The Algorithms of Fame


What exactly is fame? Is it synonymous with renown, with historical importance, or with historical significance? Do importance and significance have the same meaning in this context? Are the most famous women and men—the “big names”—of past times the persons who contributed the most to propelling or stemming the tides of history? Does being merely remembered matter more or less than accomplishing something that made a difference to the pace of human progress? What is the value of quantifying recognition versus qualifying the value added of a particular individual action or bundle of actions? All of these questions, and more, arise from Skiena and Ward’s novel, bold attempt to compare thousands of human endeavors across time and geography in Who’s Bigger? Where Historical Figures Really Rank. It works, in a sense, but does it improve understanding?