Visionaries Who Changed Our World

Newsweek, January 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

Visionaries Who Changed Our World


They opened doors, blazed trails, and left us all too soon. Newsweek remembers some of the intellectual giants lost in 2011, and the legacies they leave behind.

Daniel Bell

SCHOLAR, 91

Most intellectuals get to expound only one big idea, but Harvard professor Bell explored many. He foresaw the fall of communism in The End of Ideology and the rise of the service economy in The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, and he delivered a timely look at The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. Without his vision, will we miss the next big thing?

Patrick Leigh Fermor

TRAVEL WRITER, 96

He was a rare blend, penning some of the most memorable travel books of the 20th century and capturing a Nazi commander in Crete. Leigh Fermor related his adventures--watching a voodoo ceremony in Haiti, living with Trappist monks--in dazzling prose with a deep pathos for every place he visited.

Wangari Maathai

NOBEL LAUREATE, 71

Kenyan environmentalist, feminist, and political activist Maathai spent decades fighting the impact of environmental degradation and suffered beatings and jail to take on corruption. Her Green Belt Movement helped plant 30 million trees in Africa. In 2004 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her "holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights, and women's rights."

Jack Kevorkian

DOCTOR AND ACTIVIST, 83

After he'd helped some 130 people end their lives during his notorious career, the life of "Dr. Death" came to a natural end. While not everyone shared Kevorkian's conviction about a right to die, his unflagging advocacy helped pave the way for hospice care and compassionate medical treatment for the terminally ill.

Sidney Harman

AUDIO INNOVATOR, 92

At 91, Harman, a polymath, professor, and philanthropist, bought Newsweek. The step followed a career revolutionizing audio: his company introduced "hi-fi," then the stereo receiver. In his 10th decade, he was still sparkling: "I get up every morning determined to change the world--also to have a hell of a good time."

Lucian Freud

PAINTER, 88

A Keen observer of the human form, he put everyone who would sit for him--a child or the queen--under his relentless gaze. This grandson of Sigmund Freud was unimpressed by passing trends of abstraction or pop. His insistently figurative works made him one of the greatest painters of his time.

Christopher Logue

POET, 85

It takes a particular ambition and not a small bit of chutzpah to retell the world's greatest poem. Over the course of five volumes, Logue remade the Iliad into modern English with advertising jingles and idioms. For him, though, it was about making a statement against war after his own military experience in the Second World War.

Yelena Bonner

DISSIDENT, 88

Bonner and her husband, Andrei Sakharov, spent fearless decades decrying human-rights abuses in the Soviet Union. She first fought tyranny as a nurse on the front lines against the Nazis, but it was for change at home that she endured hunger strikes, exile to Gorky, and other hardships.

Steve Jobs

INVENTOR, 56

When the Apple founder died, people mourned him like a rock star, setting up vigils at Apple stores around the globe. …

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