Who are the 10 Greatest French People of All Time?

Picking a list of “greatest French people” is impossible. How do you define greatness? How do you compare a king to a scientist to a philosopher?

This hasn’t stopped people from trying. In 2005, a French television survey asked viewers this question, with dubious results — Charlemagne was ranked behind a soccer player! A study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified the best known French people, but fame is not the same as greatness. And then there are the lists of top French monarchs, French inventors, French writers, etc.

I decided to create my own list, based on who has had the greatest influence on France—usually positive, but sometimes negative. I combined the resources above with an informal survey of French friends, including business people, professors, scientists, and artists.

Check out my Top 10 in France Today!

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