World thinkers 2015: the results

Prospect asked readers to select their favourites from a list of the world’s leading thinkers. The results are in

March 25, 2015
Our top five thinkers
Our top five thinkers

With nearly 3,000 votes cast, the results of Prospect’s world thinkers 2015 poll are now in. Voters came to the Prospect website in large numbers through Twitter and Facebook, and from many countries around the world.

The top 10 of last year’s poll was dominated by thinkers—including the winner, economist and philosopher Amartya Sen—whose work focused on the social, political and environmental challenges posed by economic growth in the developing world. However, Sen and others, notably the economists Raghuram Rajan and Kaushik Basu, are absent from this year’s list, which rewards impact over the past 12 months. In their place in the top 10 are thinkers who are wrestling, in different ways, with the dysfunctions of what some persist in calling the “developed world.”

2014 was Thomas Piketty’s year—as of January 2015, his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century had sold a remarkable 1.5m copies worldwide in several languages—and this is reflected in the French economist’s position at the top of our list. The past year has also been one in which anxieties about the economic, social and political costs of inequality have moved up the political agenda.

Several of the other thinkers in the top 10—particularly Yanis Varoufakis, Naomi Klein, Paul Krugman and Russell Brand (whose inclusion on the original list of 50 attracted considerable media coverage, some of it even favourable)—share similar concerns. It is striking, too, that they are all, broadly speaking, on the political left. One economist who has spoken out against Piketty and in defence of the “1 per cent,” the American Greg Mankiw, came near the bottom of the poll.

As was the case last year, there are two women in the top 10, Klein and Arundhati Roy (in 2013, there were none). And the presence of Hilary Mantel, Rebecca Solnit and Mona Eltahawy in the top 20 suggests that feminist critique of various kinds is experiencing a resurgence.

Many thanks to all those who voted. Do let us know what you make of the results on Twitter @Prospect_UK or in the comments.

The top ten

1. Thomas Piketty

It’s hard to think of a work of economics—certainly not one published in the past 30 years—that has had as extraordinary an impact outside the guild of professional economists as Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century... Read more

2. Yanis Varoufakis

Syriza’s victory in January’s Greek general election was in no small part due to the efforts of Yanis Varoufakis, now installed as Finance Minister... Read more

3. Naomi Klein

Since 1999’s No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, which became a kind of set text for the anti-globalisation movement, Klein has been leading the charge against the excesses of consumer capitalism.... Read more

4. Russell Brand

Dismissed by his opponents as a clownish opportunist, Brand is nevertheless the most charismatic figure on Britain’s populist left... Read more

5. Paul Krugman

Krugman has attacked supporters of austerity for keeping economies—and their people—in unnecessary pain. And he is still at it... Read more

6. Arundhati Roy

Roy has written widely on the status of women in Indian society, corporate corruption and Kashmiri independence, and, in 2014, was an outspoken critic of Narendra Modi, calling his election as India’s Prime Minister a “tragedy...” Read More

 7. Jürgen Habermas

As the new Greek Syriza government challenges the rest of Europe over its unpaid debt, Habermas’s suggestion that the European Union is in crisis and needs reform is more relevant than ever... Read more

8. Daniel Kahneman

Last year, Steven Pinker described Daniel Kahneman as “the world’s most influential living psychologist...” Read more

9. John Gray

Gray is the west’s pre-eminent oracle of catastrophe. Since the collapse of communism, he argues, we have had 25 years of “liberal delusion” that has more in common with the religious ideologies it is fighting than it would like to think... Read more


10.Atul Gawande

As well as practising as a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Gawande is a staff writer at the New Yorker... Read more

Read more from our top ten thinkers:

The fall and rise of inequality—Thomas Piketty interview

Yanis Varoufakis profile—Germany's nemesis

Arundhati Roy on the cruelty of India's caste system

John Gray on the fall of the Berlin wall

Atul Gawande on medicine and mortality

The rest

11. Robert Lanza, biologist

12. Hilary Mantel, novelist/essayist

13. Anne Applebaum, journalist

14. Rebecca Solnit, writer/feminist

15. Mona Eltahawy, feminist Muslim

16. David Chalmers, philosopher

17. Reza Aslan, historian of religion

18. Henry Kissinger, writer/diplomat

19. Winnie Byanyima, human rights activist

20. Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and politician

21. Tyler Cowen, economist

22. Lee Smolin, physicist

23. Linda Scott, economist

24. Michel Houellebecq, novelist

25. Elizabeth Blackburn, biologist/bioethicist

26. Edward Witten, physicist

27. Marilynne Robinson, novelist/essayist

28. Esther Duflo, economist

29. Robert Shiller, economist

30. Jeremy Rifkin, social theorist

30. Evgeny Morozov, writer/tech theorist

32. Joshua Wong, activist

33. Pankaj Mishra, writer/journalist

34. Paul Collier

35. Andrew Sullivan, writer/journalist

36. Anat Admati, economist

37. Diane Coyle, economist

38. Pia Mancini, digital activist

39. Cody Wilson, libertarian theorist/activist

39. John Goldthorpe, sociologist

41. Binyavanga Wainaina, writer/activist

42. Christopher Clark, historian

43. Linda Colley, historian

44. Jean Tirole, economist

45. Mao Yushi, economist

45. Greg Mankiw, economist

47. Danielle Keats Citron, privacy advocate

48. Bruce Katz, policy adviser/academic

49. Robert Plomin, psychologist

50. Gilles Kepel, political scientist