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Princeton sweeps Time magazine person of century, year awards

Of all the lists that have come out in the past month – from greatest sports moments of the century to best nonfiction of '99 – an index of the best universities of the millennium has not been among them. But judging from Time magazine's end-of-the-year accolades, it might as well have been Princeton at the top.

The magazine's "Person of the Year" and "Person of the Century" both have strong Princeton ties – one having spent his time as an undergraduate here and the other having spent the last 22 years of his life in Princeton Jeff Bezos '86, CEO of Internet megastore, won the title of Person of the Year and Albert Einstein, who worked on his theory general relativity at the Institute for Advanced Study from 1933 to 1955, was honored as Person of the Century.


"It was very important for me as a Princeton alumnus to make sure that both the person of the year and the person of the century were from Princeton," joked James Kelly '76, deputy managing editor of Time.

"E-commerce was the big story of the year," Kelly added, noting that the runner-up for Person of the Year was Meg Whitman '77, CEO of eBay.

'Two stars'

"I think it's interesting that the two stars were both from Princeton," he said. "We ultimately went with because it was the wave of the future: business-to-business dealings on the Web. [Bezos] had smart answers for our questions. He's an engaging personality. There is no question that he paved the way for other businesses."

Managing editor Walter Isaacson said Bezos' accomplishments represented the most important developments of the year "There are two revolutions going on: Internet shopping and dot-com mania," he explained. "As soon as we thought of Jeff Bezos, we realized he represented the two trends of the year."

According to the Time article, Bezos had planned to major in physics at the University, but felt intimidated by geniuses in that department and switched to electrical engineering and computer science.

The choice proved to be fortuitous: The online bookstore he started in 1994 has made him a multi-billionaire.



Kelly said the magazine's selection of Person of the Century came down to two choices "It was basically between FDR and Einstein," Kelly said.

"The reason this century has seen more change than any other century is because of science and technology. [Einstein] has a great personal story. He allowed us to grapple with issues that were meatier, more complex. He was more than just a scientist. He was a humanitarian. He was very engaged in the issues of the day. He was not a scientist in an ivory tower. He worked very hard as a peace activist after the war."

"The ability to tell 4 million folks why Einstein is important is really cool," Kelly added. "From space travel to the atomic bomb to the microchip, they all bear the mark of Einstein."

Daniel Marlow, associate chair of the University's physics department, said Einstein had a profound effect on his field and beyond, becoming an integral part of the University.

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"He is most famous for changing the way we look at space and time," Marlow said of Einstein, who had a standing rule while living in Princeton that University students could come to him with math problems.

"A lot of what he did set the stage for our understanding of nuclear physics, which brought us nuclear energy, nuclear medicine. More generally, he so greatly improved our understanding of how the universe works.

Donald MacLeod, who taught at Princeton Theological Seminary for 36 years as head of the department of practical theology, recalled living down the street from Einstein.

"He lived about six doors away from me. I was living in faculty housing on Mercer Street. Every day I would see him pass by wearing his knit stocking cap. He was an odd sketch in certain ways. He became such a familiar thing. Although he was one of the world's great minds, he was a friend of the community."