Rather On People Of Century

For the past two years CBS News and Time magazine have been presenting the series People of the Century.

The complete list, now in print, features 100 visionaries from artists to athletes, poets to politicians, the men and women of the 20th century who have most affected our lives.

CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather wrote the foreword for the book. And he talks about the list on The Early Show.

The basic criterion for deciding who is on the list is who had the greatest influence in the 20th century, explains Rather.

And though he says it is hard to pick, he finds Nelson Mandela and Billy Graham the most interesting among those selected.

"Courage is the first thing that comes to mind when you think Nelson Mandela," he says, citing the richness of his mind developed in prison.

"The Reverend Billy Graham I always find interesting whether you're talking about religion or any other subject. Billy Graham is one of the best-read people," he adds.

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And there are two people Rather says he would have liked to have met: Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill.

He would have liked to ask Gandhi, his own personal choice for the Person of the Century, "where he found the courage to do what he did," he says, adding that people these days tend to think of Gandhi as a post-World War II phenomenon.

"Mahatma Gandhi was Time's man of the year in 1931. He...led the ending of the colonial period, which lasted since the 16th century, and he proved that nonviolence could win," he notes.

Winston Churchill "probably saved Western civilization with the only weapons he had: his words," Rather says. So any interview with him would have been terrific, he adds.

There is an unnamed person on the list: the Chinese student who stood defiantly in front of a column of military tanks to protest for democracy in Tiananmen Square.

"If the 20th century is the American century, and I think it has been the American century, it's because we led both the idea and ideal of freedom of the individual. And I think his standing in front of the tank symbolized the century," Rather explains.

"I would not be surprised to see a generic symbol such as that man standing in front of the tank or the American GI become, if you will, the Person of the Century....It's just my own guess that it could turn out that way if it doesn't turn out to be Winston Churchill," he adds.

The American GI is on the list because of the contribution made. "What would have happened if World War I had turned out differently, or more importantly if World War II had turned out differently?" asks Rather.

Besides those mentioned, there are personalities most people expect on the list such as Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson. What may be surprising is that Bart Simpson is among the honorees.

"I didn't agree with the Bart Simpson choice but I think he's in, one, mostly because he's fun, and you need to have fun," says Rather

And two, because it was argued that in the last quarter of the 20th century, American culture made a turn toward "I won't say irreverence, but...'I'm going to be myself whether you like it or not,'" he says.

Others on the list are innovators like Bill Gates, Tim Berners-Lee, who created the Internet. A not-so-well known person Albert Touring was a Cambridge University mathematician and philosopher who, in many ways, laid the groundwork for the computer with his work on mathematical equations and the so-called Touring Machine, he adds.

"I think we're going to be well into the 21st century before historians will have a perspective who in the 20th century contributed the most to the development of computers and things such as the Internet and the now-upon-us digital age," Rather says.

As for who may be the person of the 21st century, Rather can only guess that it might be someone involved in biotechnology.

People of the Century
"That's going to be the explosion of the early part of the 21st century," he notes. "Living people, you know, who knows? As a guess, I think somebody who stands up for freedom, freedom of the individual, very much as that man did in Tiananmen Square will probably be the person of the 21st century."

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