Let me widen the focus here. Which people have done things I consider heroic? I'll list the top three. All three, btw, share one characteristic in common: They didn't consider themselves particularly special. They weren't for instance, raving egos like whatsizname who wrote all those long, tedious, operas. So, here are the three:
- Charles Darwin. Not only did he stand our theory of the world on its ear (yeah, yeah, I know -- evolution was already in the air), but he provided a rationale whereby evoution took place, and set up a framework that we are only now filling in. F'rinstance, he anticipated the rise of genetics (which had, unbeknownst to him and everybody else, already started with the work of Mendel). But, what really impresses me is that he waited until the last possible moment to make his work known (though, of course, most of the intellectual world already knew). He did this at least partly out of the knowledge of what a firestorm this would bring. I believe that he didn't really want to start a firestorm. He just wanted to look at his corals and worms and suchlike.
- Mark Twain. The guy has such a dry wit about him and is so quotable (I think all the quotes in the world gravitate toward either Twain or Wilde), that he is a pleasure to read at any time. Nor does it matter whether he's writing a novel or a travelog. Innocents Abroad prepared me for my trip to France. It's not just his wit, however. It is the way he tells us about ourselves by telling us about other people. It's true that his vision of the world got darker as he got older, but remember, he outlived his whole immediate family.
- Albert Einstein. Kind of a no-brainer here. I tried reading Relativity for the Layman and found that Albert had a concept of layman different from mine. And, try as I might, I can't bring myself to adopt a flyaway hair style (even if I had the hair). I like Einstein for his discoveries, but also for his refusal to accept hypotheses that were unreasonable, even though they grew out of his own theories. I have a feeling that, in the end, dark matter will disappear, and Albert will emerge from the theory wars scarred, but essentially victorious.