The 5 Most Powerful Geeks of All Time

Let’s jump back a few years. Shortly after the release of Geek Wisdom, a book I was honored to contribute to, I was contacted by Men’s Health magazine to write a piece about the most powerful geeks of all time. It sounded like a fun assignment. I wrote the piece. It was supposedly filled with “awesome stuff” and “everyone at the office [loved]” it, according to the editor who contacted me.

But they never used it, and I never heard from that editor again. Rather than let it languish on a memory stick, I figured I’d yank it from the archives and post it here. So here you go:

The 5 Most Powerful Geeks of All Time

Geeks. Hear the word and the usual stereotypes spring to mind. They’re small. Have bad eyesight. Are way too into their strange little hobbies and pastimes. But the truth is, throughout history geeks have been some of the most powerful people in the world. Take a gander at this list and you’ll realize that yes, the geek shall inherit the Earth.

thomas-jefferson5. Thomas Jefferson

That’s right, Thomas Jefferson was a geek. The man snubbed the nose of a king, helped start a revolution that shook the entire globe, and doubled the size of the United States. But he was also an unabashed nerd who invented gadgets as one of his many hobbies, learned Gaelic just so he could translate some rip-roaring Irish mythology, created his own secret codes, and even sliced up the Bible to create his own personal, miracle-free version. In other words, if Jefferson were alive today he’d be a character on Big Bang Theory.
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TAKEAWAY: No matter how busy his life became, Jefferson made time to indulge his intellectual curiosity. Do the same and like him you’ll be a more capable, well-rounded person.

Barack-Obama4. Barack Obama

The most powerful man in the world is not merely president of the most powerful country in the world, he’s also a shameless comic book fan who likes to sip on honey-tinged homebrew made in the White House, knows that Gwen Stacy is the blonde and Mary Jane Watson is the redhead, and lugged his Conan the Barbarian comic book collection to the White House when he took office. Oh yeah, and he also has his finger on The Button.
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TAKEAWAY: Obama shows us that no matter how high you climb on life’s ladder, it’s important to remember the things that made you who you are today.

Bill-Gates3. Bill Gates

The late Steve Jobs gets all the press these days, but Bill Gates not only helped pave the way for a million and one technical advances you probably take for granted – chances are you use several devices a day that rely on or were influenced by the juggernaut that is Microsoft– he’s actively saving lives all across the world. That’s right, Bill Gates is a superhero. He has given billions (with a “b”) to charity, is working to eradicate tuberculosis, has helped to get every library in America connected to the Internet, and is improving agriculture in the Third World … all before you finish your first cup of coffee in the morning.
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TAKEAWAY: Gates teaches us all that the geek axiom “with great power comes great responsibility” should be taken to heart, even more so as we become successful in life.

Issac-Newton2. Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton was the runt of his family, as a teenager secretly kept a list reasons of why he didn’t like his stepfather, and was so into doing his schoolwork that he broke off a marital engagement just so he could keep studying. Can you say dork? But he also changed the world by revolutionizing mathematics, science, and our very understanding of the universe. Almost every facet of modern life and technology owes a debt to Newton. Now that’s power.
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TAKEAWAY: Newton is proof positive that no matter our size, ability, or wealth, our greatest legacy is the thoughts and ideas we leave behind.

Mark-Zuckerberg1. Mark Zuckerberg

Yes, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. The guy who created Facebook isn’t one of history’s most powerful geeks yet, but give him time. Once this counterculture programming nerd has a wealth of deep personal data on every man, woman and child on the planet, he’ll be in a position to be the world’s next super hero … or super villain. That comic book that has yet to be written, but with a userbase approaching one billion people Zuckerberg arguably already wields more power than most heads of state
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TAKEAWAY: Zuckerberg may be controversial, but he’s also a clear lesson that good ideas are meaningless if you don’t pursue them.
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Eric San Juan is a freelance writer living at the Jersey Shore. He is the coauthor of Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture (Quirk Books 2011), among others. He is also a proud geek.