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Monday, October 15, 2007

A very good year 

This year, Al Gore Jr. had a best-selling book, and won an Oscar* and the Nobel Peace Prize. Tyler Cowen asks, has anyone had a better year?

Excellent nominations from the comments:

Tim Allen's 1994: #1 TV show, #1 grossing film, #1 on the NYT best-seller list.

Einstein's 1905: one paper that ultimately won him the Nobel Physics Prize, and three others that merely transformed modern physics in their respective (and quite diverse) fields.

Newton's 1687: Newtonian Laws of mechanics and Theory of Gravity, but I think the claim for calculus has to be diluted by his shambolic publication and precedence war he undertook.

Bob Fosse's 1972: he won an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony for three different works in that year.

Various athletes, most notably Mark Spitz (1972 Olympics, 7 gold medals, each one a world record performance!), Steffi Graf's 1988 (all four tennis "slam" tournaments, plus Olympic gold).

I think what's most interesting is people who won for multiple achievements. By that light, Graf has a not-very-interesting year, because all she did was win four tennis tournaments. Spitz had two great weeks, and in multiple swimming events.

Einstein, even though he confined himself to physics, published four hugely diverse papers. Tim Allen and Bob Fosse effectively won each of their accolades for separate works, which should count for more.

Gore's accomplishment is tricky. I think you could credibly argue that he got all his awards for the same work (or at least the same theme), and that asterisk is up at the top of this post because technically, Gore didn't win the "Inconvenient Truth" best doc Oscar: that's a producer's award. But this is rather like saying Hitchcock didn't win the Oscar for Rebecca: true, but beside the point.

Here's my sporting nomination for best year: Eddy Merckx's 1972: Tour (plus points jersey), Giro, 10 stages, four major one-day races, hour record, Super Prestige Pernod, etc.

With Eddy, the biggest complication is that you could also choose any other year between 1969 and 1974: of these, 1974 is notable for Giro-Tour-Worlds-Super Prestige Pernod and more.

But I think I have an absolute winner with Sir Winston Churchill's 1953: Knight of the Garter, Nobel in Literature, and he was the sitting Prime Minister. He also published a collection of speeches and (probably) the final volume of The Second World War, which I assume was a best-seller, though I can't find explicit reference (the publication date is also a bit iffy).

Churchill basically won the knighthood for long service (most notably during WW II), the Nobel for "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values," the Prime Ministership he held as a result of a comeback triumph in the 1951 election, and he was still publishing major literary works.

That's a pretty good year!

So I'm looking for other nominations. The thing that we're seeking (for whatever reason) is a certain diversity of triumphs. The ultimate would be something like world-class sporting, political, scientific, and artistic achievements all in a single year.

How about 1989?

The end of the Cold War. George Bush senior holds up a bag of cocaine on TV (and his son presumably gets his mitts on it later in the evening). The first full-length episode of "The Simpsons" premiers.
Interesting, but I think it doesn't quite fit my model of accomplishment for one individual in one year.

That was a good year for average North American joes, though: no more USSR, The Simpsons, and...well...tradition demands a trilogy, so we need to think of one more thing that went well for the average guy that year.
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