PATCH ADAMS (BORN 1945)
For a while, he found it difficult to be around people, so he set out to do experiments in friendliness. He would call random numbers on his phone and speak to the people on the other end until they’d become friends. He would start up conversations with strangers in the street. And he would ride elevators up as many floors as it took for the people inside to introduce themselves and start laughing together.
To him, laughter is one of the best medicines. It can get the blood flowing, strengthen your heart, and even help your body fight off diseases.
If you want to help make the world a better place, Patch has some suggestions: be silly in public, wear funny clothes, be friendly to everyone you meet, and pick up all the garbage that you see in your town.
“Anyone can do something,” he says. “It’s about deciding to do it—to dive into work for peace and justice and care for everybody on the planet.”
EDDIE AIKAU (1946–1978)
Eddie never let the sea take anyone away. For that, they made him Lifeguard of the Year.
DR. NAIF AL-MUTAWA
Naif realized that there were no Muslim characters in any of the comic books he was reading. He decided that he would grow up to be a writer, so he could create them.
In 2007, he made it a reality.
The 99 are a team of superheroes from all around the world, each named after one of the different ninety-nine qualities of Allah
One character, Mujiba the Responder, has answers to everything, and wears a headscarf.
Darr the Afflicter, uses a wheelchair and can manipulate people’s nerves.
The comics have sold thousands of copies, been turned into a TV show, and are handed out to children at refugee camps.
Naif has received death threats because of the 99. But he’s also been praised. President Obama thanked him for inspiring so many young Muslims and for letting them know that they can be superheroes, too.
MOHED ALTRAD (BORN 1948)
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “Shepherds don’t go to school.”
Mohed didn’t listen. In the mornings, he’d secretly race barefoot across the hot desert sand to a schoolhouse, where the other kids would bully him for being poor. He ignored them, knowing education was his only chance to get out.
He worked so hard, he won a place to go to France and study.
Mohed saved and saved and bought a company that was about to fall apart. He renamed the company after himself—Altrad—and he turned it around. Today, it has 1 million customers, in 100 countries, and 17,000 employees to organize everything.
Mohed’s proven, to himself and everyone else, that it doesn’t matter how you grow up, or what people tell you you’re supposed to be—there are no limits to what you can achieve.
ROALD AMUNDSEN (1872–1928)
To prepare for his journeys, he slept with all his windows open during the freezing winter. He also made visits to native people living in the north. They taught him about wearing animal skins against the cold and using dogs to drag sleds across the snow.
He put all his energy into preparing an expedition. Then, one day, terrible news came: a man named Robert Peary had beaten him to it.
Not wanting to give up, Roald secretly turned his expedition around and tried to become the first person to reach the South Pole instead.
With four people, four sleds, fifty-two dogs, and lots of determination, he became the first person to reach the South Pole.
Using his new fame, Roald built a huge airship and flew to the North Pole to fulfil his dream. Later, people found out that Robert Peary had never actually been there. In the end, Roald was first to the North Pole, after all.
DANIEL ANTHONY (1794–1862)
Daniel was an abolitionist, which meant he wanted an end to slavery, and a pacifist, which meant he didn’t believe in violence. He believed in hard work, family, and treating people equally, which are all values he tried to instill in his daughter.
It must have worked. Susan grew up to be one of the most important activists of the time. She campaigned for women’s rights and against slavery, and was so effective and influential that, one hundred years later, her face was put on the dollar coin.
After her father died, Susan wrote to a friend saying, “The best way I could prove my love and respect for his memory, is to try to do more and better work for humanity than ever before.”
LOUIS ARMSTRONG (1901–1971)
Despite being alone, miserable, and away from his family, Louis managed to find joy and escape in music. By the time he left the home, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
Louis kept playing and was discovered and mentored by King Oliver, the most famous jazz cornet player of the time.
One magazine called him, “America’s greatest gift to the world.”
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH (BORN 1926)
Thrilled to finally venture out into world, he was annoyed when they only sent him as far as Wales!
The bosses were reluctant to put him on TV. There weren’t many programs about the natural world, and they weren’t sure that anyone would want to watch them. They also thought that David’s teeth were too big and that no one would want to watch him either.
His shows have brought people face to face with gaping-mouthed anglerfish, illuminating the seabed with the glowing bulbs that hang from their heads. Viewers have seen sneaky cuckoos, slipping their own eggs into the nests of other birds. From the safety of their living rooms, they have even been able to watch lions chasing, catching, and feasting on zebras and gazelles.
David brought the exciting, magical, and bizarre world of nature into the homes of millions of viewers. And he wasn’t just entertaining them; he was letting them know about the magnificent creatures with which we share our planet, the dangers those creatures face, and what we can do to help save them.
BALDWIN IV (1161–1185)
Saladin knew then that Jerusalem was weak. He seized this opportunity and sent his army of 26,000 men to take the town.
Baldwin dragged himself out of bed and on to a horse. He was so unwell, one writer at the time described him as being “half dead.” His bloody hands were wrapped in bandages and he could barely see through his swollen, cloudy eyes.
Somehow, they completely destroyed the invading forces: 500 men rescued their city from a force of 26,000. Jerusalem was saved.
LOUIS BRAILLE (1809–1852)
One day, he took down a tool and tried to copy what his dad was doing. The tool slipped and hit him in the face.
Louis became blind in both eyes.
“We do not need pity,” he said. “We must be treated as equals. And communication is how this can be brought about.”
Using the very same tool that had blinded him, Louis began making small dots in paper. He created the system we now call Braille. It was easy to write, easy to read and easy to use in books.
Braille is now used by blind people all over the world. Famous musicians have learned to read music using it. New books are published in it.
EUGENE CERNAN (1934–2017)
Eugene Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon.
He thought it was sad that countries were no longer interested in reaching the moon and hoped that the next generation would be inspired to keep pushing the limits of space.
“I’m quite disappointed that I’m still the last man on the moon,” Eugene said before he died.
FAVIO CHÁVEZ (BORN 1975)
The problem was, a house in Cateura was worth less than a single violin, so for any of the kids to have one would be dangerous. But there was no way the kids would improve if they didn’t have instruments on which to practice.
They used oil barrels, oven trays, and pieces of pipe to build flutes, cellos, and violins. The children were overjoyed. They practiced for two hours every day, and the Cateura Orchestra of Recycled Instruments was born.
The kids have now played in America, Norway, Palestine, and Japan, and the money they’ve made has been channeled back into their community built around a garbage dump. Through the power of music, Favio has brought hope into their lives.
CONFUCIUS (551 BC–479 BC)
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
Confucius said, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
His teachings were so powerful and wise that people today still turn to them when they need guidance.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS (1818–1895)
The people who owned them were afraid that if their slaves became educated, they would rise up and overthrow them.
The wife of the man who owned Frederick ignored this rule, teaching Frederick how to read and write.
Once he could read, Frederick read everything: leaflets, newspapers, novels, the Bible.
As a free man, he married, had children, and traveled across America, speaking and campaigning, not just for the end of slavery, but for women’s rights, Irish independence, and other issues he was passionate about. He advised presidents and lectured students. He also published three books about his life, which went on to be bestsellers.
JESSE EISENBERG (BORN 1983)
During his first year of school, Jesse cried every day.
“I don’t want to go,” he’d tell his parents every morning.
One day, someone asked if Jesse might like to try acting in a play. So he did. And everything changed.
For the duration of the play, he wasn’t himself anymore. He was another character, lost in another world. He was Oliver Twist, darting through the grimy streets of London. Or the young Scrooge, helping the Ghost of Christmas Past teach his older self a lesson on Christmas Eve.
inside the world of plays, he had control. Everyone knew what would happen next. And Jesse didn’t feel so powerless.
“It’s not the worst thing in the world to have those feelings,” he said. “Even though it might feel like it.”
Why not? Because those feelings can come with positive qualities, like being sensitive and seeing the world differently from everyone else.
JAIME ESCALANTE (1930–2010)
When Jaime went to teach math at Garfield High School, everyone said he was wasting his time. The school had a reputation for being violent and dangerous, and the students there often failed their exams or dropped out. Jaime didn’t listen.
He told his students that education could be the key to their futures, if they only gave it a chance. If they would be patient and learn math, they could go on to get all kinds of jobs in electronics, computers, engineering, and science.
“You do not enter the future,” he told them. “You create the future. The future is created through hard work.”
Other teachers didn’t approve of him making every student answer a question before they were allowed into the classroom.
“If he wants to teach us that bad,” one student said, “then we can learn.”
The first year, two of his students passed the advanced math test, which no one from Garfield High had ever done before. The next year, nine passed. The year after that, so many of Jaime’s students passed. They’d just been inspired by a teacher who’d finally believed in them.
So many of his students got into the University of Southern California one year, they outnumbered all of the kids from the other local schools combined.
CHARLES FOURIER (1772–1837)
When his father died, Charles inherited enough money to leave home and travel all through Europe. He was excited to travel because he was a philosopher, which meant he spent most of his time thinking and writing, and the more he saw, the more he had to think and write about.
The point of all that thinking and writing was to try and make the world a better place for everyone in it.
GALILEO GALILEI (1564–1642)
Does the sun move around the earth? Or does the earth move around the sun? How do you know? Could you prove it?
When he was young, his dad sent him to school to study medicine. It was going well until Galileo accidentally wandered into a math lecture and decided right then that he was going to devote his life to that instead. He believed that math and science would finally help us explain the world.
“We cannot teach people anything,” Galileo said. “We can only help them discover it within themselves.”
MAHATMA GANDHI (1869–1948)
Thirty years later, a nineteen-year-old man called Mahatma Gandhi traveled to England to study law. With his degree, he got a job and was sent with his family to work in South Africa.
Gandhi was shocked by the racism in South Africa. One day, he was beaten and thrown off a train for refusing to give up his seat to a white person.
This treatment led Gandhi to come up with a new type of action called satyagraha.
Satyagraha means “truth force,” and using it means never allowing violence and only speaking the truth. According to Gandhi, nonviolence isn’t being afraid to fight, it’s just a different type of fighting. It’s fighting with the heart and mind. It’s fighting by refusing to hide, run, or attack with weapons.
Back in India, Gandhi taught his compatriots about this new tactic and they took it up to fight back against the British. They used protests, stopped buying British things, and ignored British laws that told them what they could and couldn’t do.
In one protest, huge numbers of Indians turned out, quietly opposing the people who were ruling them. When they were arrested, they peacefully went to jails, and more people took their places. Eventually, the jails were so full, everyone had to be released.
Finally, in 1947, India gained its independence and the British sailed home.
BILL GATES (BORN 1955)
Straight away, Bill was amazed by the possibilities. With his best friend, Paul Allen, Bill skipped classes and hid out in the computer room, hacking in to get more time. When he was only fifteen, he created a program that counted vehicle traffic, and he sold it for $20,000.
he dropped out of college, called his old friend, Paul, and started a computer company called Microsoft.
SIDDHARTHA GAUTAMA (CIRCA 480 BC–400 BC)
His parents, the king and queen, wanted to shelter him from the outside world. The only life they wanted him to know was one of beautiful clothes, rich food, and happy, restful days.
Siddhartha grew more and more curious about the outside world. One day, he had his charioteer take him outside the castle, into the town. There, Siddhartha was shocked by what he saw.
First, he saw an old man and he knew that, with age, people became frail.
Then, he saw a sick man, and he knew that any person could be afflicted with disease.
Finally, he saw a dead man, and he knew that we would all one day die.
Seeing all these things made Siddhartha realize how meaningless his life in the palace really was. He took off his fine clothes and left the palace forever, venturing out into the world with nothing.
On his travels, Siddhartha came to a large tree and he sat beneath it for forty-nine days, meditating. After those forty-nine days, he shared everything he’d learned with five people who traveled far and wide, spreading news of a new religion: Buddhism.
The religion talked about nonviolence, compassion, forgiveness, and tolerance. It said that the world is filled with misery and misery is caused by desire. If we could only stop desiring things, we might stop being miserable.
RICK GENEST (BORN 1985)
He was only fifteen when he found out he had a brain tumor. Doctors said there was a chance he might die.
Rick became obsessed, and he carried on getting tattoos until the whole of his body was covered.
Rick knew you couldn’t be yourself without being picked on by someone.
“I didn’t do this to be different,” he’d explain. “I did this to be me.”
Now Rick’s an international model. He’s been in Hollywood films, music videos, and had his face put on a doll for kids. Rick isn’t made to feel like a freak anymore. He feels like himself and people love him for it.
KING GEORGE VI (1895–1952)
One of the things he was most worried about was having to talk in front of people.
To try and prepare him, George was sent to see a speech therapist named Lionel Logue. Lionel believed that the only reason George found it difficult to speak in public was because he was so worried about how he sounded. He thought that, if George couldn’t hear himself, he wouldn’t need to be worried, and he wouldn’t stammer. To test his idea, Lionel put headphones on George, loudly played music into them, and gave him a speech to read.
With Lionel’s help, George gave speeches in public, opened Parliament, and announced to the British people that Britain had decided to go to war with Germany. He stayed friends with Lionel for the rest of his life and ended up being one of the best-loved kings that England had ever had.
JOHN GREEN (BORN 1977)
John realized he wanted to write books for young people—books that didn’t speak to them like they were babies. he knew that young people know and wonder as much as adults about life and death.
he suggested that, for an entire year, the two of them communicate with each other through YouTube videos. His brother agreed.
One nerdfighter, a warm and hilarious girl named Esther, was sick with cancer when John became friends with her. After she died, he wrote a book inspired by her life: The Fault in Our Stars.
ALAN L. HART (1890–1962)
Dr. Gilbert diagnosed Alan as transgender. It meant that the body he was in didn’t match how he felt inside. According to Dr. Gilbert, Alan had been born a boy in a girl’s body.
Alan became one of the first ever transgender people to have their body changed to match how they felt inside.
he conducted groundbreaking work on a disease called tuberculosis, and saved a lot of lives.
Society made life difficult for people like Alan, but that never stopped Alan from doing everything he could for society.
ACHMAT HASSIEM (BORN 1982)
When he woke up in the hospital, Achmat fell into a depression. His leg was gone. He’d always loved sports and swimming, and now he was worried he wouldn’t be able to do either.
Then he got a visit from an athlete named Natalie du Toit. She’d lost her leg when she was seventeen and had become a Paralympic swimmer, winning medals at three different Paralympics. She told him he should try it. He did, and he ended up winning in the Paralympics, too.
As he walked out for the final race, the audience chanted, “Shark boy! Shark boy! Shark boy!”
STEPHEN HAWKING (1942–2018)
Stephen had a lot of big questions. How did the universe start? And why? What came before it? And what exactly are black holes?
He had a special mind, and his work quickly impressed everyone.
At 21, Stephen’s body was slowly shutting down. The doctors said that he only had two more years to live. Hearing that, Stephen threw himself straight back into his investigation of the cosmos.
Stephen lived for more than fifty years past that diagnosis and he is one of the most important physicists to have ever lived. Even though he was in a wheelchair and needed a computer to speak, Stephen never stopped searching for a theory of everything: one single idea that could explain the entire universe and everything in it.
He also found time to write a famous book titled A Brief History of Time, which, for a lot of people everywhere, was their first glimpse into the grand mysteries of time and space.
“However difficult life may seem,” he says, “there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
JIM HENSON (1936–1990)
used to spend whole days having adventures and collecting animals out in the woods. He’d bring them home, too. His grandma always had to check her chair before she sat down in case he’d left a turtle or a frog on it.
“What do you want to do most in the world?” she asked him.
Jim thought long and hard. “Puppets,” he told her. “I want to make puppets.”
The show was canceled after two episodes, but Jim impressed everyone so much that he was invited to try again on an even bigger channel.
Kermit starred in TV shows and films and became one of the best-loved characters in the world.
“Just because you haven’t found your talent yet doesn’t mean you don’t have one.”
RYAN HRELJAC (BORN 1991)
His charity, Ryan’s Well Foundation, is over eighteen years old now. And it’s helped nine hundred thousand people in Africa get clean water.
Someone once asked Ryan what he’d learned. Ryan said he’d learned that the world is like a great big puzzle, with everyone just trying to figure out where they fit in. “I figure my piece fits with clean water,” he said. “I just hope everyone else finds out where their puzzle pieces fit, too.”
STEVE IRWIN (1962–2006)
He was given a pet python for his sixth birthday. By the time he was nine, Steve was out catching crocodiles with his dad.
His real passion was conservation. Even though his shows were entertaining, the point of them was to draw people’s attention to the animals.
JAMES EARL JONES (BORN 1931)
James has been the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars, Mufasa in The Lion King, the Giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, as well as countless others. But he wasn’t always such a confident speaker.
He developed a severe stutter and refused to speak because of it. For eight years, he remained almost completely silent. It wasn’t until an English teacher discovered his gift for poetry that James started speaking.
“It’s too good for you to have written,” the teacher told him, after reading one of his poems. “So please stand up and recite it from memory to prove that you did.”
He once said, “One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”
CHIEF JOSEPH (1840–1904)
When gold was found on Nez Perce land, they were told they would have to move to a reservation. Reservations were small areas of land where the Native Americans were sent so that the settlers could use their lands for themselves.
After a five-day battle in freezing weather, just a few miles from the Canadian border, Chief Joseph was forced to surrender. He told his people, “I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
WILLIAM KAMKWAMBA (BORN 1987)
Even though there was no one to teach him, William decided he could teach himself. He went to the nearest library and started reading.
Then he found a book called Using Energy, which spoke about how wind turbines could create electricity by harnessing the power of the wind. Using trees, an old fan, and a broken bicycle, William managed to build his own wind turbine to power his house.
Since the first windmill, he’s created more turbines, solar power, clean water, and soccer uniforms and equipment for his village team.
JOHN LENNON (1940–1980)
The first thing he did was marry his girlfriend, Yoko Ono. The second thing they did together was go on honeymoon. They didn’t go to a beautiful beach on an island; they went to a hotel in Amsterdam, got into bed, and stayed there for two weeks. Every day, they invited journalists into their hotel room and they would talk to them about peace and love.
Even when he was little, Carl was obsessed with plants. He wanted to know the names of them all and he spent every second of his time in the garden. People thought he was strange.
The professor was amazed. He tried another—Carl knew it. And another—Carl knew that, too. The professor was so impressed that he gave Carl a place to live, a library to use, and made him a teacher at the university.
It was then that Carl worked hard to spread news of a new way of naming things: the binomial system. In the system, every living thing on Earth has a two-word name. Because of this system, scientists across the planet, speaking in different languages, would know when they were speaking about the same plant or creature. Carl named over twelve thousand species himself.
NELSON MANDELA (1918–2013)
In the 1600s and 1700s, British and Dutch colonists arrived in South Africa and took power, resources, and land away from the native black South Africans. By 1948, white people had control of the government. They didn’t let black South Africans vote, interact with white people, or even move out of the areas in which they lived.
The government declared him a terrorist. They arrested him, found him guilty of treason, and threw him in jail. His enemies called for him to be executed. But the judge gave him a life sentence instead.
Nelson was so well known for his activism that, while he was in jail, the rest of the world began to look at how black people were being treated in South Africa. They put pressure on the white government to release him. Eventually, many years later, the white president Frederik de Klerk did.
“If you want to make peace with your enemy,” Nelson said, “you have to work with your enemy.”
Nelson wrote new laws that would give South Africans of all colors the same rights.
By 1994, Nelson had gone from spending twenty-seven years in prison to being his country’s first democratically elected president. All that time, he’d never given up hope.
WILLIAM MOULTON MARSTON (1893–1947)
Girls read comics, too, but they never got to see themselves in them. Not as superheroes, at least. All women in comic books seemed to do was get kidnapped and then get rescued by men.
And Wonder Woman was born.
William was a Harvard psychology professor.
IQBAL MASIH (1983–1995)
At the age of four, Iqbal started work at a carpet factory in Pakistan. When his mom got sick, she borrowed one hundred dollars from the owner of the factory to have an operation. She couldn’t pay the money back. Instead, she had to give Iqbal to the factory owner as a slave.
When Iqbal was ten, he escaped. He ran to the police and explained everything. Instead of helping, the police took him back to the factory and claimed a reward. This time, Iqbal was chained to the carpet machine so he couldn’t get away.
In 1995, Iqbal was murdered for speaking out against the factory owners. By that time, he’d helped save the lives of over three thousand trapped children who felt as though they’d been forgotten.
DON McPHERSON (BORN 1965)
Don McPherson was a famous American football player.
A lot of things didn’t make sense to him.
Why do we look up to people just because they can throw or kick a ball? Why are we so aggressive when we play? Is that a good way to act? And why do men insult each other by saying, “You throw like a girl?” Why would you talk about women being less able? What does that say about you?
He made sure he took the time to explain to whoever was criticizing or making fun of him exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it. When they found out that he was trying to help sick kids, a lot of people felt embarrassed and apologized.
LIONEL MESSI (BORN 1987)
Lionel Messi was eleven when he was diagnosed with a condition called growth hormone deficiency. The condition meant that his body wasn’t growing as fast as it should.
Messi tried out for the Barcelona team, where he impressed the coach so much that they agreed to pay for his treatment. The coach was in such a hurry to sign him and get him healthy, he wrote the contract on the nearest piece of paper: a napkin from the restaurant they were eating in.
In 2012, he broke the record for the most goals scored in a year. The previous record was eighty-five and had stood for forty years. That year, Messi scored ninety-one.
When he was asked to move to the English Premier League, he said no. When he was offered more money than any soccer player ever, to join a Russian team, Messi said no to that, too. He still felt loyal to Barcelona, who’d helped him as a child when he needed it most.
HARVEY MILK (1930–1978)
Harvey realized he was gay when he was fourteen.
Harvey discovered how much he enjoyed helping people with their problems, perhaps because he hadn’t let anyone help him when he needed it most. To carry on helping others, he decided to go into politics.
On November 27, 1978, an angry, troubled man, who opposed what Harvey stood for, shot and killed him in his office.
CAINE MONROY (BORN 2002)
Together, Nirvan and Caine created a website called Imagination.org, which aims to inspire creativity in schools, homes, and communities everywhere. Their mission is to get kids using their imaginations to change the world for the better. By setting challenges and sharing stories, the site has encouraged over a million young people to think creatively and have a lot of fun while doing so.
JORGE MUÑOZ (BORN 1964)
Some days after that, he passed a food factory at closing time and saw that they were throwing out perfectly good leftovers. He asked the factory workers if he could use them to feed the immigrant workers. The workers said yes.
Since it all began, Jorge and his family have served over 100,000 meals to people in need. They know how it feels to be hungry and homesick in a new country. Some of the people under that bridge may be poor, homeless, and missing their families, but at least they can count on a good, hot meal, thanks to the generosity of Jorge.
TREVOR NOAH (BORN 1984)
Trevor says he was born a crime. His dad is white, his mom is black.
His family was so poor they would eat worms. To start the car, they’d roll it down the hill to save petrol.
As he grew up, Trevor decided to make use of everything he’d been through. He wanted to put his experiences into comedy. Even when he talked about the saddest, most difficult times of his life, he managed to find the funny side. And he took his comedy all over South Africa, sharing his pain and laughter with strangers.
“In my world,” he said, “a woman was the most powerful thing that I knew. Still is.”
TENZING NORGAY (1914–1986)
on May 29, 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary became the first people in history to reach the top of the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest.
After they’d reached the top of Everest together, both became celebrities. It meant Tenzing could afford to buy a house for his family, set up his own adventuring company, and send his kids to universities in America, where they’d get the kind of education he’d never had.
Since he’d never known his birthday, he decided to give himself one, and he chose May 29: the day he’d reached the top of the world’s tallest mountain.
RIC O’BARRY (BORN 1939)
Ric used to work for a sea-life center, capturing and training dolphins for entertainment. The dolphins were made to perform on TV and in live shows, where they’d have to jump through hoops, spin through the air, and wave their fins at loud crowds. It was an exciting and glamorous life for Ric. Celebrities often came to visit and he was earning a lot of money.
One day, one of the dolphins Ric was working with died. It was far younger than it should have been. He knew that the dolphin wouldn’t have died in the wild, and it made him so upset that he quit his job, deciding to devote his life to freeing these intelligent creatures instead.
“In a world where so much that is wild and free has been lost to us,” he says, “we must leave these beautiful animals free to swim as they will and must.”
BARACK OBAMA (BORN 1961)
He didn’t seem like any president that had come before him. He collected Spider-Man comics and played basketball and even danced on TV shows.
For Malia and Sasha, he was just trying to help create a world where everyone had a chance to be whoever they wanted to be.
“That’s what twenty-first century feminism is about,” he said, “the idea that when everyone is equal, we are all more free.”
FRANK OCEAN (BORN 1987)
As a teenager, he would mow people’s lawns, wash their cars, and walk their dogs to raise money so that he could get into a studio and record his songs.
One day, a huge hurricane tore through the city. Thousands of people lost their lives, their homes, and everything they had. The studios where Frank had recorded his songs were gone, too.
The night before it came out, Frank wrote a letter to his fans, telling the story of a long summer night when he’d first fallen in love and how the person he’d fallen in love with had been a man.
Eventually, he started releasing his own music and people were amazed.
People asked if he was gay. He told them labels didn’t matter to him.
“I feel like a free man,” he said. “If I listen closely, I can hear the sky falling, too.”
CHRISTOPHER PAOLINI (BORN 1983)
Christopher didn’t like to read before his mom dragged him to the library. He hadn’t wanted to learn how and didn’t think he’d ever find reading useful. But on that trip, he picked up a book that led him into another world, and since then he’s never wanted to come home.
After one particular story, Christopher started seeing great swooping dragons everywhere. He saw them in the shower, in the garden, and even when he closed his eyes.
He knew it had to mean something.
It meant he had to write.
The book was titled Eragon. It told the story of a farm boy who finds a dragon egg and is forced to flee his hometown.
Eventually, an editor for a big publisher heard about him, read the book, and published it around the world. It was an instant bestseller.
In 2011, Guinness World Records recognized him as the Youngest Author of a Bestselling Book Series.
SERGEI POLUNIN (BORN 1989)
If he wanted to make something of himself, he’d have to go somewhere else.
his dad left to work in Portugal and sent money back so that Sergei and his mom could move to a bigger town where Sergei could study dance.
It got hard being apart and his parents divorced.
When he was thirteen, Sergei earned a place at the Royal Ballet School in London, and he moved there to study ballet. By the time he was nineteen, he’d become the youngest main dancer ever in the Royal Ballet. He won awards and medals, and people said he might be the best dancer alive.
None of it made Sergei happy.
Sergei always thought that, by earning money from dancing, he’d be able to bring his family back together. He couldn’t. And he didn’t want to do it anymore.
So he left. Right in the middle of a rehearsal. And never came back.
DANIEL RADCLIFFE (BORN 1989)
It was only because they couldn’t find the right boy anywhere that the director persuaded him to audition.
As soon as he walked into the room, everyone working on the film agreed: this boy must play Harry Potter.
Daniel’s glad that he took the part in Harry Potter, not because it made him famous or rich, but because it meant he hadn’t let the dyspraxia stop him from doing anything he wanted to. And now he has the chance to do good for others.
He loved it so much that he recorded a video of himself swinging a golf stick like a Jedi with a lightsaber.
some boys at his school found the video. They uploaded it to the Internet without asking him first.
At school, he was bullied so badly that he had to leave. He wasn’t safe on the streets either. He never knew when he’d be recognized and laughed or shouted at. He felt worthless and alone.
He had become famous for all the wrong reasons.
HANS SCHOLL (1918–1943)
One day, Hans and his sister, Sophie, were stopped and searched. The police found a draft of a new leaflet in his pocket and knew they’d caught two of the leaders of the White Rose. At the age of twenty-four, Hans was executed for standing up to the Nazis.
Despite fear, despite the possibility of death, and despite living under one of the most terrifying regimes ever to exist, Hans, Sophie, and rest of the White Rose never stopped fighting for what they believed in.
PERCY SHELLEY (1792–1822)
He didn’t know how to talk to other boys, and spent most of his time buried in books. He was bullied at school.
Percy worked on poems that turned out to be some of the most beautiful and important ever written in English. Mary wrote a book called Frankenstein, about a grotesque monster and the scientist who’d created him.
BOYAN SLAT (BORN 1994)
Boyan was shocked. He could barely see any fish; all he could really see were plastic bags. He wanted to know why.
Every year, more and more plastic trash is dumped into the earth’s oceans.
He got to work and invented a new type of ocean cleaner that would drift along on the currents, collecting plastic as the seawater passed through it.
Some scientists were doubtful that Boyan’s invention would work, but after a whole year of tests, he proved to them that it would. People were so impressed that his company raised over thirty million dollars to start their work.
VEDRAN SMAILOVIĆ (BORN 1956)
Vedran heard an explosion and looked out of his window. A bomb had gone off and killed twenty-two people who’d been waiting in line to buy bread at the bakery.
Doing the only thing he could do, Vedran put on his fanciest suit, picked up his cello, and went down into the smoke-filled streets of his city. He set up a stool in the hole left by the bomb and played.
“You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello?” Vedran replied. “Why do you not ask if they are crazy for destroying Sarajevo?”
He played in the same spot for the next twenty-two days: a day for each person who had died. He played on as buildings burned, bombs fell, and shells flew around him. He played for peace. He played for humanity. And he played to show that, even in the darkest, most terrifying times, there can be hope and beauty, if you only remember to look.
STEVEN SPIELBERG (BORN 1946)
Growing up was difficult for Steven. His family was Jewish, and neighbors and kids at school would shout insults at him because of it.
One night, Steven snuck out of his bedroom and covered all his neighbors’ windows in peanut butter.
“Jewish life came pouring back into my heart,” he said. “I cried all the time.”
Once it was released, the film earned over twenty awards. It’s now classed as one of the best films of the past hundred years.
CHESLEY “SULLY” SULLENBERGER (BORN 1951)
“We’re heading back to the airport,” Sully told ground control.
Then he realized they couldn’t make it.
“We’ll head to a runway at the next airport instead,” he said.
Then he realized they wouldn’t make that either. The only remaining option was the Hudson River.
Miraculously, Captain Sully managed to land the plane in the river. If he’d brought the plane in at an angle that was even slightly wrong, it would have broken in half, and people could have died. But everyone lived.
When investigators ran a simulation of flight 1549, they found that no other pilot was capable of doing what Sully had done.
SWAMPY (BORN 1973)
But Swampy and his friends had another idea. They dug a maze of tunnels under the ground and hid in them. For a whole week, they lived in the tunnels until they were caught. Swampy was the last person to be found and removed.
“I feel like it’s the only way to get a voice these days,” he told journalists as the police led him away.
Although the protesters didn’t win, they were heard. Swampy appeared on TV and radio, sharing his message of living in harmony with nature, and the government started to look at ways to avoid building new roads through ancient countryside.
DANIEL TAMMET (BORN 1979)
As a baby, Daniel never stopped crying. He would bash his head against the wall.
Then Daniel had an epileptic fit.
Looking at the numbers, he saw more than just ones, twos, and threes. He saw images for each number. Images like crashing thunder or running water. Some numbers were lumpy, others were smooth. Some were loud and some were quiet.
As a joke, while they were playing, his brother asked him, “What’s 82 x 82 x 82 x 82?”
The images twirled and spun in Daniel’s head.
“45,212,176,” Daniel said.
Aside from numbers, Daniel likes languages. He can speak ten and has created his own, called Manti. He’s written multiple books. And his memory isn’t bad either.
“I memorized pi to 22,514 decimal places,” he said, “and I am technically disabled. I just wanted to show people that disability needn’t get in the way.”
one of the most powerful symbols of resistance to injustice that we have today: one man on his own, standing up not just to a line of tanks, but to the cruel government that had put them there.
ALAN TURING (1912–1954)
During the Second World War, countries would speak to each other using codes to prevent their enemies from understanding their messages. The most important and difficult code was used by the Germans. It was called Enigma.
Britain desperately needed to crack it. If they could, they’d know all of their enemy’s secrets, including their next moves. But it was almost impossible.
He wasn’t encouraged at school, but when he got to college, Alan flourished. He was studying pure mathematics, then his unusual way of thinking led him to look for practical ways of using math. He wanted to change the way people lived in a useful manner. He published a paper that signaled the beginning of modern computers.
Alan was found guilty. Even after what he’d done for the country, he was given the choice of jail or taking drugs that would supposedly change him. He chose the drugs and they made him sick. It hurt so much that he poisoned himself and died.
JOHN TYNDALL (1820–1893)
Like, what makes the sky blue?
To work it out, John created an experiment. He had a glass tube (to act as the sky), a white light shining through it (to act as the sun), and gas, which was slowly pumped into the tube (to act as the air).
John found that the gas in the tube made the light look blue. So the sky must be blue because all the tiny particles of air up there scatter the sun’s light!
And not only is blue sky caused by the Tyndall effect, but the blue of someone’s eyes is, too, and so is the way you can see car headlights in fog.
UYAQUQ (CIRCA 1860–1924)
After being inspired by a dream, Uyaquq decided to create his own written language.
Uyaquq worked for five years on his language, evolving it rapidly through five stages. It became known as Yugtun.
Since then, scientists have been studying Uyaquq’s writing. On his own, without any help, he managed to create a whole written language from nothing, a process that had taken entire civilizations thousands of years to achieve.
RICK VAN BEEK
Even though Maddy couldn’t talk, it had always been obvious to Rick that she loved being outside. She loved the breeze and the trees and the water.
Rick could see how happy she was. He decided to make a change.
When Maddy was thirteen, he completed a triathlon with her. In a triathlon, the first leg is swimming, the second is biking, and the third is running. Rick towed Maddy in a canoe for the swimming, pulled her behind him in a trailer for the biking, and carried her in his arms for the run. Crowds were cheering for them every step of the way. As they crossed the finish line, everyone went wild.
People tell Rick he’s inspiring, but he tells them it’s all Maddy. She’s the one who inspired him. Together, they make up Team Maddy, and they’ve since completed all kinds of different races, raising money for charity along the way.
How does he do it?
“She’s my heart and I’m her legs,” Rick says.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Neighbors said that they would often see a small boy being pushed up to a piano by his father, and that the boy would cry as he was forced to play. They said the boy was so small he had to stand on a stool to reach the keys.
The boy was beaten by his father, locked in a basement, and kept from sleeping, even when he was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open.
At school, things weren’t much better. The boy had dyslexia, which meant he struggled with words. For him, music always came much more easily and, despite the harsh treatment from his father, he couldn’t wait to get back and lose himself in it.
The boy got older and became a man. He wrote new music every day, hardly lifting his hands off the piano. Even as an adult, though, he was so shy it hurt, and that shyness kept him from ever getting married or having children.
One day, the man discovered that he was going deaf. It threw him into a deep, dark sadness. How would he compose music if he couldn’t hear? And what would he do if he couldn’t compose music?
Amazingly, even when he lost his hearing completely, the man carried on writing music. In fact, he composed some of his most beautiful music without being able to hear at all.
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853–1890)
Growing up, Vincent didn’t have any confidence and he had no idea what he wanted to be. He tried being a preacher, working in a bookstore, and traveling as a salesman, but none of them worked out.
Then Vincent decided he would become a painter.
He went to Paris and met the famous artists of the time: Gauguin and Monet. He tried to copy their styles, but couldn’t, so he invented his own way of painting instead.
Vincent painted the sadness and madness that he felt inside him and the beauty and inspiration that he found around him. He painted the golden sunflowers and the swirling night sky. He painted himself, cold and confused.
His paintings were dramatic, beautiful, and emotional. They were also a completely unique and new way of painting, discovered by him looking inside himself instead of at others.
While he was alive, Vincent only ever sold one painting, and not for a lot of money. Now he’s considered one of the best and most original painters who ever lived. Today, buying one of his paintings would cost you as much as buying an entire island.
NICK VUJICIC (BORN 1982)
Nick was also born with no arms and no legs.
Doctors were shocked when his mother gave birth to him; they hadn’t been prepared for Nick’s condition and couldn’t understand what had caused it.
Growing up, Nick was unhappy. He felt alone and angry. It didn’t seem fair that he’d been given a different body than everyone else and he was worried that he’d never be able to live the way he wanted to. He wondered what the point of everything was. He wondered what he was supposed to do with his life.
Then, one day, Nick read an article about a disabled man who had inspired thousands of people through his speeches about overcoming adversity. He decided he wanted to try it, too. For his first talk, he spoke to a hall of three hundred fourteen-year-old students. He was so nervous, he was shaking. But after a few minutes, most of the students were in tears. One girl raised her hand.
“I’m so sorry to interrupt,” she said, “but could I come and hug you?”
As they hugged, she whispered in his ear that no one had ever told her she was beautiful the way she was, which is what Nick had said to all the children in the room.
From then on, Nick knew what he wanted to do. He has traveled across forty-four countries, giving over three thousand talks. Everywhere he goes, he inspires and moves people. He lets them know that they are all loved and beautiful, even when they feel like they’re not.
“It’s a lie to think you’re not good enough,” he says. “It’s a lie to think you’re not worth anything.”
TAIKA WAITITI (BORN 1975)
Despite their culture and history, Taika always felt like they were never properly represented in films and TV. Whenever Maori characters appeared, they had to be tough guys or warriors, they were never funny, and they never felt real.
“We never embraced the buffoons in our culture,” Taika said. “Maori nerds or Maori dorks.”
So that’s what he set out to do.
Taika wrote and directed a film about a young Maori boy who adores Michael Jackson, misses his dad, and spends a lot of time talking to his pet goat. Then he directed another film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, about a Maori boy who loves hip-hop and ends up running from the police, in the forest, with a grumpy old man.
Both films were hilarious and heartbreaking, and they caught the attention of people all over the world. Because of them, Taika was asked to direct a big Hollywood superhero movie titled Thor, about the god of thunder and his quest to stop the destruction of civilization. Taika has shown the world another side to Maori people and he’s been able to create his own comic-book universe, too.
AI WEIWEI (BORN 1957)
Imagine yourself in a blank, gray room as big as a cathedral. And imagine that the room contains one hundred million sunflower seeds. Now imagine that, instead of sprouting from sunflowers, each of those seeds had to be handmade and painted by an actual person.
What you’ve just pictured in your mind is one of Ai Weiwei’s most famous pieces of art. To him, it’s one piece of art made of millions of pieces of art, the same way China is one country made of 1.3 billion citizens, and we’re one species of 7 billion people.
Ai says that the purpose of art is to fight for freedom. In China, where he’s from, people often aren’t granted the freedoms people in other countries are used to.
Ai wasn’t allowed to leave his house, his art studio was burned down, and he was even imprisoned for eighty-one days. To show how furious he was at the government, he filmed himself smashing an eight-hundred-year-old Chinese pot worth one million dollars!
“I speak out for people around me who are afraid,” said Ai.
Because we’re all tiny sunflower seeds, but we’re all part of something bigger, too.
OSCAR WILDE (1854–1900)
Isola Wilde died unexpectedly a few days before her tenth birthday. Her brother, Oscar, was devastated. Not knowing what else to do, he spent long periods of time sitting by her grave and telling her stories.
He was known everywhere for being hilarious, confident, and loud, but people said that if he ever started talking about his sister, which he often did, he’d get quieter and softer.
One of his most famous poems was written for her; the first lines are:
Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.
Oscar was gay, and he fell in love with a young lord whose father was cruel and intolerant. Because of him, Oscar was brought to trial, found guilty, and sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison. When he got out, Oscar moved straight to France. He was sick and poor, and he died a few years later. It wasn’t until after his death that his writing was really noticed. Since then, his plays and poems have been performed, studied, and filmed all over the world.
“We are all in the gutter,” he once said, “but some of us are looking at the stars.”
NICHOLAS WINTON (1909–2015)
From a hotel room, he started taking names, photos, and details of children so that he could help get them into England. Once he got back to London, he worked at fundraising for the children and searching for families who could take them in.
By August 1939, Nicholas had managed to get 669 children into Britain. A month later, all German borders closed, and most of the families the children had left behind were killed by the Nazis.
While he was sitting in the audience, the presenter said, “Stand up if you owe your life to Nicholas Winton!”
All of the people sitting around Nicholas stood up.
They were adults now and they had him to thank for that.
KEN YEANG (BORN 1948)
Ken was four when his father took him to see the house he was building for their family. He would never forget it.
His idea was to create buildings that merged and worked with the natural world instead of demolishing and replacing it.
“Don’t hire Ken,” they’d tell people, pointing at the Roof-Roof House. “He’ll build you something weird, like that.”
These days, people think of the house as being ahead of its time, and they look to it as an example of what to work toward.
A newspaper recently named Ken as one of the fifty people who could save our planet. He still thinks that the most important thing about any new building is that it makes people happy.
BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH (BORN 1958)
Benjamin could barely read or write when he was kicked out of school. He was only thirteen.
What he really cared about was poetry.
Benjamin knew what he wanted to do, so he started doing it.
Soon, people started listening.
In no time, you could hear it everywhere: dance floors, protests, concerts, and on the TV. His mission was to bring poetry back to life, to remind people of the power it still has. Benjamin traveled the world, reciting his verses over music that was a mixture of everything from hip-hop to rock.