Nelson Mandela is a hero of epic proportion. The word ‘hero’ is bandied about far too readily but this man was prepared to give his life for what he believed in. He had a vision and did not lose sight of where he wanted to get to. He did not allow power to corrupt him and set an example and a challenge that precious few African leaders have followed. Africa needs more principled leaders like him.
Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist who wrote about the evils of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the war being perpetrated in Chechnya and Grozny, the utter corruption of the Russian state and was assassinated in order to silence her.