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ClassicsOnline Home » SOAMES, N.: Famous People in History, Vol. 2 (Unabridged)
There is a need for accessible short biographies of key people for younger listeners. Following the success of Famous People, Volume I, Nicolas Soames presents another varied group of men and women who have changed the course of history. This is the second volume of popular histories of famous people Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, George Washington, Ludwig van Beethoven, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie and Mahatma Ghandi.
FAMOUS PEOPLE IN HISTORY II
Alexander the Great • Joan of Arc • Leonardo da Vinci
Isaac Newton • George Washington • Ludwig van Beethoven
Louis Pasteur • Marie Curie • Mahatma Gandhi
There are many millions of people living in the world today
— more than ever before. Since man became civilized and began keeping records
of history, billions of people have lived and died on this planet.
Some were well known in their villages, their towns, their
counties, and even in other countries as well. They did good, important work,
which, in small ways, helped mankind to live more fulfilled and happier lives.
But a small number left large footsteps on the memory of the
world. For eleven years — 2,300 years ago — Alexander the Great marched with
his army from Macedonia to India. Even now, in the 21st century AD, people on
the route he passed — the mountains, the villages and plains — tell the tale of
his coming. In a way, he was perhaps the first ruler with a world perspective,
because he dreamed of one big world country.
He died before he could achieve it, and others — both good
and bad men — have tried to do it. None have succeeded yet.
Joan of Arc became famous in a totally different way. A
village girl in medieval France, who couldn’t read or write or even ride a
horse at the beginning of her story, became a heroine for her people. She had
visions, she said. For a little over a year, her light shone brightly as she
led her people — before she was burned at the stake. Why should she be remembered
now? Many people have said they had visions.
But there is little doubt that people who met her felt that
she wasn’t ordinary. She is remembered not so much for what she did, but for
what she was.
It is easier to see why Leonardo da Vinci is remembered. The
man and his work can be seen in thousands of remarkable drawings in his
notebooks — they are direct records of his fertile mind. His mind overflowed
with ideas and images, and he had the artistic skill to put them down for us to
see. Even more memorable are his important paintings, including the Mona Lisa,
the most famous portrait in the world.
Isaac Newton was a very different man. Though he seemed
ordinary boy, he turned into a man with a remarkably clear
mind. He looked at the planets and the night sky and thought about why the
stars are there; and why things — an apple — fall to the earth. And he realized
all about the pull of gravity.
He was a great mathematician, and a scientist. He had a job
during the day — the Master of the Mint — but in his free hours he pushed
forward the knowledge of the world we live in. He was the father of modern
George Washington was the father of the United States of
America, the most powerful country on earth. He was brave in war, and a
well-organized farmer in peace. Quite an ordinary man, really. But tall and
straightforward, he was a hero that the people of a young country could all
look up to and follow.
Ludwig van Beethoven wrote some of the most famous
symphonies and piano concertos. Once you have heard the opening of his Symphony
No 5, you will always recognize it. But he was also important because he made
people take music and composers seriously. In the courts of Europe, before
Beethoven, composers were regarded as servants. Count Waldstein, a friend and
patron of Beethoven, told his servants that if he and Beethoven were to arrive
at his house together, they were to look after Beethoven first. This was quite
We now know that tiny germs can harm mankind just as
volcanic explosions or big waves or winds. In the 19th century, people were
only just beginning to realize how bacteria affected people’s health and how
they could stop the terrible illnesses that could wipe out communities.
Louis Pasteur, the French scientist, was fascinated by this
micro world. He saw the bacteria wriggling around under his microscope, and
gradually produced answers to many diseases. The vaccination programs we have
now began mainly with him.
Marie Curie was also fascinated by physics and chemistry. In
a world when women were still expected to be only mothers and wives, looking
after the house, she showed that women were just as capable as men. She was an
important research scientist and discovered the element radium. She was the
first woman to win the Nobel Prize — and she won it twice.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi became an icon for one of the
most densely populated countries on earth — India. He led India to independence.
But he did it in a most unusual way — by peaceful means. He insisted on
non-violence…that by protesting in a peaceful way, the end could be achieved.
There didn’t always have to be violent revolution, causing so much unhappiness,
pain and death.
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