Letters from readers: Alumni respond to Top 25 list

Alumni letters

Last Updated: May 15, 2008

Having been born on Madison’s birthday (March 16) in Philadelphia (the site of Madison’s great work at the Constitutional Convention), I have always felt a special closeness to James Madison 1771, and I am gratified by his selection as Princeton’s most influential alumnus (cover story, Jan. 23).

  But George Will *68’s essay does not do justice to his subject. As Will himself admits, he is no scholar like Madison. And as Daniel J. Freed ’83 wrote in his March 19 letter to PAW, Will misreads Federalist 10. As Freed points out, Madison’s purpose is to protect freedom by the creation of an extensive republic with all its diversity, not to justify (unlike Will) economic inequality. This point is crucial and was not lost on Daniel Webster, who boldly proclaimed, “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.”

So how did Madison conceive the idea of an extensive republic as a shield against tyranny? I wish Will or Professor Sean Wilentz would have taken the opportunity to tell us more about the influence of a Princeton education on Madison.

Furthermore, what role did Princeton itself play at the Constitutional Convention? A Princeton Companion notes that nine alumni attended the convention – almost twice as many as from any other college. Indeed, the Constitutional Convention could be considered Princeton’s most successful alumni reunion. Moreover, these alumni were influential in the formation of each of the three major proposals considered at the Convention – the Virginia or “large states” Plan (Madison), the New Jersey or “small states” Plan (William Paterson 1763, supported by Jonathan Dayton 1776, Luther Martin 1766, and Gunning Bedford Jr. 1771, who was valedictorian of Madison’s class), and the Connecticut Compromise (Oliver Ellsworth 1766).

The Constitutional Convention and the U.S. Constitution itself have been described as “the miracle at Philadelphia.” One must wonder to what extent the friendships and camaraderie formed at Princeton fostered trust and good will among strong-willed delegates of starkly different opinions and allowed that miracle to happen. Perhaps at some future time, some scholar will enlighten us on the influence of these shared ties to Princeton.
Portland, Maine

Unlike many, if not most, of my fellow alumni, in my years since graduating in 1986 never have I been compelled to write a letter to the editor – that is, until now. After reading “Having your say: Our readers’ opinions on Princeton’s most influential alumni” (feature, April 2), I must agree with Brendan Byrne ’49 on the omission of Jim Lebenthal ’49. While it is true that municipal bonds hardly excite the average man, as anyone who knows him will attest, Jim indeed has brought unbridled passion and excitement to whatever he has done. Of course, I say this with complete objectivity.

New York, N.Y.

Two of my classmates come to mind:

George P. Garrett ’52 *85 – A prolific writer in several genres: novels, short stories, biography, and poetry and an English professor at the University of Virginia. I believe he has been the POET LAUREATE of the university. Most notably, he is recognized widely, and especially by the writing fraternity, as an unselfish supporter of “beginning” writers.

John J.F. Sherrerd ’52 – An eminently successful financier who was a partner in the well-known firm of Miller, Anderson and Sherrerd. He is a devoted Princetonian who has chaired capital campaigns, raised enormous sums of money for Princeton, served as a trustee, and has given considerably of his own personal wealth.

Wayne, Pa.

Reading the feature about Norman Thomas 1905 in the Jan. 23 PAW brought me back to one of those wonderful Princeton moments.

It must have been in the fall of 1964, as I think it was during a presidential campaign. Mr. Thomas came to speak on campus, and about 100 undergrads squeezed into some small room; as a politics major, I was expected to be there, and I was. I had some modest sense of the role he had played in national politics, but my expectations were low. After all, he surely was old and tired, and I was young and brilliant.

He must have been in his early 80s, and he did not look well. It was obvious from the first moment that his eyesight was poor and his hearing was worse, dropping my expectations even further. And then he began to talk. It was stunning. This was a man whose mind had not lost a beat, whose memory and wit were fantastic, whose knowledge was prodigious. He handled a group of "sophisticated" young Princetonians as if we were a crop of clucking chickens. Always kindly, always with humor, but clearly in command of facts and of the room, he grasped the subtleties of national politics at a level so beyond mine that I could only marvel. And I will admit that my worldview of elderly people, a club whose membership is in sight for me today, changed on that night in an irreversible instant.

Mr. Thomas of course deserves his place in the top 25 for reasons of his many accomplishments and courage. But for me, he earned it that night in 1964.

San Francisco, Calif.

The recent issue dealing with "the most influential Princeton alumni ever" (Jan. 23) was read with great enthusiasm. To learn about them was educational, and reflects the thought given by the selectors in their evaluations. Overall, I'd give it a 1- (under the old grading system used when I was an undergraduate).

There was, unfortunately, one distressing inclusion – not of an individual making the select list, but in a write-up. It has to do with James Madison 1771, written by George Will *68, he of historical and baseball-writing fame. Mr. Will has another characteristic, one not worthy to be included in this otherwise fine collection of tributes. Behind that boyish look, the glasses, the bowtie, and soft-speak, lurks a writer with a very poisonous pen. Mr. Will could not, in his tribute to Madison, resist the opportunity to introduce a smear of Jimmy Carter. The comment was totally unnecessary, and did nothing to add to the plaudits for Mr. Madison. Shame on Mr. Will for spoiling an otherwise elegant and dignified issue of PAW.

Bethlehem, Pa.

Re John Rawls '43 *50, influential alumnus No. 4: Jack and I became friends on the freshman wrestling team. I knew he was smart, so I asked him if he could tell me what calculus was all about. Jack had a speech impediment, but got this out: "Simple. Take 10 steps from a wall. Turn around and walk toward the wall – but after the first step, take half for the next and half again and so on. Bob, you'll never get to the wall. That's calculus!" He sure influenced me. I never took calculus.

Fayetteville, N.Y.

Let me congratulate you on your most recent issue, "The Most Influential Princeton Alumni Ever." I found the review deeply fascinating; however, I did find it somewhat incomplete. I must admit that I deeply resent the omission of myself, John Griffin '99, and the influence that I've had on the school that must at least equal if not exceed those on your list.

Granted, I've never won a Nobel prize or "led the school," or even gotten very good grades, as if that nonsense counts when it comes to being influential. Attached, please find a revised cover that I've taken the liberty of making for you. The wig was a bit scratchy, but what's a little pain when it comes to correcting history? I trust you will correct this grievous error immediately.

New York, N.Y.

The cover feature on the most influential alumni explicitly solicits its readership's opinions. At the risk of being dismissed as a carping nitpicker, I hesitate to call your attention to an obvious typographical error on the No. 25 dead heat between Ralph Nader '55 and Donald Rumsfield '54 – the latter described as "the only two-time defense secretary." I believe that a thoughtful copy editor would have inserted the word "-timing," not "-time."

Boston, Mass.

Re: Princeton's most influential alumni: I'm living proof that my four favorites –
+ Robert Venturi '47 *50, witty master builder to whom I aspire to emulate by day;
+ Alan Turing *38, whose impenetrable originality is wax to my wick at twilight;
+ Richard Feynman *42, with whom inversely squaring quanta renders no dream unimaginable at night;
+ Philip Freneau 1771, for his rebellious patriotism championing liberty for each new day's dawn.

-- have indeed influenced the four corners of my personal 24/7 per a paper I've just completed in their honor, 30 years after graduating Princeton, theorizing everything (simultaneously "all for one" per Freneau's independence and "one for all" per Feynman's particle/save synchronicities).

Hence, I too look forward to seeing how the list can no doubt evolve before I too match the current list's runaway "dead white male" demographic.

Armonk, N.Y.

My husband, Jeff Moss '63, wrote a thoroughly moving and beautifully melodic song entitled "The Song Goes On." Unfortunately, the lyric was misquoted in the excellent article in your special issue (Jan. 23) on "the most influential Princeton alumni ever." The lyric of the song in its entirety is attached, and as you can see, it reads: "After the singer has gone, the song goes on" (not "after the singer has died").

Jeff wrote the song specifically for the 100-year memorial service of the Triangle Club, and after he sang it on that lovely piano in the Chapel, he continued to play the music while different people softly recited the names of the members from years gone by who had died. It was hauntingly beautiful in that magical setting.

As is often correctly said, the children are the future, and I believe, as do many, that Jeff was dedicated (as indeed are all the writers of Sesame Street) to educating and thereby hopefully imbuing our future leaders with knowledge, kindness, and humor — attributes that are often overlooked in the scurry of life. It is for that reason that it was so thoroughly rewarding to have him celebrated in such a way.

The Song Goes On

A song once was sung
By someone so young
A boy I remember
The day had begun
A bright orange sun
In early September
Now time has flown by
And far in the sky
The sun sets bright as flame
A different voice is singing
But the song is still the same

The song goes on
The song goes on
After the singer has gone
The song goes on

The heart of the song
Can stay true and strong
The music keep ringing
If one voice falls still
Another voice will Continue
soon join in the singing
The leaves turn to gold
The stories unfold
With memories to share
And different voices sing now
Still the song is always there

The song goes on
The song goes on
After the singer has gone
The song goes on

The music and rhyme
Are carried through time
From one to another
The melodies pass
Like wind through the grass
From sister to brother
And on any day
A boy on his way
May find the song and then
He'll sing it for the first time
And the song is new again

The song goes on
The song goes on
After the singer has gone
The song goes on

The song goes on
The song goes on
After the singer has gone
Still the song goes on

Red Hook, N.Y.

I enjoyed George Will *68's witty and heartfelt "wee tribute" to James Madison 1771, Princeton's most influential alumnus (feature, Jan. 23). But on one point, I would argue with Will's interpretation of Madison.

According to Will, "... in Federalist 10 [Madison] wrote that 'the first object of government' is 'the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property.' From these differences arise different factions in their freedom-preserving multiplicity." The suggestion is that Madison sees unequal distribution of wealth as guarding against the tyranny of a single, dominant faction.

To my reading of Federalist 10, Madison presents unequal distribution of wealth not as a solution to the problem of factions, but rather as one of its root causes. Government's duty to protect property rights inevitably leads to unequal distribution of property, which he calls "the most common and durable source of factions." From this he concludes that "the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects" by preventing the emergence of a dominant majority faction. His solution is representative government on a large scale: specifically, joining the states together into the Union. It is the size and diversity of the Union, not unequal wealth, that provides Will's "freedom-preserving multiplicity" of factions.

Madison's purpose in the Federalist Papers is to advocate for the creation of the Union, not to offer a libertarian defense of economic inequality.

Santa Monica, Calif.

The cover story on Princeton's most influential alumni left me vaguely disturbed. Here we have the 26 "best and brightest" positions claimed by 26 white people, 25 of whom happen to be male. Given that Nassau Hall ran an explicitly racist and sexist admission policy of white men only for over 200 years, not admitting the first regular African-American undergraduate until 1947 and not admitting any female undergraduates until 1969, this comes as no surprise.

Why do we want to celebrate this kind of institutionalized racism and sexism?

Philadelphia, Pa.

I applaud your boldness in seeking to rank influential Princetonians! The Princetoniana Committee has been working to compile a broad list of "significant" Princetonians. We started with the lists in A Princeton Companion and updated the various categories. Other lists on the Internet have been helpful. We have drawn on the PAW article (Jan. 24, 2001) identifying 100 notable Graduate School alumni. We now can add from the list of 250 from this issue.

Early on we eliminated the concept of any form of ranking. The intent has been a broad list, realizing that any list can be critiqued and the definition of "significant" can take many forms.

The Orange Key has been interested in this effort and requested addition of dorm room locations for the significant folks. When members of the freshman class arrive, they may find that some illustrious individual had inhabited their room in earlier years.

We appreciate the opportunity to broaden our list to incorporate the thinking of those who compiled the list of 250.

Catonsville, Md.

I enjoyed your special issue of the Alumni Weekly dated Jan. 23. As you anticipated of your alumni, I would like to point out what I think is a glaring deficiency. While your list includes, not surprisingly, giants of both politics and physics, with authors, economists and architects, you missed Dr. John Gibbon '23, the inventor of the heart-lung machine. "Open-heart" surgery, which saves hundreds of thousands of lives young and old each year, would not be possible without it.

Gibbon was inspired to this feat as a research fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital, a post he took following graduation from Jefferson Medical College. One evening he found himself helpless at the bedside of a young woman dying of pulmonary embolism (a blood clot traveling through her heart and to her lungs). Gibbon sat by the woman's bedside all night long measuring her vital signs, watching her slowly die from cardio-respiratory failure. He thought, "If only we could remove the blood from her body by bypassing her lungs and oxygenating it, then return it to her heart, we could almost certainly save her life." This tragic experience inspired Gibbon to devote his life to developing just this sort of technology.

Thought a dreamer with little apparent future, Gibbon was released from the Harvard system and returned to Philadelphia. One of his few supporters was Mary Hopkinson, whom he married and who became his co-investigator over the years at the University of Pennsylvania Research Laboratories. After early success in the animal lab, interrupted by service in World War II, Gibbon returned to Philadelphia and the Jefferson Medical College where he developed an oxygenator capable of supporting a human being. In 1952 and 1953, Gibbon performed four operations with his heart-lung machine, only one of which was successful. Heartbroken at the human cost, he declared a moratorium on the use of the machine.

Fortunately, Dr. John Kirklin at the Mayo Clinic developed a modified "Mayo-Gibbon-type oxygenator," which he courageously employed with success in 1955. Although the mortality rate of the early series was 50 percent, the promise of the technology was clear, and the golden age of cardiac surgery was born.

Today hundreds of thousands of individuals are alive thanks to the life-saving open-heart cardiac surgery that Gibbon's machine made possible. He was arguably responsible for the birth of an entire specialty, the individual impact of which is both profound and dramatic. As a cardiac surgeon today, I owe a debt of profound gratitude to this Princeton graduate. It is for these reasons that I believe you should include Dr. John Gibbon among the most influential Princeton alumni ever.

Professor of Surgery, Mayo Clinic
Rochester, Minn.

Regarding the selection of the 25 most influential Princeton alumni, there are often tendencies to choose those who are currently known or who are positive, liberal achievers. Correspondingly, alumni who greatly influenced their place and time, but whose contributions are not deemed liberal, are overlooked.

Fortunately, a few conservatives made the list including Dulles 1908, Rumsfeld '54, and Shultz '42. Viewed negatively, Aaron Burr 1772 and Princetonians in the civil and military leadership of the Confederacy are not included.

One influential, current leader of an unpopular cause is Judge Paul Pressler '53 of Houston, who played a key role in returning the Southern Baptist Convention to its conservative roots, stopping a drift toward liberalism. Pressler's contribution was critical for the modern emergence of conservative evangelical Christianity.

"The Religious Right" deprives "mainline Protestantism" of more millions of dollars and members every year. On its social issues, conservative evangelical Christianity is critical to the Republican Party winning elections. Expressive of American individualism and traditional values, it is an enduring and expanding force in American religion. Pressler's efforts should be cited as an outstandingly influential Princeton alumni contribution.

Dallas, Texas

Shame on Princeton's blue-ribbon panel of historians and philosophers who put together a list of "most influential alumni" from the founding of the College of New Jersey to the present time. They omitted Aaron Burr, Class of 1772.

For more than 200 years this notorious – some would say nefarious – man has been famous for the two actions of the last few years of his public life – his killing in a duel, of Alexander Hamilton ("Aaron Burr what have ye done? / Ye've shot and killed poor Hamilton") and his trial for treasonable acts against his beloved United States of America.

Prior to this time he had led an exemplary life from his graduation from the College of New Jersey with distinction and his heroic service to his country, especially on the field of battle before the Plains of Abraham outside of Quebec where he, at great personal risk, saved the life of his commanding officer, to his espousal of women's rights (he was about the only man in the public eye of his time to declare that women had souls and that they should be educated up to their potential, which he did with his daughter Theodosia) and his political support of the beginnings of the Democratic Party in New York State.

About 100 years after his trial for treason (he was found innocent and freed), his fellow alum and then president of the University, Woodrow Wilson 1879, bemoaned his treatment while standing at his graveside in Princeton, saying, "Oh, so misunderstood, Oh, so maligned!"

There is a growing body of evidence that Aaron Burr was railroaded by our duplicitous third president, Thomas Jefferson.

Rexford, N.Y.

I enjoyed reading the latest issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly. I heartily agree with the choice of James Madison as the number-one most influential Alumnus. What I find distressing is the answers given by Princeton seniors in 2006 to 60 questions on a test of American history and civics given by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Three of the questions directly relate to Madison – i.e., the Federalist Papers, defining federalism, and the Bill of Rights. The average scores for these questions by Princeton senior participants were 60.36 percent, 39.64 percent, and 61.06 percent, respectively. I think Madison would be shocked that the mean score for identifying the source of the line "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal" was 47.32 percent.

Out of the 14,000 participants in the 50 colleges tested, the overall average for seniors was 53.2 percent and freshmen 50.4 percent. As a group, they flunked the test. Princeton ranked 11th with a mean score of 61. percent, or a D-. The highest was Harvard, with a 69.56 percent or a D+. Ranking the 50 colleges on value added between freshmen and seniors, Princeton ranked 46th, with a negative learning curve. Clearly we have a problem.

I wrote President Tilghman and received a response that "Princeton is looking for deeper and more nuanced understanding that cannot be captured in such a standardized test." I don't know how you can address deeper understanding if you don't know the facts.

The questions on the test are not obscure events and documents in our history. They in large part are basic fundamentals, which should have been learned at the secondary school level. For any alumni interested, the test can be taken online at www.americancivicliterarcy.org. You will receive online a score and correct answers for those answered incorrectly. I missed six out of 60 questions for a score of 90, or A-. If this trend continues, we will have present and future generations ignorant of our heritage and legacy of liberty.

Woodbury, Conn.

In the Jan 23 issue page

Re "Five Innovations with Princeton ties," there's the laser. My father-in-law, William R. Bennett '51, was co-inventor of the HeNe laser (Bell Labs), and inventor of the Argon laser and about 10 others.

Bryn Mawr, Pa.

I know I am biased (he is my grandfather), but how could the list of 250 not include G. Mennen Williams '33?  He was a six-term governor of Michigan (still a record), was a member of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and served for 16 years as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, with his last term as chief justice.  He was active in civil rights, African politics, many humanitarian efforts, built the Mackinac Bridge linking the peninsulas in Michigan and forever changing the state's commerce, and set significant precedent on the highest court in the State of Michigan. 

My grandfather was a loyal Princetonian, and I am glad that he is not alive to see what I believe he would view as a slight from his alma mater. My father, G. Mennen Williams '62, and I briefly considered resigning our positions with regard to our local Princeton Club. My feelings toward Princeton have changed – and I question the wisdom of taking on a project that stands to alienate many of those whose support you seek.

Savannah, Ga.

Your article on Princeton's most influential (though not necessarily most admirable) alumni is fascinating and informative.  Like probably everyone else, I have a number of quibbles (e.g., I would argue that Meg Whitman '77's contribution to the Web is at least equal to Jeff Bezos '86, and I would question what George Shultz '42 actually did), but, with one exception, I find the panelists' consensus generally persuasive.  The exception pertains to my classmate, Donald Rumsfeld '54, whose influence I would argue has been seriously undervalued.

The argument rests on my belief that during the period from Sept. 11 to the invasion of Iraq, had Rumsfeld opposed the invasion, the president – given Rumsfeld's standing within the administration and appointment as secretary of defense – would not have ordered it. Had Rumsfeld publicly acknowledged that even if Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, it was well contained by no-fly zones, economic sanctions, and U.N. inspections, the public would not have supported the invasion. Had he admitted to Congress that even if the Iraqi army could be defeated by a couple of hundred thousand troops in a matter of weeks (as had happened before), maintenance of order in Iraq during and after the invasion might require a much greater force for many years, Congress would not have passed the War Powers Act.

By not opposing the invasion or publicly acknowledging that it was unnecessary or admitting to Congress that it might require far greater resources than he had planned, Rumsfeld bears as much responsibility for the Iraq war and its consequences as James Madison does for the Constitution and its consequences.

I agree with the article how hard it is to gauge influence without the perspective of time, but I would submit that the consequences of the first 58 months of this unjustified war – the human casualties, a country unable to maintain internal order without external military assistance, loss of focus on the more justifiable war in Afghanistan, stimulation of a lethal international jihadist movement, global loss of respect for the United States – are already sufficient to elevate Rumsfeld's rank to the single digits (i.e., somewhere ahead of George Shultz). And the war is far from over.

No matter that Rumsfeld is no longer in charge.  Madison is no longer president. I submit my case.

Newburgh, N.Y.

In response to your call for suggestions, I am sending this information about a great Princetonian whose influence might have been even greater if he had not met with an untimely end.

The Princeton alumnus who most influenced me was my great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather, Nathaniel Scudder, Class of 1751, physician and public official. Nat was in the forefront of the events leading to the Revolution. He served as a colonel in the First New Jersey Regiment, a trustee of Princeton, a member of the Continental Congress, and along with President Witherspoon signed the Articles of Confederation for New Jersey in 1778, without which there might not have been a United States of America. In October 1781, shortly before Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, he was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury, becoming the only member of the Continental Congress to die in action in the Revolution. His example inspired generations of his descendants (many of them Princetonians) to devote their lives to community service, for the most part as medical missionaries in India, where they founded several hospitals that are still in operation today, including the largest teaching hospital in southern India. Nat is, therefore, for me the quintessential embodiment of what later became Princeton's motto, "Princeton in the nation's service and in the service of all nations."

Director, Princeton German Summer Work Program
Wiesbaden, Germany

I enjoyed your recent issue that aspired to rank the 25 most influential alumni of all time. As a Virginian, I was pleased to see James Madison 1771 top the list. However, another Princetonian, who also played an influential role in the early life of Virginia, our country and our alma mater, failed to make the list – Samuel Davies. Davies' contributions and struggles should not be forgotten.

As a dissenter minister of the Polegreen Meeting House in Hanover County, Davies advanced the cause of religious and civil liberty in colonial Virginia. Davies' strong religious convictions led him to value the "freeborn mind" and the inalienable "liberty of conscience" that the established Anglican Church in Virginia often failed to respect in the days before independence. By appealing to British law and notions of British liberty, Davies agitated in an agreeable and effective manner for greater religious tolerance and laid the groundwork for the ultimate separation of church and state in Virginia that was consummated by the Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786.  

At the same time that Davies was starting his ministry in Virginia, six students began their studies in Elizabeth, N.J., at the College of New Jersey, which had been established in 1746 to educate "those of every Religious Denomination." In 1754 the trustees of the college persuaded Davies, whose work in Virginia had been favorably noted, to go to Great Britain to raise money for the fledgling school. The journey was at times harrowing, but Davies confided to his diary that "To be instrumental of laying a foundation of extensive benefit to mankind, not only in the present but in future generations, is a most animating prospect." In the end, Davies and a friend, Gilbert Tennent, spent 11 months in Great Britain and raised substantial support, enough to build Nassau Hall as the first permanent building on the new campus in Princeton.  

After his return from Great Britain, Davies' prominence in Virginia grew during the French and Indian War as he implored men to do their part "to secure the inestimable blessings of liberty." Gov. Dinwiddie declared Davies to be the best recruiter in the colony. Davies' rhetorical gifts were renowned. Patrick Henry, who as a child often heard Davies preach, told his biographer before his death that Samuel Davies had taught him what an orator should be.

Davies also spent his time in Virginia pioneering the literacy of the colony's slave population, whom he felt were equally deserving of direct access to the word of God.

In 1759, four years after he had returned from his trip to Great Britain on behalf of the College of New Jersey, the trustees of the college called on Davies again – this time to become the school's fourth president. Davies succeeded Jonathan Edwards, who died just six weeks after his inauguration. Unfortunately, Davies' term as president was also cut short when he died in 1761 at the age of 37.  He was buried alongside his predecessor in Princeton Cemetery.  

Despite his relatively short life, Davies accomplished much and lived the creed to which he exhorted the Princeton Class of 1760 in his baccalaureate address and which has been echoed by the presidents of Princeton throughout its history: "Whatever be your place, imbibe and cherish a public spirit. Serve your generation."

Davies used his innumerable talents to serve his generation, and in so doing helped to build a firm foundation for future generations. The true story of Samuel Davies' impact on Virginia and American history, as well as his instrumental role in the early life of Princeton, is exciting, inspiring, and worthy of note.  

Richmond, Va.

I think that overall, the list that was published in PAW was excellent, except for one aspect. Those who prepared the list raised the question of how the influence of those who are influential now will last into the future. However, it appears that they gave undue weight to accepting the influence that exists now, in the case of recent and very recent names, without making a judgment of whether that influence will last. I think that such discernment is a necessary part of scholarly judgment.

For that reason I would replace Kopp'89, Katzenbach '43, Rumsfeld '54, and Volcker '49 with Aaron Burr 1771, Adlai Stevenson '22, Edmund Wilson '16, and Steven Weinberg *57. Weinberg is, of course, recent, but he is the dominant physicist of the second half of the 20th century and the author of the Standard Model of particle theory. Probably other recent names also could be eliminated, but this is a start. In numerical order, here is my list:

1. James Madison 1771; 2. Alan Turing *38; 3. Woodrow Wilson 1879; 4. John Rawls '43 *50; 5. John Bardeen *36; 6. George Kennan '25; 7. Benjamin Rush 1760; 8. F. Scott Fitzgerald '17; 9. George Shultz '42; 10. John Foster Dulles 1908; 11. Gary Becker '51; 12. Jeffrey Moss '63; 13. Aaron Burr 1772; 14. Richard Feynman *42; 15. Adlai Stevenson '22; 16. Charles Scribner 1840; 17. Laurance Rockefeller '32; 18. Robert Venturi'47 *50; 19. Jeff Bezos '86; 20. Alfred Barr '22 *23; 21. Phillip Freneau 1771; 22. John Bogle '51; 23. Norman Thomas 1905; 24. Ralph Nader '55; 25. Edmund Wilson '16 and Steven Weinberg *57 (tied).

Dover, Mass.

My nominee for an additional influential alumnus is James H. Billington '50: Princeton and Harvard professor, Rhodes Scholar, social-cultural historian of Russia from earliest (Byzantine) times to the present. He headed the Woodrow Wilson Center at the Smithsonian and has been Librarian of Congress since 1986, appointed by Ronald Reagan. He moved the Library of Congress into the Information Age, providing much-expanded outreach and availability of the library's holdings for education and research worldwide. Because of his eminence as a Russian scholar, he gained access, for the Library of Congress and for the world, to previous closed archives of Russia, the USSR, and the Slavic peoples. Billington is also the author, inter alia, of The Icon and the Axe, considered by many the most comprehensive and magisterial social-cultural history of Russia.

Kansas City, Mo.

While I was very flattered to find my name among the 250 "influential Princeton alumni," I was very disappointed that the name of my very eminent colleague and mentor for more than 50 years was not included. I am referring to Professor Wolfgang K.H. Panofsky '38, who died this past October at the age of 88. As a physicist, Dr. Panofsky made profound research contributions to elementary particle physics, working with the synchrotrons at the University of California's Radiation Lab in the late 1940s before joining the Stanford physics faculty in 1951. Subsequently his most notable and major contribution was in leading the construction, and serving for 22 years as the founding director, of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, one of the world's most productive high-energy physics facilities. At the time it was built starting in 1962, it was the nation's most expensive facility for research in high-energy physics.

My own personal entry into issues of national security and government advising, reported in your citation for including me on your distinguished list, followed that of Dr. Panofsky. From the very beginning of the creation of the post-war scientific apparatus by President Eisenhower, he was heavily involved in the first major effort to lay the technical foundation for a nuclear test-ban treaty. Throughout his entire life as a government adviser and as head of the National Academy of Science Committee on International Security and Arms Control, Dr. Panofsky was a vocal and effective leader in campaigns for reducing the danger of nuclear weapons. This was cited when he received an honorary doctorate from Princeton University in 1983. He also received the Enrico Fermi Award from the Atomic Energy Commission, now the Department of Energy, and the National Medal of Science from the White House.

Professor of physics emeritus, Stanford University
Palo Alto, Calif.

A "daring, daunting" task indeed, and your panel has done a marvelous job. As you evaluate the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of submittals you will receive from disgruntled alumni and others regarding candidates they consider to be more suitable for this list, I urge you to impose one very simple rule. If a reader wishes to suggest a candidate for inclusion who he or she feels has been inappropriately omitted from this Top 25, you should require that reader to identify a member of the published list to be replaced, and to explain why the proposed candidate is more suitable for inclusion in the list.

In that spirit, I would like to suggest that James A. Baker III '52 would have been a better choice than Donald M. Rumsfeld '54 for the position at number 25 in a tie with Ralph Nader '55. Jim Baker ran the 1980 and 1984 presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and the 1988 campaign of George H. W. Bush. In addition, like it or not, he went to Florida in 2000 and managed the legal battle that produced a successful result for George W. Bush. Therefore, it can be said that Jim Baker had a direct hand in sending to the presidency three men who would go on to hold that office for 20 of the past 28 years.  Along the way, he served as White House chief of staff, treasury secretary, and secretary of state.  George Shultz '42 is the only other Princeton alumnus to have served in three cabinet-level posts.

In the last of these roles, Jim Baker was instrumental in putting together the most extraordinary coalition of wartime allies since World War II. At the end of the day, and perhaps most importantly, Jim Baker won his war in the gulf, whereas Rumsfeld presided over a debacle that ultimately led to his resignation in disgrace. I say scrub Rummy and replace him with Jimmy.

Bellaire, Texas

Eugene O'Neill 1910 had much more influence on modern "arts and letters" than Fitzgerald '17 or Wilder *26. Dysfunctional families are still all the rage – e.g., Friel, et al.

Tucson, Ariz.

I was somewhat surprised not to see Lewis Thomas '33 on the list. Lives of a Cell is a truly great and influential book. As physician, scientist, poet, and writer, Thomas is a major American figure.

Bridgehampton, N.Y.

The article is not entirely correct about none of your 26 being a minister. In fact, Norman Thomas was a Presbyterian pastor at New York's East Harlem Presbyterian Church. See:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Thomas.

As for someone omitted, I would suggest Hamilton Fish Armstrong 1916. He was essentially the editor of Foreign Affairs magazine from 1922 until 1972. In addition, he served for many years as the executive director of the organization, on its governing board, and served on most of its important study groups. It was he who published George Kennan's Mr. X article, as well as articles by John Foster Dulles 1908, Nicholas Katzenbach '43, and Norman Thomas 1905, who did make your list. Armstrong served with the American delegation in Paris on the key documents relating to the peace treaty and League of Nations, and then in San Francisco on the United Nations. I doubt there is any organization in the 20th century that was more influential than the Council on Foreign Relations and its journal, Foreign Affairs. For more on Armstrong, see: http://diglib.princeton.edu/ead/eadGetDoc.xq?id=/ead/mudd/publicpolicy/MC002.EAD.xml#bioghist

Associate University Librarian for Rare Books and Special Collections
Princeton University Library

Please include Dr. Lloyd Axworthy *63 *72 on this list. He became Canada's foreign minister (and Princeton Madison medalist). But his most notable achievement may be his work in advancing a world ban on land mines – a noteworthy success that our own country has unfortunately not yet joined.

He is also a person of great courage. When we were students together at Princeton, he went to the South to join Martin Luther King's efforts, at a time when it was dangerous. The rest of us were too busy with our theses to be so engaged, but he put his life and career on the line.

Santa Cruz, Calif.

 I have no doubt you are besieged by letters advocating inclusion for this or that distinguished Princeton alumnus/a on the list of graduates who changed America and the world. I can't help but add one more. Surely there is room on the list for Adlai E. Stevenson '22 – governor of Illinois, two-time Democratic candidate for president, United States ambassador to the United Nations, and a most distinguished and eloquent statesman – one who captured the imagination of a generation of young liberal Americans. I won't be so presumptuous as to argue whom he should supplant on the list, only that I feel certain he should have a place on it.

Shaker Heights, Ohio

How could you have left out Jim Lebenthal '49, who changed the way the whole world views municipal bonds? Who could be more important?

Former governor of New Jersey
Millburn, N.J.

I greatly enjoyed the feature on Princeton's most influential alumni, and particularly George Will *68's essay on James Madison 1771. I was surprised to learn that this is the first time Dr. Will, whom I knew when we were both graduate students at Princeton, has contributed to PAW.

Although President Madison, in my Canadian opinion, bears some of the blame for the War of 1812, I am prepared to forgive him for that, since he was the inventor of modern federalism. He deserves his ranking at the top of the list.

There is, however, one very egregious omission from the list, a list which appears to consist entirely of Americans. I refer to Syngman Rhee, the first president (1948-60) of the Republic of Korea, who earned a Ph.D. in politics from Princeton in 1910. While Rhee was an autocratic leader whose term in office was controversial, he deserves credit for founding a state that is now one of the most stable and successful democracies in all of Asia and for guiding it through a war which threatened its very existence. Furthermore, the Republic of Korea is one of the world's leading industrial powers, which recently surpassed the United Kingdom in terms of the value added by its manufacturing industries.

I would be inclined to place Rhee in fourth place on the list of influential alumni, immediately behind Woodrow Wilson 1879.

St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada

The "Most Influential Alumni" rankings and articles will no doubt generate a good deal of controversy as well as interest; for example, a few mavericks may see a predictably strong capitalistic bias, but there can be little quarrel with designating James Madison 1771 as "most, most." His influence on the 18th-century development of the United States is incontrovertible. However, a more balanced description of his career would have mentioned the effects of his presidency as well as to his holding that office. In the recent spate of nominations for most disastrous president, he heads the lists of many historians.

The article on Madison by George S. Will *68 has an extreme form of a stylistic problem common to many obituary-type columns: literal egocentricity. In the first two paragraphs, Mr. Will uses first-person singular pronouns (I, my) 17 times and refers to Madison (Madison, James Madison, Madisonian) six, although in one of those references "Madison" is actually "my dog." It has long been my opinion that the S. in George S. Will must stand for Smug.

Albuquerque, N.M.

Neil Rudenstine '56, former president, Harvard. Howard Swearer '54, former president, Brown.

Green Village, N.J.

In recognizing 25 of Princeton's most distinguished alumni, PAW inexplicably neglects James Forrestal '15. What alumnus was ever more faithful to the mandate of Princeton in the nation's service than was Forrestal in confronting the ruthlessly expansive totalitarianisms of Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union? How many Americans who came after him – including the younger among PAW's favored 25 – would have been able to live the lives they wanted if Forrestal and a handful of his colleagues had failed?

The sad circumstances of his death in 1949 in no way detract from the profound contributions that Forrestal made before his health left him.

Morris Township, N.J.

How could your list of the 25 most influential Princetonians miss Frederic E. Fox '39, who planted the seed of Princeton spirit in thousands of students? As Keeper of Princetoniana, I remember his rousing welcome to campus as a freshman and his teaching of "Old Nassau." His enthusiasm for Princeton is carried by all alumni in all things they do, great and small, and it was he who first showed me what a special place Princeton is.  He should be included in your list. 

Sewickley, Pa.

With a nod to the hopelessness of the task, and the full admission that the current list of 26 is about as good as you can get (with maybe some quibbling over sequence), I would add the following to the list of 250, in part to keep it fresh, in part as a tribute to Pete Carril, who (alas) does not qualify himself: John Rogers '80 and John Thompson III '88.

Upper Montclair, N.J.

There was no mention in the articles citing the 25 (or 26) most influential alumni of Hobey Baker '14. Surely it is the omission of a natural. Yale had its Stover – the stuff of dime novels – but Princeton had a flesh-and-blood hero who inspired his fellows on the rink, the gridiron, and in the skies over France, where he flew with the Escadrille Lafayette and brought down three enemy aircraft. He lived a hero and died one. A fine student, a fine and noble character, not only Princeton's greatest athletic hero, as a recent biography reminds us, he is an American legend. Hobey Baker makes the first cut.

Chappaqua, N.Y.

It amazed and distressed me to read that James A. Baker III '52 was not included on your list of the 25 most influential Princetonians – particularly in view of other names of political leadership that were included. Quoting from his resume:

"James A. Baker III has served in senior government positions under three United States presidents. He served as the nation's 61st secretary of state from January 1989 through August 1992 under President George Bush. During his tenure at the State Department, Mr. Baker traveled to 90 foreign countries as the United States confronted the unprecedented challenges and opportunities of the post–Cold War era.

"Mr. Baker served as the 67th secretary of the treasury from 1985 to 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. As treasury secretary, he was also chairman of the president's Economic Policy Council. From 1981 to 1985, he served as White House chief of staff to President Reagan. Mr. Baker's record of public service began in 1975 as under secretary of commerce to President Gerald Ford. It concluded with his service as White House chief of staff and senior counselor to President Bush from August 1992 to January 1993.

"Long active in American presidential politics, Mr. Baker led presidential campaigns for Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush over the course of five consecutive presidential elections from 1976 to 1992.

"Mr. Baker graduated from Princeton University in 1952. After two years of active duty as a lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, he entered the University of Texas School of Law at Austin. He received his J.D. with honors in 1957 and practiced law with the Houston firm of Andrews and Kurth from 1957 to 1975.

"Mr. Baker received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 and has been the recipient of many other awards for distinguished public service, including Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson Award, The American Institute for Public Service's Jefferson Award, Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government Award, The Hans J. Morgenthau Award, The George F. Kennan Award, the Department of the Treasury's Alexander Hamilton Award, the Department of State's Distinguished Service Award, and numerous honorary academic degrees.

"Mr. Baker is presently a senior partner in the law firm of Baker Botts. He is Honorary Chairman of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and serves on the board of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. From 1997 to 2004, Mr. Baker served as the personal envoy of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in seeking a political solution to the conflict over Western Sahara. In 2003, Mr. Baker was appointed special presidential envoy for President George W. Bush on the issue of Iraqi debt. In 2005, he was co-chair, with former president Jimmy Carter, of the Commission on Federal Election Reform. In 2006, Mr. Baker and former U.S. congressman Lee H. Hamilton served as the co-chairs of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan blue-ribbon panel on Iraq. Currently, Mr. Baker and former secretary of state Warren Christopher serve as co-chairs of the National War Powers Commission."

What evidently has escaped your selection committee is that Baker has been the consummate insider, and therefore his power and influence were less appreciated by the general public as by those in Washington's leadership. Consider, for example, his most recent leadership of the Iraq Study Group: Not only was he the instigator (not that he takes any credit for the idea), but even after the report was published, he continued to influence Bush II toward acceptance of its recommendations. Eventually, the recommendations were acted upon, at least in part. His loyalty curbs his proper recognition as a purposeful power attempting to shape a presidency.

Jim Baker's two books of autobiography are equally modest and free of the usual taints of bragging, "one-ups-manship," and revenge that such books often reveal. Were you to ask the leading pundits and reporters of his active era, I believe you would find enormous support for the fact that Baker played more of a role in shaping presidential administrations than any other persons beyond vice-presidents – and only a few of those have wielded as much power as he gained through respect and dedication. His Institute in Houston is among the leading think tanks of this country.

What a shame that his integrity, commitment, and ability were not perceived as highly influential as were the aggressions and flamboyance of others listed in your selection of the top 25. I must admit – and as a Democrat – that the chosen list smacks of political bias, if not insufficient awareness. Then again, as is pointed out in the PAW article, such a list will always differ from one person to another, one group to another, and one era to another. My beef in the end is that a man of his rare leadership skills is not included where it would stand among the others as a supreme example of Princeton in service to the nation.                              

Kamuela, Hawaii

The political tilt in the selections of Princeton's 25 most influential alumni by a panel of Princeton faculty and alumni was forecastable, given the fact that 100 percent of Princeton faculty contributions to 2008 presidential candidates have gone to Democrats.

An Internet search does not reveal the political orientation of the panel's two scientists, its technologist, or its economist. As for the others: Todd Purdum '82 was a White House correspondent for The New York Times; Professor Sean Wilentz was an editor of the New Republic and is a friend of Bill Clinton; Professor Michael Wood writes articles for the New Republic; and Professor Eddie Glaude *97 sees eye-to-eye with Cornel West *80.

I have no serious quarrel with the selected scientists, mathematicians, architects, entrepreneurs, and so forth. The tilt lies in the selected political thinkers.

Philip Freneau 1771 published a newspaper opposing Washington and Hamilton. Woodrow Wilson 1879, inter alia, made a hash of the Versailles Treaty. Keynes called him a "blind and deaf Don Quixote who imposed a Carthaginian peace." Then comes: Norman Thomas 1905, leader of the Socialist Party and a founder of the ACLU; George Kennan '25, who sought to oppose Soviet expansion solely with words, never arms; and Ralph Nader '55, the super regulator. The scariest selection was philosopher John Rawls '43 *50, whose theory of justice would produce an impoverished police state, like that of Rousseau, Rawls' guru. The inclusion of James Madison 1771 as the most influential does not counterbalance the tilt. As the "father of the Constitution," Madison was unavoidable and a sop to Cerberus.

One selection, Laurance Rockefeller '32, was a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation that financed bringing to Columbia University the Frankfurt School, which the Soviet Politburo originally had founded to destabilize the Weimar Republic. Its mission as an adjunct of Columbia's Teachers College was to destabilize America by injecting "cultural Marxism" into America's intellectuals who controlled education and the media. Q.E.D.

A founder of Concerned Alumni of Princeton
San Francisco, Calif.

I agree with most of your experts' choices. However, there are two that I totally disagree with. No. 3: Woodrow Wilson 1879 was dogmatic and autocratic. He had the United States invade and interfere with more Latin American countries than any other president – a real meddler who would not take advice. That is one of the real reasons the Congress rejected His League of Nations ideas.

No. 6: George Kennan '25 was totally wrong in regard to the Soviet Union, and it wasn't until Ronald Reagan (his brother-in-law is a '47 classmate of mine) came along and effectively dismantled the Soviet Union without firing a shot that his policies were shown to be bogus. He almost had us blown up!

Skillman, N.J.

At a cursory glance, I see that one alumnus who should be mentioned has been overlooked. That person is Edmund Wilson '16, the most eminent man of letters in America in the 20th century. He was primarily a literary critic, but also wrote plays, novels, and poetry. At Princeton, he made the acquaintance of F. Scott Fitzgerald '17 and the poet and essayist John Peale Bishop '17. The three became lifelong friends, a trinity unique in Princeton's history. Wilson was never an academic, but in books like The Wound and the Bow, The Triple Thinkers and Axel's Castle, he made serious literature, and especially modern literature, accessible to the educated reader. He also wrote on subjects as different as the history of socialism (To the Finland Station), the Dead Sea scrolls, and the literature of Canada. For many years he was the book critic for The New Yorker. Surely there is room for him on your list, perhaps by dropping the name of Donald Rumsfeld '54.

I cannot quarrel with the listing of Madison as our greatest alumnus, based on his contributions to the U.S. Constitution. As a president, however, he was less successful. He was the only chief executive who was forced to flee the White House in the face of an invading army.

Preveza, Greece 

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