This question arose from my comment yesterday that I’d like to dine with Shakespeare, and it’s a question that’s comes up occasionally in magazines and on the Internet. But I’d like to see what readers think, and of course that means that I have to give my own answers to prime the pump.
First, the question:
If you could have dinner with three people, but it would take the form of three dinners several days apart, with only ONE guest per dinner, who would you choose (and why would you choose them?)
I’ve avoided having three or more people at a single meal, for that would not only be confusing, but prevent you from having a good chat with any one of them. Another stipulation: you have to be able to speak the language or one of the languages of your subject. No translators allowed!
If you want to name up to five people (still only one per meal), be my guest, and pardon the pun.
My choices, which are not very creative (and I haven’t pondered them for long), but still . . . .
a. Charles Darwin. I’d simply want to see the man and hear his voice, but also ask him some questions (about that letter from Wallace, for instance) as well as filling him in on what’s new on evolution. (See my OUP “letter to Darwin” for an idea of what I’d like to tell him.)
b. William Shakespeare. This would be to clear up a number of questions that scholars have about the man, and before dining with him I’d have to do extensive preparations, like reading some of his famous plays that I’ve never read, and, most important, consulting with scholars to see what they’d like to know. This dinner would be more for the sake of literary history than my own personal enjoyment. I’d also be worried about being able to understand his Elizabethan accent!
c. George Orwell (Eric Blair). This was a tossup between Orwell and James Joyce, but in the end I decided that since I hadn’t read Finnegan’s Wake—and couldn’t understand it if I did—I might not have much to say to Joyce. Further, I imagine Orwell would be much more genial and less arrogant than Joyce, though that’s just a speculation. I’d like to have a nice English meal and knock back a few pints with Orwell, and get his take on the current political situation, not only in the world but also about Regressive Leftism.
Since I’ve thought about these answers only in the 15 minutes it took to write this post, I’m sure that I’m missing someone that I’d want to talk to (Isak Dinisen [Karen Blixen] is one woman I’d like to meet, and then there’s Samuel Johnson, Oscar Wilde and other great conversationalists).
So, as an oyster shucker in the Acme Oyster Bar in New Orleans once told me after presenting me with a dozen freshly-shucked bivalves, and was angling for his tip: “Here’s yours. Where’s mine?”
324 thoughts on “Who in history would you like to dine with?”
Abraham Lincoln. Notoriously bright, well-read, funny, and gregarious. And he saved the Union and ended slavery.
Darwin. Would love to know what the man was like who came up with that idea!
Two gentlemen born on the same day!
I’d pick these two as well, because both seem likely to not only be bright and interesting, but both seem likely to tolerate spending a dinner with a nobody like me.
Do the Obamas count as being a part of history? The only thing counting against them is that they might still be too in the flush of fame for me to rank as a guest. But it would be really interesting to hear how they handled and processed all of the viscously negative energy directed their way. How does one stay so gracious, good-humored, and positive in the face of relentless racism and lying bile day in and day out?
Oh, forgot it was dinner for 4.
And it’s not: Dinner for 2, threes times. Need to read these posts more carefully!
1. one ancestor from the middle ages
2. one ancestor from the Neolithic
3. one ancestor from the Pleistocene
You wouldn’t be able to talk to them!
Oh, I think everyone would get along. http://rosarubicondior.blogspot.com/2018/01/neanderthals-had-sex-with-anyone.html
You and Shakespeare might have just enough difficulty in understanding each other due to the the evolution of English- that it might detract a bit from the conversation.
I don’t think so – the plays and sonnets are perfectly comprehensible to a speaker of modern English. Who knows what accent he had but I don’t imagine it would be harder to follow than any of the many extant dialects and regional accents within the anglophone world. Chaucer on the other hand would be challenging as the language has evolved substantially since he was writing. But for that he would also be an interesting dinner companion.
Only one person I’d like to have dinner with. My father. One more time. If fact, I’d give up most of my coming days for that dinner.
Wow, there’s a story there!
I was going to say my mother for the same reason.
Augustus but it would go really slow because my Latin is not that good. I think it would be cool to hear how Latin was spoken though as we are taught mostly to read it. Augustus is my favourite emperor because he successfully demolished the Republican system which had existed for ages and set himself up as an esatz dictator or worse, a king, when dictators were meant to be temporary and kings were loathed ever since the Romans were ruled by 3 Etruscan ones. He didn’t get assassinated like his dad/uncle, Caesar and died an old man. He was probably a complete sociopath.
Caesar – I want to know what it was like to live through all those terrible civil wars, how he became a Patrician, and to see if he really was a ladies man.
Philip K Dick – because he’s kinda nuts because of all the drugs but his stories are almost predictive.
I thought about Caesar as well. In fact, he was the first one that popped into my mind after Lincoln and Darwin.
Can you speak Latin from that era?
I’d like to propose an amendment to the rules and say a magic translator allows conversation with anyone in history. More fun that way.
The reality ship has sailed anyway, so we might as well pretend we could communicate.
After you with the Babel fish.
Or the TARDIS.
So long as it isn’t C-3PO.
I was relying on a magic translator, as rickflick proposed! 🙂
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams anthology series is quite good, and strange.
Yes I’ve been watching it. Most are typical Philip K Dick with themes of identity and surveillance. He really did get paranoid from all those drugs, I think.
Also Norman Bethune. He was incredibly eccentric, a Canadian communist doctor who spent a lot of time in China and is a big hero in China. He invented some medical instruments used today.
Bethune would be a choice of mine as well. He was a fascinating and compassionate man.
And since we’re allowed to pick five if we want to, my others would be…
– Tommy Douglas, the father of Canadian healthcare and founder of the NDP. One of the greatest Canadians and a total inspiration.
– Richard Feynman(but hopefully after dinner he can teach me to play the bongos)
** My additional people
– Bing Crosby – because…just because.
– I just have to put Christopher Hitchens on this list. I can’t not…
Oh yes, Tommy Douglas would be a good one. Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather too. He was a real tough cookie too. He didn’t look like a tough guy but he didn’t take any crap off anyone.
Oh, Feynman, for sure. Great choice. Was fortunate enough to have dined with Hitchens a couple of times. Well, more drank with than dined with.
If I had Latin, Augustus would have been my choice as well, though Livia would have been close.
Dinner with Livia? Make sure you bring a food taster!
I’d avoid the figs.
How about dinner on the banks of Anna Livia? With James Joyce of course. You don’t have to understand Finnegan’s Wake to have a meaningful conversation with the author of Dubliners; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; and Ulysses.
Of course I’d like to ask Heisenberg about Bohr one evening; and Bohr about Heisenberg the next.
David Foster Wallace
Hmm, this reminds me of the scene in Fight Club where Ed Norton and Brad Pitt discuss if they could fight anyone in history, who would they fight.
One answer: Abraham Lincoln: big guy, big reach.
other answer: William Shatner.
I’d like to have dinner with Charles Darwin for the same reasons as Jerry. I’d follow up with dinner with Alfred Russel Wallace and ask him his take on the matter.
I’d also have dinner with Rosalind Franklin to get her side of the story of the DNA/Watson/Crick situation.
Also re. Lincoln; if the movie was an accurate portrayal he was quite the vampire hunter, too. :-))
Lincoln was quite the accomplished vampire hunter, too, if that autobiographical movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunterwas accurate. :-))
Odd, my first attempt at a reply didn’t show until I’d posted the second.
It reminds me of Red Dwarf where they are debating whether they’d prefer to date Wilma Flintstone of Betty Rubble.
Modern: Miles Davis (for fun)
Historical: Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great
Genealogically: My family who left Africa, my relatives who went to Australia, and ancestors of my (now) neighbors who first arrived in North America.
NOTE THE RULES: You’d have to be able to speak the languages of Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great!
Oops, I didn’t read that part!
Sorry about that. I would have little chancing actually speaking to them; but would be amazing to watch.
I’ve seen a film about Genghis Khan and he spoke English as clearly as John Wayne.
The rule is you have to be able to speak their language. But maybe in this situation… 🔅🔅ding!🔅🔅Now you can speak their language!
Aristotle, Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan.
Pythagoras, Newton, and Hitler.
Oh come on, there’s so much unanswered about Hitler and his depravity that I’d love to try to find out anything about it, even if it seems a long shot.
Hitler was a vegetarian so you might want to go to a good Indian restaurant.
Hitler being a vegitarian would suck all the fun out of the meal. The last thing you want at a dinner party is some bore dragging his politics into everything.
I think Goring would be vastly more interesting.
This is tough, I’ll stick with people in my own profession:
Charles Babbage: Originated the concept of a programmable general-purpose computer.
Alonzo Church: Best known for Church-Turing thesis, worked on developing the foundations of theoretical computer science. I’d substitute Turing if Alonzo was busy that day.
Ada Lovelace: I believe she was the first person to create an algorithm intended to be used by a machine. She would be an excellent follow-up guest after Babbage.
As a CS major I’ll stay clear from dining with philosophers, especially dead ones.
Worried about the danger of starvation? Make sure you have a waiter!
Starvation is a real concern. Also, the sharing of forks isn’t very sanitary.
Any particular reason why Church over Turing? (It is possible I’m biased having read a lot about and by Turing and have no real sense of Church as a person by contrast, but …)
That is one of the reasons that I picked Church, I felt that I knew a lot about Turing already. Plus, I didn’t want to necessarily make the most obvious choice. I also considered Shannon but I thought others would have picked him up too. Then I’d have to consult with other people’s schedules 😛
Damn, the language stipulation would screw up some of my potential guests (Fermat – to ask about his last theorem, Galileo, and Da Vinci).
So I guess I’d go with Hitchens (I’m sure it would be a stimulating conversation), Sagan (to bring him up to date on astronomy), and Tesla (another stimulating conversation).
Yeah, without the language stipulation, I would have wanted to talk to Cleopatra but my Ancient Greek would be awful. I’m sure she could speak Latin though as she was an upper class, educated woman.
Since this technology is very advanced, naturally it comes with a Universal Translator. So lets say you understand those other people. Like Star Trek. Also, they generally talk with an agreeable British accent.
Einstein, because I’d like to know more about his thinking regarding the Universal Constant
Churchill, for some insights into WWII concerns that he kept private
Glenn Gould, just because
Pity about the language thing, it’d be interesting to chat with that Gotama fellow.
I like #3. Also my gg grandfather Elijah.
In addition Thomas Jefferson and his views on religion and Sally Hemings. Maybe John Adams too.
Much homework to do there.
Charles Darwin. More homework.
Horatio Nelson, A bit more homework.
I thought of Nelson as well. And Cook. And Magellan.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) — atheist, humorist, author, lecturer, and a man who spoke freely about the failures of his fellow man and his government without fear of retribution (Born on my birthday, just 114 years earlier.)
Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. (John Denver) — singer-songwriter, environmental activist, and even a pretty good actor (For those of you who enjoyed John Denver, can you believe he died over 20 years ago?)
Thomas Jefferson — founding father, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, slave-owner, deist, and a man of principle but with personal weaknesses
Agree with Twain & Jefferson. Third would be Jesus Christ. If he existed and was who a lot of people claim he was, then I assume his English would be excellent. Also, wouldn’t have to bring any wine! If he doesn’t show for lunch or is only able to babble in Aramaic, well then that would answer a lot, too.
Agree on John Denver. Thanks for that.
Twain and Jefferson are great choices as well.
Too many dinners, not enough time!
Love this list! Hemingway, Amelia Earhart, Thomas Wolfe.
You should give the reasons for your choices, and maybe a few words about what you’d say to them or want to know from them.
Jane Austen: bring her up to date on the popularity of her work. Show her some movies based on her novels. What book would have been next? Plus research to ask (politely) why never married and other biographical questions.
George Eliot: discuss Middlemarch and other works.
Iris Murdoch: discuss moral philosophy.
There are many great men that I wouldn’t want anywhere near my dining table: Newton for example who was a deeply unpleasant man. So for peace and civilised enjoyment, I would choose Churchill ( would I allow him his brandy?) although I fear he would dominate the conversation. Who else? Marlowe – if only to tell him to avoid pubs – as a foil to Shakespeare. My wife, when asked, smiled and said Tacitus ( she knows Latin!) …
My first choice too would be Charles Darwin. I’d like to have dinner with him and his large family, including Emma, discuss heredity with him and Mendel’s laws, and then take a leisurely walk on the sand path at Down House, including visiting his greenhouses. I might ask for an autographed copy of On the Origin, Edition 1!
My second dinner companion would be Teddy Roosevelt. We’d talk about natural history, preservation of national lands for parks, his initial pursuit of a degree in Biology at Harvard, and why in the world he has to shoot everything (see his book from his Africa trip, wherein he shot hundreds of animals, for the Natural History Museum of course!). We might get to economic inequality also, since that was something he was passionate about, and which was a big problem 100 years ago (not to mention today again!).
Lastly, I’d love to have dinner with Muriel Wheldale Onslow, author of the classic 1916 text “The Anthocyanin Pigments of Plants”.
She was at Cambridge in the early 20th century as a genetics/biochemist researcher and was the first female lecturer there. She was in Hopkins’ lab (he won the Nobel Prize in 1929 and discovered trypophan).
Her book proposed numerous hypothesis for why plants produce anthocyanins in vegetative organs. These are the red to blue pigments we normally associate with flowers, and her book has stimulated thousands of new research papers in recent years. She actually came up with reasonable answers for why plants do this and all recent advances have simply extended her deep perceptions.
I’d like to discuss her views on women in science, let her know that she stimulated much new research (now often molecularly focused) and that she was the object of a play about her and four other women scientists.
She died tragically of cancer in her early 50s.
These are my choices.
What an interesting choice. Thanks for the gen about Onslow: I’d not heard of her, to my shame. I must get to know her.
Oh, duh, of course! All great choices but how could I have overlooked Sacks! Like Darwin, he had such a wonderfully curious mind! I think I would be a bit overwhelmed by Hitch though, with such an intimidating intellect.
I wrote an email to Mr. Sacks about a specific aspect of visual brain that he had written about.
I got back a hand-written letter from him! I cherish that letter. Sacks was a wonderful man and writer.
That’s so wonderful. I wish I could have at least heard him speak once. I didn’t even know anything about him until about 18 months before his death, but then read every book he wrote in about 10 months. How I envy you!
Well, you can hear him speak (on tape) and learn a bit about him in this video.
And here are a couple more:
“Off the Record” with Oliver Sacks
Profile for the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour
I’m going to have to agree with Randall Munroe on this one. If I could choose anyone, living or dead, to dine with, I choose the living.
Even on the assumption that the dead could be somehow magically restored to life or transported through time to the present, it seems unlikely that dinner with me would be their first choice (or mine!) of how to best use that opportunity.
Hey – they just got resurrected & transported through time! They shouldn’t be so picky about who they have dinner with!
Now that brings up an interesting twist I hadn’t considered… Do I go back in time to sup with my dinner guests or do they come forward in time to meet me? Might make a difference…
And am I supposed to imagine I’m the only one being granted this privilege? Or if I want to have dinner with Darwin, do I have to get in line behind Jerry and all the other Darwin enthusiasts? How’s he going to find time to write his books if he has to entertain the likes of us every evening? Or are we imagining that we can clone up many copies of him so we can all have a turn without contaminating the original?
Maybe I’m overthinking it, but for me the fun of this sort of thought experiment is in working out what it could actually mean for such a thing to be possible.
They should come to your time. If you go to their time you could risk being thrown into a gladiator fight or dying of typhus.
But look at it from their point of view. They’ve been abducted from their home, transported to an unfamiliar world, sat down to dinner with an obsessive fan, and expected to carry on intelligent conversation as if this were the most normal thing in the world. How is that not a scenario from a horror movie?
As Han Solo said, “Better her than me”
The problem with them coming to our time is that you’d spend all dinner talking about what electric lights are.
Yeah that’s true. You’d probably need a few days to acclimatize them to modern things. They’d probably be amazed at how old we are. “You’re 50?! You look only 18”
I’ll give only one.
Who I did have dinner with, but being only 5 (6?) at the time I didn’t appreciate the opportunity. Wish I could have a do-over.
(My maternal grandparents were friends with him and Virginia)
I recently moved to his hometown! I’ve yet to read anything by him though. Recommendations on where to start?
Not sure I’m an expert- I’ve read a lot but somehow never read the ‘classic’ “Stranger in a Strange Land”. “Orphans of the Sky” is short but I think interesting from a “how do we know what’s true” perspective. Generations on a space ship have lost the history of the purpose or that anything exists beyond the walls.
“Time for the Stars” struck me hard as a tween. Telepathic twins age at different rates due to relativity and near light speed space travel. It’s kind of bleak.
“The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is kind of a Libertarian manifesto but enjoyable to a teen who hasn’t yet experienced the real world problems with extreme libertariansim 🙂 His politics comes through a lot. I think it’s a large part of why he got on with my grandparents. At least my grandfather since they only had politics in common. My grandmother was the sci-fi nerd.
There’s a wide range between his earlier work which is very much young-adult and the later work which is very much adult. And always that Libertarian.
Door into Summer and Red Star. I read the latter in the Eighties. I was amused by the outrageous conceit that an actor could become president.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is great. It’s interesting that many books set on the Moon – even recent ones like Iain McDonald’s Luna and Andy Weir’s Artemis – picture it as ultra-libertarian even if the authors don’t share Heinlein’s politics. Mars, on the other hand, is often socialist (from Alexander Bogdanov to Kim Stanley Robinson)
Bah! Double Star is the Heinlein book. Red Star is Bogdanov.
Oh yes, second “Door into Summer”!
Stranger in a Strange Land for sure. Beef, you are very remiss! 🙂
The Door Into Summer was my first Heinlein read and it had a huge impact on my youthful self.
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress discusses AI in a very intelligent way, as I remember it.
I’ve read a bunch of the “classic” SF again in recent years (first read in my teens). Unfortunately, most of it didn’t age well. Mainly the dialog is tough for me now: Right out of 1940s men’s pulp-fiction magazines.
Asimov did age well!
Sorry, not Beef (how did I mess that up?): Mr. Wilson. 🙂
I like that Asimov’s characters, even in his final work, still spoke like Forties New Yorkers. It gives his work a timelessness that you don’t get in the ultra-hip worlds of William Gibson. The lack of computers in his early work is a little jarring: plotting hyperspace routes with a slide-rule, etc.
Frank Herbert’s work has aged very well. By introducing the ‘Butlerian Jihad’ that outlawed AI he sidestepped the entire information technology revolution.
I recently read “Red Planet” to my ten-year-old-son and cringed many times.
I have read most of Heinlein’s books, and apart from the most obvious ones that are mentioned I would choose two – Time Enough for Love and Revolt in 2100. Time Enough for Love has some really moving parts that are some of the best Heinlein has written; Revolt in 2100 because of the political situation today.
Robert G. Ingersoll
and Jerry Falwell, just to say ‘and!’
Yes The Hitch, and legend says he was the most hospitable of hosts. Darn, I did not include him, can we change our choices?
My three choices for dinner
1. Richard Feynman. So he is not that far gone but he is brilliant eclectic and witty. It would be a great conversation assuming that I could keep up with him
2. Abraham Lincoln. Again a deep mind and a person who grew and changed as he learned. One who suffered much and deeply loved his country. Also a wit and the conversation would be spectacular
3. My great great great great great grand daughter or son. If we can go back, why not go forward? What will life be like? Will my generation be Praised, be despised or be forgotten? What of the past that we think is important will be kept or forgotten. What of our forgotten past will be recovered and deemed important 200 years from now?
I’m guessing your descendant 5x removed won’t speak English. 😉
Why not? My 5 x removed ancestors did!
They didn’t live in a world dominated by China. 😉
The USSR reputedly [i.e. it didn’t unfortunately] had fake American towns built with 7-11s, McDonald’s etc to acclimatise their deep cover ‘illegals’ before shipping them to the USA.
Vegas has a half arsed Eiffel Tower, Pyramids of Giza & the canals of Venice.
BUT, the Chinese have entire districts built in British, Scandinavian, Italian, Spanish, Canadian, Dutch and German styles – THAMES TOWN is an example. When the Chinese finish buying the real locales I’m certain they’ll want to keep the cute local languages.
If Vlad the Impaler has any say in it, they’ll be speaking the Nadsat of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.
oh damn – I want a 4th, Feynman OF COURSE
I would probably pick Darwin as well, and then, my only living choice, Bernd Heinrich, and third would have to be Mark Twain (Groucho Marx is a close 4th). Steinbeck would be up there perhaps, and if I were allowed an aperitif or maybe an after-dinner cognac, I’d choose Hemingway. And considering how often Heinrich talks in his books about eating the rodents he caught or the birds he and his parents collected for museums, I don’t think I’d let him cook, but he could bring along some of his home brewed beer. Come to think of it, Darwin ate a lot of odd stuff too, so maybe we could just the air on a post-prandial perambulation ’round the sand walk and finish with a cuppa back at the house.
PCC(E), I don’t think there’s such a thing as an Elizabethan accent, any more than there’s a William and Mary or a Victorian accent; there’s just stronger or weaker regional accents.
Being a Warwickshire boy born and bred, Shakespeare would likely have spoken with a strong accent not dissimilar to the modern day Birmingham* (Brummie) twang; not the most impenetrable accent by a long way.
If you have a talent for mimicking accents, reading Shakespeare in a Brummie accent can be good for a laugh!
My dinner guests:
Benjamin Franklin, because he was such a character, and because I’d love to know what he was thinking when he decided to fly the kite with key attached a thunder storm, and how he felt when the next person to try it got himself fried.
Carl Sagan, the man who really turned me on to the Cosmos, and so I could see his reaction on learning that Voyager is still capable of sending information about life (sic) at the edge of the Solar System.
Marylin Monroe, because what a story she could tell.
I’d say that Elizabethan English is a type of modern English (Early Modern English) and that the regional speech of London is a dialect of Early Modern English. It’s a whole other type of English from our Standard English so the issue would be around understanding the nuance, cadence, slang around a different type of English more so than an accent.
Middle English would be a real slog. Especially Middle English from Northern England…I found reading it hard so having a conversation would be really difficult.
So many options.
I’d ask them what they might have done different knowing how it has turned out thus far.
I’m surprised you didn’t choose Pliny the Younger or the older one. I think Barack Obama doesn’t count, since still alive, although I’m not sure that was a criterion or just an impression..
Ha ha but Pliny the in Between would need to understand the Latin of Pliny the Younger or Older. Though I’m sure both also knew Ancient Greek as well educated Roman boys most likely taught by Greek slaves to speak Greek. So, you know, there is a choice in languages.
I think that if we could have dinner with a dead person, we may assume the language problem could be miraculously solved too. Or am I assuming too much?
Jerry’s roolz of this game.
It’s wishing for an infinite number of wishes from the Genie. The constraints (IMHO) force one to think harder about your choices.
Nope he counts, particularly as I would be interested to see if the other two could have imagined his Presidency.
Besides, it’s my fantasy 😉
I was leaning towards the first two as well. I’d want to know what was their true intention behind the 2nd amendment!
I thought we’d cleared that up in 2015?
Y’know, your cartoon pops into my head everytime that subject comes up! 😉
The first one coming to mind was Darwin, of course. In fact I have often been fantasizing about it before,
As a second, I’d choose Ignatz Semmelweiss, if only to tell him how much he has been vindicated.
The third would be (there is a plethora to choose from) Judge Dee from the Tang dynasty, or even his ‘creator’, Robert van Gulik.
(I surmise all of them need to be dead, of course< there are quite few living ones)
I would happily choose many of the choices mentioned already. But in addition (and lets’ pretend we can understand each other language), my special fantasy person would be to meet and talk with Gregor Mendel.
I would very much want to show him any introductory biology textbook, and the opening pages on the chapter on genetics. Just to show Gregor (I would call him Gregor) ‘See? You flunked out of college (twice!), but you did good. Your time had come like you always said it would’.
‘Hi, Gregor. Sit yourself down, I’ve made your favourite’
‘Oh, Christ – not bloody peas again!’
I have a cartoon in my Intro Bio syllabus very much like that. The monks are sitting down for dinner, and one monk says “Brother Mendel! We grow tired of peas!”
Ms Sybil Ludington = brave; excellent horsewoman. Rode overnight through gunfire, thunder and lightning storms and pathways’ obstacles of The Dark to save others; age 16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sybil_Ludington
Ms Katharine McCormick = rich enough money – wise to ‘ve made a difference. And did.
Ms Irena Sendler = brave enough to ‘ve made a difference. And did.
Ms Dottie Green = skilled enough to ‘ve played baseball in all 12 seasons y1943 – y1947. And did.
Ms Inez Milholland = smart enough to ‘ve made a difference. And died for it.
Ms Hypatia = same as Ms Milholland including … … also was killed … … for it. 370 CE.
Ms Matilda Joslyn ( Gage ) = smart enough to ‘ve learned how to .be. from Native Americans. Then did so. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matilda_Joslyn_Gage
Good list. I’d add Mary Seacole, who let nothing stand in her way.
Jerry, may we give 30 instead of 3?
Yes but you have to give a reason for each one AND you have to be able to speak their language or they yours.
Aw, that language criterion is killing of course. My ancient Greek is not good enough to have a discussion with Aristotle, not to mention Necho, Confucius or Ashoka.
Ok there we go, 30, only dead ones and ones I guess I could communicate with. Except for no 1, the order in interchangeable:
1- Darwin at no 1 for the same reasons as you mentioned
2- Ignatz Semmelweiss for reasons already mentioned.
3- Robert van Gulik, because he was a polymath with an astonishing knowledge of Chinese History, including it’s sexual mores, and the good wine he would serve.
4- Christopher Hitchens, do I really need to spell it out? He was also reputed to be a most gracious host, and being a great gastronomist too.
5- Richard Feynman, not only one of the wittiest great thinkers, but also a guy for a wild evening.
6- Henry L Mencken, one of the most observant critics of society, and I would like to know his take on the present.7 and 8 Montesquieu and Voltaire, great thinkers of the enlightenment, and as good Frenchmen, great hosts. Great discussions too.
9- Anthony van Leeuwenhoek, modest and affable, would also like to tell him how great his achievements are regarded by posteriority.
10- Nicolas D’Oresme to find out more about his basically inventing of integration and a lot more, who was this guy? Guess my French and Latin would be just enough to communicate.
11- Isaac Asimov, Not just talking about his laws of robotics, but I’m sure there would always be something interesting to talk about. Such a great thinker, and so clever!
12- Nelson Mandela, someone who almost single handedly avoided a civil war, with a great scope of thought, and reputed to be a gracious host too.
13- Thomas Jefferson. Curious about his take on slavery, and his take on the Islamic ‘invasion’ of Europe.
14- JBS Haldane. Clever and courageous. Would like to know more about his experiments with poison gas and how sarcastic he was in his -what would considered racist now- remarks in that context. And certainly a lot of subjects with a different take from him.
15- Adolph Hitler, how serious was he about his christianity? What would he think about the present world?
I have to go to sleep now (working day waiting), but I’ll come to the next half tomorrow.
As promised we’ll go on. as said only dead ones. and the language criterion seriously limits.
16- Pliny the younger, he appears to have such a fresh and rational look on things. And I’d like to tell him how the world has changed. The language would be a bit iffy though, my latin is kinda weak.
17- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, one of the more fascinating figures in modern history. to find out what he thinks about Tayyib Erdogan, and find out if he has some good tips there, and, of course, always in for some heavy drinking. I think he could speak French and German, but am not sure, maybe his polyglot wife should accompany.
18- Nico Tinbergen, the father of ethology. some more ideas about his relation with Konrad, so much his “anti-pole” in many ways.
19- George Price, not just to try to convince him not to kill himself, but how much his ideas were vindicated.
20- Hamilton, of course, great thinker and talker, although I’d rather go on an expedition with him than just a dinner.
21- Bartolome de las Casas, one of the early opponents of slavery. An interesting man, and I guess Domenicans were good hosts too.
22- since my Chinese or Mongol is less than rudimentary, we’ll take it second hand: Marco Polo (rather than Giovanni Pian Carpini, the latter appearing too rigid a man for a nice dinner).
23- David ben Gurion. One of the founders of the ‘socialist’ state of Israel. Would love his take after more than half a century.
24- Ernst Haeckel, sure he would be interested in progress in modern genetics, and dismayed how relatively little progress in embryology. Tell him how right he was with his Hippo-Cetacean relatedness.
25- Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, causeur, entertainer, and with quite a bit of wisdom. Must be a great outing.
26- Joseph Needham. Could entertain us for hours about Chinese technology.
27- Martin Luther King. What to think about Barack Obama, or now Trump? Or SWJ’s?
28- Josephine Bonaparte, to get a more nuanced view of one of my childhood heroes, the influence of ancient Egypt on the empire style, etc.
29- Christiaan Huygens, how did he go about doing his science, his competition with Galileo,etc.
30- Sara Baartman. Was she really exploited? How did she feel about her tour herself, what would she have done if not killed by TB? The ‘new ‘ South Africa?
1. Abraham Lincoln – The most consequential person in American history.
2. Albert Einstein – The most important figure of the 20th century who changed the way we think about the universe.
3. James Madison – A driving force in the creation of the American constitution. I would love to know what he would think about the constitution in the age of Trump.
I forgot Lincoln, and I would have wanted to dine with Jefferson, too.
Both my father and maternal grandfather as I failed to appreciate them as I wish I had when they were alive. My maternal grandmother (whom I did very much appreciate).
Leaving my relatives off the list, Churchill, Alan Turing, Bertrand Russell.
Love the idea of Turing
If it weren’t for the stipulation, those three would have been interesting *together*, as they were all alive at the same time.
George Mallory. I’d ask him if he reached the summit of Everest.
My first reaction was: but you would have to have dinner with him near the summit of Everest, since he didn’t make it down alive. I then had an image of Mallory, struggling and close to death on Everest, being whisked off to the future to have dinner with you, and being condemned to be sent back as soon as said dinner was over. He might not be the best dinner guest under those circumstances. Or I might be taking this question a little too seriously…
Paul: I actually thought the same thing. But this is true of everyone here isn’t? Jerry might meet a Darwin who is yet to receive a letter from Wallace, or a Shakespeare who has yet to write any plays. That would put a dampener on things, wouldn’t it?!
Thinking a little more, I guess everyone needs to meet his dinner guest towards the end of the latter’s life. But then I am reminded of someone who interviewed Francis Crick when Crick was pretty old and asked him what the atmosphere was like around the time they discovered the double helix structure. And Crick replied that it was far too long ago for him to remember and suggested the questioner read one of the books about it!
I have about 20 so its tough to pare down the list. Although it wasn’t alone, already had it with Jerry Coyne! LOL
That’ll have to do for now.
Perhaps Benjamin Franklin, because he said he was born too soon.
Charles Darwin, because, well, he’s Charles Darwin, and I’d like to know what his first theory of evolution was, what he experienced when natural selection dawned on him, etc., etc.
Edward B. Poulton (a turn-of-the-century English Darwinian biologist who has received less credit than he deserves) to talk about adaptation and the history of evolution.
I imagine though, if invited back to life, the three of them would prefer an invitation from someone other than me.
Benjamin Franklin is a great choice. He was an author,diplomat,scientist and Founding Father. I don’t think you would run out of things to talk to him about.
Could I pass up the chance to jam with Elvis Presley? Or a smoke with Bob Marley?
So many people, so little time.
I’d go with Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.
Richard the third. What did ever happen to the princes in the tower?
Beethoven, simply because he’s the greatest composer that ever lived. I’m presently learning German, but I’m not sure if he’ll have his hearing back for dinner.
For numbers three through five it’d be between Churchill, Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, and John Stuart Mill.
I modestly beg to disagree, the greatest composer of them all was Johannes S. Bach.
A great question with some good stipulations!
Luckily, Pasteur spoke fluent English, as I think he would have been a hell of a dinner companion, with plenty to discuss about a variety of topics.
In politics, I imagine Jefferson or Adams would be great conversationalists, but I’m sure they’d be too busy to sit and talk – and I’m sure it would definitely be one or the other or they’d take too much interest in arguing among themselves if they were brought together.
I wish you hadn’t already picked Orwell! So, I suppose I would also very much like to learn from Carl Sagan how he approached communicating with the public. I’ve heard he was a hell of a guy, too.
Thanks for the post!
You’d have far more interesting dinner with the author of those plays.
FYI, Shaksper would’ve had a Warwickshire accent virtually incomprehensible to Londoners of the time.
You buy into the ‘Shakespeare didn’t write his plays’ conspiracy?
It’s not a conspiracy. It’s a well-reasoned hypothesis based on a mountain of evidence and reason, one ascribed to by a considerable & growing number of erudite people.
The real conspiracy, if any, is the slew of fabrications, ad hoc excuses, and outright suppression of evidence done by the Stratfordians.
I see it as pure snobbery, railing against the idea that an ill-bred commoner, and from the Shires at that, could write so well and so prolifically.
That’s a standard straw man. Robert Burns wrote well and prolifically, but he wrote of his milieu and in a voice born of that.
Genius is necessary but not sufficient. Raw genius cannot pull out of thin air fluency in French, Latin or Greek, cannot miraculously divine the customs and street layouts of Italian cities, the inner workings of the royal court or the family intrigues of the nobility. Nor can it spontaneously acquire advanced knowledge of law, seafaring, astronomy, medicine, falconry, jousting, History, etc.
True, but it can ask those who do know these things, read about them and, you know, educate itself. One doesn’t have to attend the finest universities to gain knowledge.
That said, there is no evidence of where Willy was educated. It is assumed that he attended his local Grammar school, but with no extant evidence that, just as the conspiracy, is pure conjecture.
One would need to attend law school for the command of legal terms and concepts — not to mention the familiarity and ease with these to employ them metaphorically — found in the plays.
A few possible years of grammar school does not provide one with the capacity to work from sources available only in Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish.
Overheard banter does not permit one to accurately describe, in minor detail, foreign cities, or allude to the social dynamics and inside jokes of the court or the law university.
The list goes on, and the sheer breadth and depth of knowledge and familiarity displayed is simply not achievable by ‘asking around’ or ‘boning up’.
There is also the matter of subject matter. A country commoner does not write all but one play about royalty and nobility, casting commoner characters as buffoons and jesters. A commoner does not dare to write a play (Hamlet) that is a thinly-veiled account of the life & family of one of the most powerful noblemen in the land. A young aspiring poet does not lament about failing health and being 40 years old, while lecturing a duke on how to conduct his personal affairs.
And had these works, half of which were first published anonymously, stayed anonymous, no sane person would suppose they’d been written by a semi-illiterate, avaricious wool merchant / loan enforcer / second-hand clothing peddler / small-time investor.
If you are leading a theatre company in the capital of the civilized world, you are bound to have a circle of knowledgeable friends and acquaintances.
Shakespeare wrote his plays like Ellington wrote his music.
Yet Shaksper of Stratford would need to have amassed this great breadth of knowledge before arriving in London. The mature poems he would have written at home, the early plays just upon arriving in London to work as a stable groom.
Further, Shake-speare’s command of all this diverse fields of knowledge transcend anything possible by mere osmosis. In Othello, he doesn’t just plunk in some obscure falconry terms, he uses them metaphorically to describe jealousy. Similarly, in Shrew (??), he plays on legal terms in a romantic context.
I do suggest you take a look at the arguments against a poorly-educated merchant from the country possessing such detailed and extensive knowledge, and at the mass of ad hoc excuses required to argue for. This is not the crackpot conspiracy that defamers would like you to believe. It is well-reasoned and copiously supported by a stunning amount of evidence.
Is your argument simply that the best writer in history can’t possibly be that good because no one else is?
No, I guess you are just a snob who thinks lower class folks don’t have the capacity to absorb, digest and produce as much as Shakespeare did.
Our Finnish national treasure, the poet and playwright Aleksis Kivi came from a similar background. Like Shakspere, he never signed his name twice the same way.
It would certainly be fascinating to ask the old Shake-scene about these things over dinner.
Class snobbery has nothing to do with it. James Clerk Maxwell came from a modest background, and he mastered physics to become one of its greatest contributors. Clearly a genius. But we have documentation of his excellent & extensive education from childhood to university. Maxwell did not, however, also become well-versed in music, medicine, royal etiquette, sports of the nobility, seafaring, Italy, or foreign languages. Genius is necessary but not sufficient.
Shaksper of Stratford’s background and life simply did not provide the opportunities or exposure necessary to acquire the knowledge displayed in the works of Shakespeare.
The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition addresses this snob ad hominem:
This interpretation of “authorship” shows a gross misunderstanding of how literature is created.
Someday we may find more about the years between 1585 and 1592, but no matter. It would be fascinating to converse with the creator(s) of the plays.
Does anyone expect a novelist or playwright to have a fluent command of all the languages and professions his characters are supposed to represent? Without asking anyone.
The scholarly consensus is that the plays draw from several sources which were only available in foreign languages. So the author had to be fluent in them.
In The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard’s Unknown Travels, Richard Paul Roe shows conclusively that the plays include detailed, highly accurate, and often obscure descriptions of Italian cities.
Shaksper’s “Lost Years” must have been conducted at a frantic pace to cover all the necessary range of knowledge, with him traveling across Italy, sailing at sea, clerking in a law office, working in a print shop, traveling as a tutor, eavesdropping on courtiers, while in his spare time teaching himself Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and a little Spanish. It defies credulity.
Ah, the old “too complicated for one man with no friends, colleagues or common sense” -argument.
Ah, the ‘waves hands dismissively’ gambit.
Much like today.
“Shaksper would’ve had a Warwickshire accent virtually incomprehensible to Londoners of the time.”
I guess that means he couldn’t have acted in London. So who was the real *actor* Shakepeare then? Not only did he not write any plays, but he never acted in any either — that’s your theory.
The fringe is fraying.
Londoners would undoubtedly have had no difficulty on identifying him as not native to the city but I seriously doubt that they would have found him ‘virtually incomprehensible’.
Also, actors (good ones) can *learn to use other accents*.
And Warwickshire accents are rather flat anyway. At their worst they sound not dissimilar to somebody who’s extremely bored. Not at all difficult to understand. Now, if Shakespeare had been Cornish or Geordie… :-0
I would go with David Hume, one of the great minds of the 18th century enlightenment. A bold critic of superstition and religion.
Then, I would go with Bertrand Russell because he was one of the great minds of the 20th century and a strong critic of religion and nationalism.
My third choice would be Kurt Vonnegut because of his personal history and his brilliant fiction.
Margaret Sanger, Rachel Carson, and Simone DeBeauvoir would make my second list. All three were important shapers of our modern world with respect to gender, the environment
I’d like to meet three other versions of me from alternative histories and find out what would have happened if I hadn’t fucked up so many decisions.
(1) Paul Henry de Kruif, who wrote “Microbe Hunters” and collaborated with Sinclair Lewis (to the extent of receiving part of the royalties) on “Arrowsmith”. Both books, which I read in adolescence, led me into scientific work with bacteria. I dimly recall the excitement of De Kruif’s book, which might be rekindled in a conversation with him. He seems an interesting fellow, having gotten himself fired from the Rockefeller Institute for writing unsympathetically about one of its grandees.
(2) Louis Pasteur, the father of Microbiology, for obvious reasons. My French remains serviceable, if rusty. Our dinner would, of course, be French.
(3) Christopher Hitchens, obviously the most erudite and dazzling conversationalist on anyone’s list.
Thinking about it, I realized my original answers were for entirely intellectual reasons, and all guys. For interesting and pleasant company, I’d try my late Uncle, Marilyn Monroe (curiosity and to say I had dinner with her), and any one of several actresses I had a crush on.
Keeping it down to three:
George Washington – Strategy thru out the war, review of his 8 years in office
Alexander Hamilton – His review of the war and time as Sec. of Treasure. Did he aim high in duel with Burr.
James Madison – Battles lost during the meet in Philly. Reasons for his change after the Constitution was ratified and he flipped from federalist to Jefferson and the Anti-federalist.
Jesus Christ. I don’t speak Aramaic, but then again he didn’t exist, so I will be dining alone.
David Hume, George Eliot, and then, either Joyce, Flaubert, James Cook, Queen Elizabeth (first), Babe Ruth, or Jerry Garcia. (Darwin, of course, but everybody wants him).
Richard Feynman: incredibly original thinker.
Paul Dirac: ditto.
Émilie Du Châtelet: years ago my French might have been adequate to follow this extraordinarily brilliant woman. (Also she was notoriously randy, so that there might have been some apres-repas entertainment.)
I would have included Darwin, except that his writing is so clear and expressive that I feel that I understand him from his books.
Dirac is an odd choice given his notorious lack of social skills.
I’d go for Kurt Gödel because he wouldn’t mind me nicking chips off his plate.
Apparently he was fluent on his own ground. One of my professors at university was one of his mentees.
Yeah, I read a biography of Dirac (_The Strangest Man_) – he sounds autistic, to me. So perhaps all you have to do is speak physics. 🙂
“nicking chips off his plate.”
Upon first reading, I wondered why you would want to damage his plates.Then it dawned on me that you were planning to swipe his spuds.
Being British I tend to revert to my native tongue when cracking jokes.
‘Stealing his fries’ means the same but that’s not my ‘voice’.
Thanks. Took me a moment, but I got it. Then, I had to laugh at my first impression. Reminds me of Oliver Sacks keeping a record of all the funny things he misheard as he aged.
Judging from the Paul Dirac biographies I have read it would be a very bleak meal and a one sided conversation. He was not very sociable.
I would agree Darwin with Joseph Hooker or Thomas Huxley to make the party swing
See my note above.There is a well-known photograph of Dirac talking to Feynman in which the body language suggests that these very different personalities were engrossed when talking about physics. I would have liked to get some idea of how this most brilliant physicist thought.
A night on the piss with Christopher Marlowe sounds a lot more fun than dinner with Shakespeare.
I think Marlowe was probably an absolute a$$hole. He might be okay of you were a man, and a Christian (though I doubt atheism would worry him). But he was notoriously anti-Semitic, arrogant, selfish, and pretty nasty to anyone who didn’t dress to the height of fashion and look great doing it.
Narrowing this list to three is nearly impossible. Ask me on three different days and you’ll get three different answers. Today’s answer:
1. John Muir
2. H.D. Thoreau
3. Ralph Waldo Emerson
If I could have three people to dinner at one time: Hitler and any two members of the Israeli Olympic Wrestling Team.
Auguste Escoffier, if he were cooking.
1. Ken Wilson (physicist) I would ask him about his thoughts on the effective field theory.
2. Mary Magdalene – Apparently she spoke Aramaic. I would ask her a question in Aramaic or use hand/body language to ask. This is a good exercise because I have never pondered such a situation.
3. Van Morrison. I know he’s still alive but I can’t think of anyone. Anyone I could just enjoy with.
R P Feynman. I wasn’t much a fan when I was young and foolish, but the older I get the wiser he seems. Also brilliant and funny. He can explain to me “it from bit”.
Claude Shannon. The single most difficult idea I have ever come across is Shannon Information. I’ve proved the theorems, used the results, and yet still something fundamental eludes me I can’t quite put my finger on.
Veronica Lake at age 25. Hope springs eternal.
Like that peek-a-boo look, do you? You could go with Lynn Bracken; she’s been cut to look like Veronica Lake.
I saw Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels at the local arthouse recently. I’m inclined to agree with you.
You should check out Sturges’s Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. Not that it has Veronica Lake :). It’s a comedy about a woman who is pregnant and can’t remember who the father is. It was the top grossing movie of 1944.
1. Joseph of Arimathea as one who is historically verified as having existed he would know how much of the historically UNverified story of Jesus Christ is true.
2. Ignaz Semmelweis, MD, who correctly set up comparative and experimental protocols to show that external invisible factors were being transferred by human hands to women who had given birth and then were infected and died of sepsis. He is the father of true Gold Standard medicine although punished for his revelations.
3. Charlemagne to determine if he had a major speech impediment which caused the radical change in how a former Romance language is spoken with lisping and tongue tying = FRENCH. The population started speaking like the great King.
Would Charlemagne really speak a Romance language? I thought he spoke something Germanic.
He spoke most likely more than one language. That was a must for an upperclass guy who travelled a lot.
Latin was an international language among the mucky mucks so learn your Latin and speak to those guys.
Latin was the lingua franca 😉
Well,Darwin is clearly booked for a long time. I would definitely go for Richard Feynman, a brilliant physicist and fun guy, and I’d like to know what he thinks about developments in physics since his demise. Then Jacques Monod, to get his latest take on genetics and gene editing. The others all speak languages I don’t.
PCC(e)to try my apple pie.
Angry Cat Man to try my lasagna.
Professor Jerry Coyne to try my monkey bread. I’ll supply the wine and coffee.
PCC(e)to try my apple pie.
Angry Cat Man to try my lasagna.
Professor Jerry Coyne to try my monkey bread. I’ll supply the wine and coffee.
Sure, I’d like to say Shakespeare or Darwin or Bertrand Russell or …
But I really want a raconteur. I’ll go with Groucho, Alfred Hitchcock and Dizzy Gillespie. I do need to know, though — who’s picking up the tab?
I forgot to ask… Are we to assume that the person who we find at dinner is the person at the end of their live? If I found myself with Abe Lincoln when he was 25 years old, I might give away the plot!
A leisurely dinner at a 3-star Michelin restaurant with Orson Welles. I would proceed to get Welles liquored up, keep my end of the conversation sparse, take impeccable mental notes and, of course, pick up the tab.
Make him drink that lousy Paul Masson wine he used to hawk.
And, SPOILER ALERT, it’s a sled. 🙂
You have a point. On second thought, I’ll let him pick up the tab.
My three are Bertand Russell, who was a pacifist in WWI but supported the war against Hitler, and introduced me to philosophy and logic through his barber paradox, John Cleese for his expertise on cheeses, and Ken Ham, who would make me laugh.
Russell’s story about getting drafted into the army in the First World War is funny — the government couldn’t locate him because they had forgotten they’d jailed him for promoting pacifism.
I’m a musician. Although many scientists have made contributions with greater impact than composers have, my relative science illiteracy would make for a disappointing conversation, I think.
1) J. S. Bach. I don’t think any other musician has understood music more completely or been more fluent in creating it. Plus, he might be persuaded to perform something for us!
2) Johannes Brahms. A composer of nearly Bachian ability, and an atheist. He and I could commiserate about the fact that so many people still think great music is evidence for god.
3) Beethoven. Again, a towering talent, and an (in)famously eccentric and curmudgeonly character. The man who said “people prefer the seventh [symphony] precisely because the eighth is so much better” would undoubtedly have interesting things to say. We would of course have his favorite meal, mac’n’cheese.
All excellent choices.
I suppose our 20th century German would still be mutually comprehensible with their older versions.
1. Benjamin Spooner Briggs, the captain of the _Mary Celeste_.
2. Elizabeth Ann Short, the Black Dahlia.
3. Mary Jane Kelly, the final victim of Jack the Ripper.
4. Eleanor White Dare, a Roanoke colonist.
5. Joseph Force Crater, a judge.
I want answers!
The guy on the grassy knoll.
No Jimmy Hoffa?
Down here in Key West, it would be the cromulently named former Fire Chief who disappeared in the middle of a narcotics-fueled corruption investigation, “Bum Farto.”
I would have listed Hoffa sixth. Julia Dennis Wallace and Nicole Brown Simpson were also strong contenders.
The word, Bum-Farto just cracks me right up.
I have not used my German for years but would certainly work on it for a chance of a dinner with Gustav Mahler. I love most music but Mahler’s has captivated me more than any other.
Richard Feyman, he sounds an amazing guy and I enjoy the books of Lawrence Krauss who really looks up to Feyman.
James Finlayson, I still love the old Laurel and Hardy films and think Finlayson helped make their films even funnier. He was also born in the small town of Larbert, Scotland, a place I visit a lot to meet friends, so we would have something in common to chat about.
My Norwegian cousins had a cat named Gustav Mahler. (“Mahler” means “purrer” in Norwegian — or at least that’s what they told me.)
Alexander the Great
Bertrand Russell is my first choice. I have read most of his non philosophical works and he breaks things down very simply and with elegance. I would also like to dine with David Hume, not so much about his atheism but about his empiricism which forms the foundation of modern science. I read a couple of his books as well and he aptly describes the difference between cause and effect and correlation. B. F. Skinner could not have done it better.
Marie Tharp, geologist and mapmaker, who first used data to map seafloor
Eleanor of Aquitaine (though English has evolved, and we might have trouble communicating at first)
Grace Hopper, writer of the first compiler
And someone who is still with us but made history within my own field of geology, Tanya Atwater. She’s a geophysicist who developed (or led the development) of much of the modern understanding of the relative behaviors of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates.
Nice choice with Marie Tharp. She and her map played quite an important role in developing the theory of plate tectonics. Alfred Wegener was on my short list, I’d love to see his reaction on hearing that continental drift has been accepted.
William Blake (Why was I born with a different face? Why I am I not like the rest of my race? When I look each one starts, when I speak I offend, so I’m sullen and silent and lose every friend. I am either too low or too highly prized; When elate I am envied, when meek I’m despised.)
Arthur Koestler — no one saw so much C20 history and lived to write about it.
Maybe some early Australian explorer.
Funny enough, I think about this question a lot and I was wondering when it would come up again on line.
1. Buddy Holly. He was one of the founding fathers of rock n roll and to someone who loves music like I do, he was an absolute genius.
2. Kurt Cobain. He was also a musical genius and I’d want to know if he regrets the decision of taking his own life.
3. Frida Kahlo. I’d want to hear about how she dealt with the pain her accident left her with yet how she still had will, creativity and inspiration. I’d want to know more about what she was feeling as she made her self-portraits.
HH Munro (Saki)
1. Christopher Hitchens – he’s probably the most eloquent orator and conversationalist I’ve ever heard, so how could you go wrong?
2. Carrie Brownstein – I would love to be able to talk music with her: her origins, how she approaches music now, her thoughts on how to write it and what to listen to/for.
3. Donald Zimmerman – one of my (late) academic grandfathers. He died before I ever got the chance to meet him, but so much of what I do and am interested in is rooted in his work. It would be fascinating to hear his thoughts. Also, from the stories I’ve heard, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy.
Just a side-thought: it seems to me that when most people give their answers, they implicitly assume that their dining partner will want to open up and talk about deeply personal or controversial things and that if they did they would be truthful. I see no reason why this should be the case though. Therefore, I think dinner with pretty much any public figure still living (certainly any politician) would be guarded at best. Just a thought.
Not me; see my post below but the more I thought about it, the more I realized what I really wanted to know is what they think of the 21st century’s take on their ideas. Would they be amazed? Horrified? Would they say “thank you for showing me this” or “I’m going to go back and change history to prevent this?”
Shakespeare (for precisely the same reasons as JAC)
Baron d’Holbach. Atheist, materialist, decent person. He would be completely at home in the 21 century. If you are not familiar with him, Wikipedia has a good article.
Shakespeare. I would find out how he became who he is and sell the answer for 1 billion dollars.
Mary. Who was really the father?
Instead of Mary, how about Pontius Pilate? His existence isn’t really in question and wouldn’t you love to hear him say “Jesus who?”
First I would like to meet J. Sebastian Bach, he is my favorite composer and I would like to know how he was as a person.
Then I would like to speak with Friedrich Nietzsche, (but before the time of his mental derangement) and would like to know from him if he could possibly recognize in the AI and the development of a superintelligence an embodiment of his concept of the Übermensch.
Then I would choose Einstein to talk to him about the things and problems of the world. And I would ask him what his idea is, how best to convince humanity that there is no free will. 🙂
You should watch Ricky Gervais’s imagined conversation between Nietzsche & Hitler. Start at around 0.45.
Many thanks for the hint I just watched the video. Jokes about Hitler are often a tightrope act, and those like Gervais’s, which parodies Hitler in a subtle way, would probably be unthinkable on the public stage in Germany, since they would not be considered as aggressive enough to adequately address the serious topic.
I love Gervais’s subtle body language and response “what?”. How he picks at the wood and averts his eyes in embarrassment as Hitler. It’s brilliant.
From the extant correspondence of Bach, it seems he was frequently a bit on the grumpy side. Understandable, as he was not recognized during his own lifetime as the musical genius he was, aside from a handful of his own pupils.
It is almost impossible for me to say the words “grumpy” and “Bach” within a sentence. But well, you have to completely separate the artwork from the person, from the individual temperament of the artist. True art does not need any psychologizing explanations.
I didn’t mean to paint such a bleak picture. Most of the correspondence that survives is him arguing with his employers: needing a raise, being asked to do too much work, being given insufficient resources, etc. He was often expected to create silk purses out of sow’s ears.
There are some letters that deal with personal rather than professional matters that show he knew how to enjoy himself – he enjoyed smoking his pipe and drinking wine while chatting with friends.
” he enjoyed smoking his pipe and drinking wine while chatting with friends.
-Yes, this description is in line with the picture that one would expect of Bach as a person if, like me, one only knows his music and nothing of the human being behind it. It’s a bit reassuring that there’s no extreme discrepancy between the temperament and the character of his work. Thanks for the clarification.
Robert Oppenheimer is my dark horse choice. Fascinating person and so much perspective in science, ethics, and politics.
Hard to narrow down the other two. Probably pick one of Darwin/Einstein. Newton, Da Vinci, Galileo would be intriguing, but not sure how that would go.
Then arts/lit/music is sort of obvious (Shakespeare), but politics/world leaders may make better dinner companions. Churchill, FDR, maybe even Obama.
Must addc Ben Franklin.
May I please have 10 choices?
Cleopatra. I mean, ya gotta wonder, right? It could be really hawt. And, my goodness, the asp on that gal.
1. David Hume. His scepticism about religion was shocking to many of his contemporaries, but everyone who knew Hume seems to have described him as the most engaging, tolerant and even-tempered of men. Liked a glass or two as well.
2. Joseph Banks. Polymath and naturalist who travelled half the world and saw many societies at their first encounter with Europeans. President of the Royal Society for 41 years.
3. Carl Sagan. I attended a series of lectures he gave in the 1980s. Outstanding.
Christopher Hitchens, Bertrand Russell, and Jerry Coyne.
Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind having William Lane Craig and Sean M Carroll if they could dine at the same time. The fireworks would be mighty entertaining. Robert Ingersoll and Jerry Falwell would also work, if you want to go with an all dead company.
Come back to NZ the next time Jerry is here. I’d like to meet you too, and you can come to dinner when Jerry is staying. I’ll just shut up and listen.
Wow! That would be terrific. You’d have to promise to join in the discussion though. My contribution would basically be to interview Jerry I think.
I could probably manage to say something every now and then. I have to shut up when it comes to science-y stuff though lest I reveal too much ignorance.
Like mikeyc above, my first choice would be my father. He died at the young age of 67, when I was 36, so I missed out on a lot of years of loving and getting to know him. I would have been honoured to care for him as he aged, no matter what form that took. Aside from my children, I loved him more than any other human being on the planet.
Napoleon: It would be interesting to talk to him about his life and times, about his passionate love for Josephine, and to ask him if he would, in hindsight, do things any differently, so that he could have stayed in France and not been banished to St. Helena.
Emily Bronte: I would ask her about her life in the parsonage with her siblings Charlotte, Anne and Branwell. I’d get her to read some of her poetry to me, and of course, a passage or two from ‘Wuthering Heights’.
-Christopher Hitchens, to get his take on Trump and all the trumpette-goings-on down south. I especially would like to get his take on that little weasel, Stephen Miller (no offence to weasels).
-Bertrand Russel, because I love him.
-Mozart, because who needs a reason?
-Newton (Isaac, not Wayne).
-John Lennon & Bob Marley
-Mark Antony (I’d read him the speech that Shakespeare wrote for him after Caesar’s death, and ask him his opinion of it.)
-And so many more.
-No, I can’t speak all the languages, just some French, but hey, it’s fantasy.
1. David Freedle, my great-grandfather to find out who his parents were and to see if he knows
the names of his Freedle family that emigrated from Germany.
2. William R Young, my great-grandfather who was an orphan,to find what he knew about his family.
3. Robert Freedle, my great-uncle, to find out about his escape from jail in MO after being locked up for trying to kill a man (Civil War animosities), and whether he was enamored of The wife of the OK neighbor who killed him.
Like most people here, I have about 25 possible candidates, and it is hard to choose between them. Today’s selection:
Robert Hooke: scientist, architect, polymath, founder-member of the Royal Society; inexhaustible intellectual breadth.
Charles Dickens: life-long curiosity about life and people, fine powers of observation, great raconteur, great sense of humour.
George Orwell: his journalism and essays (more important than most of his fiction, IMO) read as if he’s writing for me personally. Just to have the chance to shake his hand would be a privilege. (But he was famously reserved on first contact: it might take a couple of pints to get him to loosen up).
I too would have been tempted to go for Joyce, except that we do have some accounts of meals with him, and he seems often to have been uncommunicative, ambiguous and offhand. I’ll stick to the books.
Jesus Christ–to see if he was real and could turn my glass of water into wine.
Leonardo da Vinci–because he was so far ahead of his time.
Thomas Jefferson–I’ve always liked him.
1. Niccolò Machiavelli. A man who radically altered Western thought by noting how important it is to think in terms of “is” than “ought”, a concept now so ingrained in us. Also, by all accounts, a witty and pleasant man (and not that keen on religion).
2. Douglas Adams. No reasons necessary.
3. Robert Gernhardt. Because he’s my favorite poet, and I narrowly missed seeing him while he was still alive.
If we forget about the language barrier, I’ll add:
4. Sappho. What was she like?
5. Egill Scallagrimson. To hear his life story from himself, and see how much of what the saga about him says did actually happen.
1. CHARLES DARWIN: basically because I am an evolutionary biologist and that would be enough reason. But also, I would like to ask him about his roamings with gauchos in the Argentine Patagonia and Pampas. I live in Argentina, of course.
2. JORGE LUIS BORGES: I always admired his magnificent prose, and I would like to hera him talk about the ancient Nordic sagas on which he was experte.
3. GREGOR MENDEL: Another of my biological héroe. It would be fantastic to dine with him at Brno (in the monastery) nd talk about peas. How did he arrive at the original idea?
4. HENRY WALTER BATES: He fascinated me with his travel book and his discovery of mimicry.
5. JIMI HENDRIX: i love the man and his music. I would like to discuss blues music with him!!!
I admire Borges’ prose as well but, after reading Bioy Casares book about him, I am not sure I would like to eat with him.
Nobody, because I am very bad at talking to people I do not know and I would not have anything intelligent to say anyway.
Then choose Muhammed Ali, Charles Manson, and Donald Trump. None of them would want to listen to you, anyway.
Lincoln – To learn why he picked rivals for his cabinet and how he successfully manged them. Also to learn how he crafted the Emancipation Proclamation to look like it freed the slaves, which it did not, kept the slave holding border states in the Union and kept England and France from recognizing the Confederacy. Pure genius, being able to craft a document that simultaneously recognizes the pro-slavery values of the border states and honors the anti-slavery values of France and England.
Shackleton – To learn how he managed 28 men while ice bound in the Antarctic in 1914-16 and how he was able to bring them all home alive.
Eleanor Roosevelt – To learn how she personally managed being married to an unfaithful husband who was also one the greatest presidents ever. Also, how she was able to diplomatically and constructively deal with the male power brokers in the UN. As Chair of the Human Rights Commission, an “insignificant, do nothing” job (so they thought)she became the lead person in crafting the international Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Turing – For me, Talking to Alan Turing about mathematics would be like talking to Einstein about physics, I just don’t speak their “language”. I would like to have dinner with Alan Turning to encourage him not to commit suicide. I would tell him to hang in there for another 60 years, (he would ONLY be 100) and most of the world wouldn’t care he was Gay. They would simply honor him for his contributions that helped shorten WWII.
Respondents who listed Johann Sebastian. Bach among their dinner companions are assuming that he was a human being like the rest of us. I submit the alternative view, that JSB must have been a visitor to earth from an alien world with a highly advanced civilization—perhaps stranded on this planet by a spaceship malfunction.
He’s the Newton of music!
Otzi the “Iceman”
Someone above had the idea of dining with a descendant. I’d dine with anyone well informed on history living 300 years in the future. I can imagine their first question to me: “No one living in 5th cent Rome predicted that historians would look back on that time as the end of the Roman Empire. Would you be surprised to hear that you lived during the end of the American experiment?: My answer: “No”
Oooh Otzi is an awesome choice. Good call.
An awesome choice perhaps, but out of bounds, according to our host’s rules. How would you hold a conversation with Otzi? No-one knows what language(s) he spoke, but it certainly wouldn’t be any that survive today.
It would be an immense honor to dine with just about any of the individuals cited in this thread.
However, as a film lover, I will confine myself to five favorite directors (a list that could easily be much longer:
Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, Martin Ritt, Nicholas Ray, John Sturges.
There is so much I would like to ask, despite all that has been written about them and that they have already enunciated in interviews, about films of theirs that have long been indispensable to me.
KUBRICK: Barry Lyndon (my favorite film by anybody), 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Killing, Eyes Wide Shut.
WELLES: Everything but especially the recently resurrected Chimes At Midnight and the forthcoming The Other Side Of The Wind.
RITT: Hud, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, Hombre, The Molly Maguires.
RAY: They Live By Night, On Dangerous Ground, Bitter Victory.
STURGES: The Great Escape (the finest “pure Hollywood” movie I have ever seen.
These have been fun to read…but so many, I couldn’t get through them all (yet?). These might be dupes, but there have been a lot of dupes so who cares.
I’d like to solve a couple American conspiracy theories…assuming the guilty etc. would talk.
Lee Harvey Oswald (As far as you know, we’re you the only shooter?) That would just be the beginning.
James Hoffa…you know he’d love to tell us where he’s buried! He probably was an interesting criminal though.
Martin Luther King for wisdom and hopefully perspective and perhaps hope. But where would one start with the likes of MLK in the time of djt?
‘Were’ not we’re…oh the hellish apostrophe…where do they come from?
From f*ckin’ magnets, of course, “how do they work?” 🙂
Phew…I forgot about that one. Not really thanking you for the reemergence. Funny though…and handy if you’re breakin’ bad.
James Joyce would be a bad idea if you’re going to insist on putting an apostrophe in Finnegans Wake 😉
I’m conflicted because although there are a number of historical figures I would like to have met, I wonder if they’d be as interesting in person as they are on the page. Also, how many of them would be jerks?
But my choice would be:
– Benjamin Franklin (by all accounts an interesting person and very agreeable)
– Marcel Proust (oui, je parle français) (maybe kind of shy and neurotic in person until he gets to know you)
– Christopher Marlowe (not as good a writer as Shakespeare but sounds like he was fun to have a drink with)
Proust would write down every word!
Proust would steal all the cake.
Très bien! I would love to show up at one of Mme Verdurin’s salons 😉
There are lots of people, and it’s hard to narrow down the list. I don’t want to ask any of them anything special, I just want to get to know them and let them talk about whatever they want to, and see where the conversation goes.
Eleanore of Aquitaine (She spoke Latin, French, and English, so hopefully we’d work something out.)
1) My father, who passed away in 1980.
2) My mother, who passed away in 1996.
3) Audrey Hepburn – the crush of my teenage years, passed away 1993.
Newton, Shakespeare, and Steinbeck. If I hadn’t wasted my life not learning French, Hugo would be in there somewhere.
Ugh well taste is in the eye of beholder, but IMO Les Misorables (the book) is 800 pages of the 19th’s century’s answer to “what did people do before tv soap operas?” I’d take Dumas’ schlock action over Hugo’s schlock drama any day of the week.
What about the one where the dude with scoliosis rings the church bells?
If we’re talkin’ Dumas père, make mine a Monte Cristo. 🙂
Empress Wu- https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_Zetian
Empress Wu’s life has fascinated me since I learned about her in my high school history class. An extraordinary woman.
Do you speak 7th-century Chinese? 😉
 A meal [as in cocktails] with the sick comic LENNY BRUCE in 1954 – before TV & during the period he was most effectively shedding his remaining inhibitions. The venue would be one of the grimy, smoke-filled, San Fernando Valley, Ca strip clubs where he MC’d & performed. I’d do a LOT of listening & I’d be particularly interested to discover the truth about the scams he engaged in – particularly in the WWII USN & later impersonating a priest for profit. I’m sure there’s many more scams unknown from this accomplished impersonator & natural liar & genius.
 A meal [as in the hard stuff] with Jeffrey Bernard at the Coach & Horses, 29 Greek Street, Soho, London. It would be in his Whiskey Period – let us say the December of 1971, before he switched to nasty old vodka. A rather similar character to Hitchens, but probably funnier – they both had a certain way of attracting wealthy, well-heeled admirers & ‘donors’, although Jeffrey protested it was only females & only in his youth. Hitchens & Bernard never met & it’s probably for the best!
 A meal [raising a bottle of beer to the stage] at Cafe Wha?, Greenwich Village on August 1st 1966, while Jimmy James & the Blue Flames do their thing – particularly Jimmy’s attempt to sing the recorded backwards vocals on the Beatles’ Rain – maybe some Hey Joe too. No conversation – talking to artists is nearly always a waste of time – Jimmy, James, Jimi talked with his guitar 🙂
I hadn’t thought about Lenny’s How to Talk Dirty and Influence People in years — decades probably — until reading your comment. I dug it back then, and now I think I’ll dig it out of the den and read it again. Thanks for that!
I came across Lenny via a 33 rpm vinyl double LP of around 1966 vintage [US Import] which I found in a UK junk shop in ’68 – folder sleeve missing – just the two inner sleeves. I was 13 & unfamiliar with a fast American accent, but I persisted & figured it out over many hours. I bought it because I liked the sleeve & it was uber-cheap – I assumed he was a singer!
Loved his stuff, especially the Jesus in an electric chair thing – a very dangerous drug for an Irish Catholic boy to have ’round the house. Got away with it because it was impenetrable to my folks.
When the “Lenny” movie came out in ’75[?] [Dustin Hoffman] a slew of books followed which I read cover-to-cover, but the records were best. The book you mention – I enjoyed it, but I was sure Lenny portrayed himself as ‘nicer’ than he really was. A lot left out my bones told me.
A similar idea was made into a young adults book in the 1940s by Hendrik can Loon:
Van Loon’s Lives: Being a true and faithful account of a number of highly interesting meetings with certain historical personages, from Confucius and Plato to Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson, about whom we had always felt a great deal of curiosity and who came to us as dinner guests in a bygone year, 1942, Simon & Schuster
Martin Luther King, Jr.
They all died perhaps before their best works were done. I’d want to know what they thought of the current state of our world, and what their advice would be to turn things around for the better.
(My alternate dinner partners would be Einstein, Oliver Sacks, Warren Buffet. I’d want to know more about them, what mattered to them, what they’d do differently, what they’d say and do if they had more time. I’d ask them, “How shall we live?”)
And yes, Warren is still on the right side of the grass.
If anyone picks Amelia Earhart, please ask her what the hell happened.
That, and where she got the gumption! What a gal.
She’s one of my heroes. If we could invite more people, I’d also pick her, Virginia Woolf, Sam Harris and Robin Williams,
Invented most of my subject, he was the Bradman of statistics and the Pele of genetics.
Another person who seemed to live half a dozen lives while the rest of us only manage one.
Mark E Smith
Now also sadly part of history. Like his gigs, the meal might be brilliant or might be a disaster. Arguably recorded more great songs than any other person.
After writing down my choices, it appears I have a theme. Which is getting historical figure opinions on how their ideas turned out.
Galileo. “Look what we did with what you started…thoughts?”
Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, can’t decide between them. Jefferson because of who he is and his thoughts on religion. Madison because he (not singlehandedly, but in large part) wrote the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and much of the Federalist papers. I’d love to get either one of their perspectives on America v.2017.
Mozart. I expect the vast majority of old composers would think current music is just basically terrible noise (and they wouldn’t be too far off in that estimate). But I bet Mozart would get it, and be inspired by it. So my ‘conversation’ with Mozart would probably consist of me playing a track, seeing how he riffs on it to create something better, rinse and repeat.
About Galileo: There’s a bit in the _Dialogue_, I think, where the characters digress to talk about books and how wonderful they are in letting you hear from people of distant times and places. I always get the impression he’s “writing for the ages” there and that he thought, long term, everything would go right with his particular problems.
I’m late to the dinner party, as I was working all day, but I can’t believe that none of my choices have yet been mentioned (apologies to whomever if one or more has).
First, Ernest Hemingway, and I’d want to find out everything about every character in The Sun Also, not to mention everything else he ever wrote, including my favorite Nick story, A Way You’ll Never Be.
Second, my contemporary, and my choice for the finest wordsmith alive, Thomas Pynchon. He had me hooked at the screaming, and I’m still hooked, but with so many questions!
My final guest would be the woman I consider the most intriguing ever–Mae West. Actually, the dinner wouldn’t be at my place, but up at hers. Seriously: she was so far ahead of her time that no one else is even close.
So you and Tom and Papa are gonna come up and see her sometime? 🙂
Late to the party, but I would love to talk to:
Abraham Lincoln (yes, I’m a copycat)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Mary Baker Eddy. It wouldn’t be as much of a dinner as a shouting match and possibly bitch-slapping marathon, though.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton rewrote the Bible (or at least supervised it) and published it as “The Woman’s Bible.” – taking out the sexist crap.
Abraham Lincoln, to settle the debate on whether he really was against slavery (of course he was, but I’d want to get that on video – I can have my cell phone running right?)
Thomas Jefferson also rewrote the Bible, so I would want to talk to him about that. He took out all the supernatural stuff.
Eleanor Roosevelt – I want to know why someone of such privilege seemingly had so much compassion for others. Or did she?
Okay that’s my five and why.
Clodia: Sister of Publius Clodius Pulcher, lover of Catullus, enemy of Cicero. I’d love to have a drink at the salax taberna and get a real understanding of life in Rome at the end of the Republic. By all accounts, she was witty, well read and politically astute. My Latin is rusty, but, if she is truly gracious, I’m sure we’d get through.
Darwin: I suppose anyone reading this, um, bl…site would think of Darwin. I often fantasize about showing him a modern biology textbook so that he could see how the ideas that he so carefully formulated now form the basis for understanding much of modern biological science. I would, of course, carefully block out his date of death.
As for the third, I think Alan Turing. I’d love to discuss the development of his ideas about computability (related to Goedel’s incompleteness theorem), what being at Bletchley Park was like and to share with him that hes is now considered a scientific pioneer and a hero.
All of these are excellent choices – some of which I might have picked – but some who haven’t been mentioned:
1) First would be to invite myself to two dinners and a meeting that already happened, as a fly on the wall or whatever:
1a) In 1920, FDR (pre-polio) had dinner with Herbert Hoover to encourage him to run for President as a Democrat. At that time, HH was the great humanitarian and his political persuasion wasn’t known. Something seems to have happened at that dinner that was never recorded so far as I’m aware, but it seems likely that this was the seed for their enmity.
1b, c) In 1938 he was feted at various locations on a trip across Europe, where he was honored for his work averting famine in Europe during/aftermath of WWI. Traveling across Germany, a reception with Hitler was requested, which HH reluctantly acceded to. Hermann Goering also hosted him at his country estate Carinhall. What went on at these two meetings? It’s unclear if he was ever debriefed on these encounters, and descriptions of them lack detail.
2) Linnaeus, to try to understand what made him tick. Was it fundamentally an obsession for organization? I know enough Swedish that we ought to be able to make ourselves understood.
3) Leif Ericsson – to hear about the voyages from Greenland to Vinland, how many ships perished along the way that were lost to history and so forth. What did they encounter once in Newfoundland? I’d like to think, anyway, that with my Swedish I could understand enough of his Old Norse that we could have at least some amount of conversation.
4) Jefferson and TR have already been mentioned, so Gifford Pinchot (TR’s first Chief, Forest Service) who, between discontinuous terms as Governor of Pennsylvania, made a trip to the Galapagos, and how that influenced him.
5) Charlie Schwab, either at about the time he became president of Carnegie Steel (1897) or after he brokered the deal between Andrew Carnegie and JP Morgan for the former to sell out to the latter to form US Steel (1900). If the former, I’ll have his dining room ready and waiting.
HATSHEPSUT, first female pharaoh of Egypt! I want to know how she pulled that off…she must’ve had great charisma to overcome the objections of all the priests and historians. They didn’t know how to manage a female pharaoh…there wasn’t even a word for “the pharaoh SHE.”
And then, since we’re just playing here…I’d love to chat with Elizabeth 1. It wasn’t easy for her, either.
David Douglas – to hear his tales of botanizing in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.
Rachel Carson – because she, in a very real sense, is responsible for the modern environmental movement.
Aldo Leopold – “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” What does he really mean by this?
I remember Steve Allen had a TV series, Meeting of Minds, where a handful of historic figures from different times got together to chat. The dialogues were scripted to contrast their different philosophical views. As I remember it was pretty boring. It sounded like a history textbook to me. But that’s not necessarily the fault of the historic figures.
In its place we now have Epic Rap Battles of History: https://www.youtube.com/user/ERB
My favorite is William Shakespeare vs. Dr. Seuss!
There’s also “Drunk History.”
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
Alfred the Great
Is your Old English up to a conversation?!
The language detail seems ridiculously restrictive. No Plato, Caesar, Cleopatra, Jesus or Galileo. I could just about get by with Hitler, but would likely not understand much of the detail
Sir Christopher Lee
Sir Isaac Newton
Francis Galton – I suspect he would be full of ideas & willing to test them.
John Ray, the father of Natural History in Britain…
Francis Bacon, father of modern science not the crap modern artist…
As with several others, I would go first with David Hume. Very original thinker and famous for his wit and congeniality. Secondly, I would go with Benedict Spinoza. He mounted the first rational attack on religion. What I really want to know from him is whether or not his Ethics was written as a satire or not. My third selection would be Hypatia of Alexandria. I’m fascinated by the popularity of Neoplatonism in the late Classical era, and out like to find out why from a female scholar at a time when female scholars were very rare. Something tells me that she would be quite the character.
Abraham Lincoln. I’d especially like to ask him about his melancholy; also about his deep love of English verse; finally about his personally evolving views concerning racial equality.
Jane Addams. I’d envision a long, leisurely conversation centered on the concept of ‘Americanization’ of new immigrants: what they had to let go (native language in favor of American English? Tribalism and religion?), and what they could retrain and nurture from the ‘old countries’ that would both better their prospects in the U.S. and enrich their adopted culture.
Emily Dickinson. Poetry and poetics. Hers and others’. Long into the night, drinking whatever was on offer.
A very Anglo-centric list Jerry! (Even your backups!).
I’d go Hitchens, Hemingway and Darwin, but to be honest I’d like them all round the same table with me pretty much sitting back in awe.
Although that list will probably completely change in oh, the next three minutes.
We used to play the “philosophy dinner party” game at socials in the McGill philosophy department. 20 people somehow understood to be philosophers, all at once and universal translators allowed.
As for this one, to just mix it up a little (though I must say Goedel and Turing and a few of those guys sounded interesting too):
3) Diderot (as an excuse to learn more about him)
The first two because I’d like to hear more about their motivations and why the worked as a scientist. (Note that they are two “greats” who were religious and yet very idiosyncratically so.)
If language was no object a few others, including duplicates from other people:
I’d also wouldn’t mind including Ada, countess Lovelace, somehow, but I suspect I’d be disappointed about the computing thing
I think Goedel would have been interesting, although, by all counts, he was odd and somewhat of a loner. Also would have had to have caught him before he became mentally ill in later life.
Out of curiosity, have you read the Dawson biography? It seems poor Goedel was ill all his life, just that it became worse (more and more frequent, more and more severe) as he aged. Not to say one shouldn’t try to interact, but it would have been hard, I imagine.
It was an interesting contrast from the notes that Hao Wang left us (_Reflections on Kurt Goedel_, etc.) which basically does not address his illness much at all.
I had both on my shelf once at CMU when Clark Glymour came in and he mentioned in passing that he had met Goedel (and Hao Wang, I believe) as a graduate student at Princeton and asked what I thought of the Dawson book. I said that our colleague Wilfried Sieg would be better at answering on any details, but that the contrast was amazing (even accounting for the different goals). Clark suggested that there was a “cannot disrespect teacher” thing at play with Wang.
Whatever it may be, the biographers affect our answers to these questions, I’m sure!
Isaac Asimov, Charles Bukowski, and Richard Feynman, with Hitchens in the on-deck circle.
Just curious PCC, but which of Shakespeare’s major plays are still on your reading list?
My three dining companions would be:
Oscar Wilde (renown as one of the greatest conversationalists but also a good listener, unlike many other wits).
Ian Fleming (the creator of James Bond was known to be a charming fellow, and I’d have suggested a few ideas for OO7’s next adventure).
Pauline Kael (the late film critic had a vivacious personality and brassy wit; it would be fun discussing movies and literature over drinks).
Other equally good choices: Lincoln, Charles I and Charles II, FDR, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, and many others…
I have to do some research and find the names of three people who have (allegedly) hidden significant treasures which remain unfound. One is not enough, since rumours may be false or the treasure may be discovered by now.
Not too ancient: the Egyptian pharaohs may have hidden a lot, but I doubt their directions may be followed now. The pirates’ treasures may be lost for good as well.
Probably some Nazis; they definitely had some loot stashed just 70 years ago. Saddam or Gaddaphi would do fine too, but I don’t speak their language (though they may know English).
James Madison — To find out EXACTLY what he meant by “a well regulated militia” in the Second Amendment.
Alexander Hamilton — To get him to talk to James Madison, and maybe see if they could find a way to outlaw slavery through the U.S. Constitution. (And also because I’m reading Hamilton by Ron Chernow and find Hamilton to be a fascinating character!)
Carl Sagan — To get his insight on our current situation.
Einstein as he has the ability to explain the Theory of Relativity to a janitor and I like it explained to me.
Abraham Lincoln just like to listen to him speak