FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
26. Aung San Suu Kyi
for being a living symbol of hope in a dark place.
activist | national league for democracy | Burma
Taking inspiration from Mohandas Gandhi and Buddhist principles of nonviolence, Aung San Suu Kyi built a mass movement in opposition to the Burmese junta and has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest since winning a general election in 1989. In a famous 1990 speech, Aung San Suu Kyi argued that when "fear is an integral part of everyday existence," political leaders inevitably give in to corruption, and called for a "revolution of the spirit" in Burma. Instead, she was thrown in prison and today is rarely able to communicate with the outside world. Her sentence was extended this year after a bizarre incident in which an American man swam to her house to meet with her -- violating the terms of her arrest. But in a major shift, Aung San Suu Kyi changed her stance on the international sanctions against Burma this year, offering to help the junta's leaders get the sanctions lifted.
27. Robert Wright
for envisioning a kinder, gentler new "New Atheism."
journalist | New America Foundation | Princeton, N.J.
God is becoming more angelic -- more patient, tolerant, and compassionate. Just ask Wright, author of The Evolution of God, a dazzlingly well-researched new book that traces how social transformations are reflected in popular conceptions of the divine. His core argument is that as civilizations grow more prosperous, they also become more open-minded. Wright is often wrongly lumped with the so-called New Atheists, a group of provocateurs that includes Richard Dawkins (No. 18) and Christopher Hitchens (No. 47) and has grabbed headlines in recent years for arguing that religion is inevitably and forever a force for ill. Wright, himself an agnostic, argues that the future will bring not a grand clash of civilizations, but a dynamic and relatively happy marriage between modernity and religion. As Wright explains, "People are capable of expanding tolerance and understanding in response to facts on the ground; and even mandates from heaven can change in response."
Wants to visit: China
Best idea: A grand bargain between America and Iran that would entail Iran not getting the bomb, Iranian acquiescence in a resolution of the Palestinian conflict, American security guarantees for Iran, full economic engagement, etc.
Worst idea: Bombing Iran.
Gadget: Facebook; iPhone for now, but flirting with the Palm Pre.
Read more: "The Anti-God Squad," By Robert Wright
28. Elinor Ostrom
for showing us that the global commons isn't such a tragic place after all.
Political scientist | Indiana University | Bloomington, Ind.
Ostrom has spent her career arguing that the phrase "tragedy of the commons" paints an unnecessarily gloomy picture. After studying examples ranging from irrigation systems in Nepal to deforestation in Bolivia, Ostrom concluded that individuals often manage common resources better than conventional economic models predict. Her seminal book, Governing the Commons, identified key "design principles" for successful collective use of resources, such as the creation of a monitoring system, agreed to by all participants, that includes punishments for violations. Following these principles, she found, frequently yielded better results for the management of a resource than either privatization or government regulation. In recognition of her work, Ostrom won the 2009 Nobel Prize in economics, the first woman to do so. Now, policymakers are scouring her research for ideas on how to prevent the greatest potential tragedy of all -- climate change.
29. Paul Krugman
for proving that a Nobel Prize winner can also be a prolific pundit and unerringly correct doomsayer.
economist | columnist | Princeton University | New York Times | Princeton, N.J.
The pessimistic, acerbic, and undeniably brilliant Krugman is an economist with impeccable bona fides: a tenured professor at Princeton and the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in economics for his work on economic geography. This year, his prominent job moonlighting as writer of a twice-weekly column and a popular blog for the New York Times has made him an indispensable guide to the financial crisis. More an unabashed partisan than a dispassionate academic, Krugman was an invaluable critic of rising income inequality during the Bush administration and over the past year has written original, provocative commentary with no fealty to reigning economic, financial, or political dogma. Today he is Obama's sharpest critic from the left -- the strongest voice with the loudest bullhorn, advocating for more government spending and inveighing against the bank bailouts.
30. Kofi Annan
for his ceaseless work to create Africa's Green Revolution.
Former u.n. secretary-general | Alliance for a green revolution in AfricA | Ghana
Two years after ending his term as what U.S. über-diplomat Richard Holbrooke once dubbed "the best secretary-general in the history of the U.N.," Annan has a new mission: turning Africa green. "Africa is the only region where overall food security and livelihoods are deteriorating," he declared in 2007, vowing to create "an environmentally sustainable, uniquely African Green Revolution." And though many a development project has tried to boost agriculture on the continent, this time the formula is different: Annan is promoting small family farms rather than trying to mimic the industrialization of the West. That will mean a push for ag-friendly policies on a continent where corrupt leaders have typically turned their attention to more lucrative resource wealth while starving a generation of African farmers. As well as leading the Green Revolution, Annan has also served as mediator in the violent aftermath of Kenya's elections and been chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation's leadership prize committee. One would expect nothing less from a man once dubbed a "rock star of international relations."