32 Heroes

Like many people, I spend a lot of time online, often learning about inspiring or groundbreaking work done by people I admire. I have a habit of sometimes dropping a photo of these people into folder called Heroes which, as of this writing contains 32 images. Here I revisit these 32 people and reflect on why I count them among my heroes.

But first, some cursory analysis, not so much to characterize who they are as to shine a light on the bubbles and biases through which I came to discover and admire them.

Many of these people are hard to categorize but here they are by what I consider their primary discipline:

Next, I wanted to know what proportion of my heroes were still among the living:

The gender breakdown was a big red flag for me. I clearly need to seek out the work of more inspirational women:

An even greater reckoning came when I realized that over 90% of these people are white. Yikes! Bubble alert!:

Marina Abramović

For demonstrating the value of stamina and reminding us that meaning gets made on far longer time scales than contemporary culture would have us believe.


Laurie Anderson

For teaching us to connect seemingly distant ideas in playful ways. It’s hard to imagine art school without those United States cassettes. That’s right, cassettes.

The 60 Minutes Interview – 13:21

Sir David Attenborough

For sharing his lifelong fascination with the natural world and for fighting for the bold action our planet needs.

David’s impassioned speech at COP26 – 7:18

Jean-Michel Basquiat

For giving us so much more than the reductive (and racist) myth surrounding his tragically short life.

Basquiat, the Hungry Chronicler of Broken America – The Guardian

David Byrne

For his childlike curiosity, fearless experimentation, and seemingly boundless creative energy in music, visual arts, writing, and more.


George Carlin

For cutting through bullshit like a scalpel.

The 10 Commandments – 8:13

Nick Cave

For the depth and authenticity with which he shares his darkness and light with the world.

Jubilee Street – Live in Copenhagen – 8:01

Noam Chomsky

For his soaring intellect and ability to explain how the dots are connected across human-made systems.

Ezra Klein Interviews Noam Chomsky – 1:14:56

Leonard Cohen

For his beautiful humility and for elevating the art of songwriting.

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song – Official Trailer – 2:23

Aleksander Doba

For proving that our actual limits are oceans beyond our perceived limits.


Bob Dylan

For showing us how music and words can and should be woven into meaning.

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize Lecture – 27:08

Brian Eno

For the mind-boggling reach of his many beautiful innovations in music and creative culture.

“Don’t get a job” and other wisdom from Eno – 3:01

Richard Feynman

For infecting generations with his curiosity and giving science its first rockstar.

There’s no such thing as a miracle – 5:19

Jane Goodall

For helping the postwar world restore lost connections to nature and our kin.

Jane: A Snapshot – Trailer – 3:13

Sam Harris

For helping us explore consciousness, spirituality, culture, and more.

Sam’s Making Sense Podcast

Christopher Hitchens

For using the full power of language to make an unassailable case for reason.

Excerpts from Christopher’s final debate speech – 6:53

Eliud Kipchoge

For showing the world what dedication and sportsmanship look like.

Highlights from his 2022 world record marathon in Berlin – 4:00

Jaron Lanier

For helping us understand the profound implications of technology, and for being half of silicon valley’s conscience.

Jaron Lanier Fixes the Internet – NYT – 13:11

David Lynch

For reminding us that indelible storytelling can and maybe should transcend understanding.

David on IMDB

Eddy Merckx

For being cycling’s GOAT and introducing a generation to this beautiful sport.


Tim Minchin

For his diabolical wit and hilarious truth-telling.

Tim’s UWA Address – 9 Life Lessons – 18:16

Hayao Miyazaki

For showing us the power of imagination and reminding us that we’re all children.

Hayao on IMDB

Neri Oxman

For erasing the distinctions between artist, designer, and intellectual. Also, for showing us a truly beautiful future.


Amanda Palmer

For reminding us of our interdependence and for being a creative badass.

The Art of Asking – TED talk – 13:47

John Pawson

For creating serene places through his mastery of space, proportion, and light.


Maria Popova

For showing us common threads through the knowledge and wisdom of the ages.

The Marginalian

Lou Reed

For being a multifaceted mirror for both the outside world and the deeply personal inner world.

Perfect Day – 3:44

Carl Sagan

For helping generations gain perspective by looking into the cosmos and experiencing wonder.

Pale Blue Dot – 3:26

Stefan Sagmeister

For taking graphic design in fascinating new directions, and for The Happy Film.

The Happy Film – Trailer – 2:00

Paula Scher

For getting me and many others excited about typography, and for showing us how to break the rules.

Abstract: The Art of Design | Paula Scher – 40:56

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

For the Farnsworth House and for teaching me to be uncompromising when necessary.

Farnsworth House: A Masterpiece of Modern Architecture – 4:23

Wim Wenders

For his ability to beautifully convey universal emotions in a way that feels more like poetry than cinema.

Wings of Desire – Trailer – 1:35