When it comes to history, I lean towards “trends and forces” over the “great man” theory. I’d like to test this. Do you have recommendations for people or especially specific media that would challenge my view?
Some clarifying examples:
– Neither Sabin nor Salk get credit for curing polio, because if one of them hadn’t the other one would have, and if neither had someone else would have. Obviously developing the vaccine faster was a big deal for the kids who would otherwise have caught polio in 1956, but it’s not changing the trajectory of the world.
– Robert Moses may count as a Great Man because he locked NYC into a car-based equilibrium that people are unable to break to this day. In general I think “moved world to a different equilibrium” is going to be a common pattern among people who change the world.
– Dictators killing a bunch of their own people doesn’t count, the effect is too local.
– There’s a reasonable argument John Wilkes Booth counts because Lincoln would plausibly have handled Reconstruction much better than Johnson. But if I learned there were many planned attempts on Lincoln’s life and estimate at least one would have succeeded, Booth would no longer count.
– To the best of my knowledge, whoever started the American civil war doesn’t count, because that was pretty clearly going to happen. But both Grant and Lee do count, because who won the war mattered and there weren’t equally skilled replacement generals. We know this because the north tried 400 people before Grant.