5. Carl Sagan
If God had gifted me with the ability to math, I would have highly enjoyed being an astrophysicist. Space is endlessly fascinating to me and if I was given the opportunity I would hitch a ride on a shuttle. I sincerely hope the private spaceflight industry takes off and that in my lifetime I can afford to buy a ticket. All that said, Sagan, to me and many Americans, was able to take these incredibly complex mathematical formulas about the universe and describe them in terms that someone like me (with only a rudimentary understanding of simple math) can understand. That ability to simplify (not dumb down) theories about the universe, inspired a host of astrophysicists to teach the public in similar ways and we are all the better for it.
4. Groucho Marx and Brothers
I can always go for a slapstick comedy even if it is from a suuuuper old movie. There is this theory that I have about men and comedy, that our humor never matures beyond junior high hilarity. We may enjoy high-brow situational comedy at times but what still makes us laugh incredibly hard is when someone runs into a pole. Thus why the space of time has shown no wear on the comedy of the legend, Groucho and his brothers.
3. Washington Irving
I had a handful of records growing up and one of those records was a dramatized reading of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Often I would listen to it on repeat, flipping the record over and over again on my Fisher-Price player. While I was scared out of my wits by the headless horseman, the story drew me in each time I heard it.
2. Aaron Copland
Copeland defined the American sound in classical music and while others preceded him, his music has become synonymous with America and beef. What’s for dinner? Copland, the socialist who enjoyed the company of other men. American as apple pie.
1. Jonas Salk
Dude straight up eradicated polio (less than 200 cases in 2015) with his vaccine and gave away the vaccine for free. What New York City born person has had a greater positive effect on the world than him? None. You a badass, Salk.