Great Thinkers Who Died Before Their Success

Most people have the same basic plans for life: birth, work, success, death.

But it doesn't always play out in that order. Unfortunately, throughout history, there have been many great thinkers who died before their success could be realized.

Herman Melville (1819–1891)

The New York writer now known across the world for his 1851 magnum opus Moby-Dick had some early success in literature, but he lost the public's attention after the publication of his second book in 1847. He still continued to write, but by 1876, his books were entirely out of print, and Melville had to consider another line of work. Ironically, he earned more money as a customs inspector than he ever did as an author. In the 1920s, renewed interest in Melville, who had been dead for about 30 years, brought closer attention to Moby-Dick, which is now considered one of the best books ever written.

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)

The brilliant Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh is the poster child of great thinkers who died before their success. He was a member of the artistic community during his life, but his works were rarely recognized outside his circle. He found little success while alive, partially because he battled mental illness and endured several stays in mental hospitals.

When he was 37, van Gogh died from suicide. His brother Theo wanted to elevate his brother's status after his death, but he unfortunately died a few months later as well. Vincent van Gogh's posthumous success is owed to his sister-in-law, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, who carried on her husband Theo's wishes by publishing Vincent's letters and selling his works. His reputation grew throughout the 20th century, and he is now recognized as a master painter.

Rudolf Diesel (1858–1913)

German inventor and engineer Rudolph Diesel initially sought to make a 100 percent efficient engine. His diesel engine actually never surpassed 25 percent efficiency, which was still more than double what had been achieved at any time before. He applied for patents in 1892 and 1893, but he would not see much of his success. Early diesel engines frequently broke down, requiring Diesel to take on debt to keep his business afloat. He would never live to see the diesel engine's widespread automobile adoption several decades later: in September 1913, Diesel was traveling to Belgium across the English Channel when he fell overboard and drowned. Though his death was likely a suicide, some historians still wonder if he was murdered.

Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)

One of the greatest American poets, Emily Dickinson only had 10 poems published while she was alive. However, she was extremely prolific and often shared her work with friends and family. Upon her death in 1886 of heart failure, her sister Lavinia discovered 40 hand-bound volumes of poetry, totaling up to 1,800 poems. The first volume was published in 1890, and the last was published in 1955. Dickinson is now one of the most highly regarded American poets.

How Phone Apps Have Changed the World

Mobile apps are so entrenched in our daily lives it's easy to forget their impact. But apps have truly changed the world.

Throughout time, technology has changed how we interact with the world, each other, and ourselves. In centuries past, the compass enhanced our ability to explore, the steam engine revolutionized our ability to perform difficult tasks, and the printing press radically changed the way we circulate information.

In this century, we've seen artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and autonomous cars. But the technology that has most drastically changed our daily lives is the one in our pockets. We often look at smartphones and the apps they contain as mere entertainment, but it's hard to ignore how phone apps have changed the world.

Social Connection

It's interesting to consider life before the phone or telegraph. In those days, most people didn't travel much further than their hometowns. Because of that, one's social circle was kept relatively small, further necessitating social acceptance. Even if you did have social connections beyond your hometown, communication was kept by letters, making it challenging—though not impossible—to maintain a relationship.

Because of social media apps such as Facebook and Instagram, messenger apps like Facetime and Zoom, and even dating apps like Tinder or Bumble, our social circle has expanded beyond those in close proximity. Those of us who feel outcasted by their immediate society don't have to become recluses the way they might have in previous centuries. You simply need to open an app to find their own tribe.

Information Sharing

There's a reason for the expression "knowledge is power." Throughout history, knowledge has been entrusted to the educated few—those with access to literacy, books, and the ability to do research. Even as public libraries arrived on the scene, people were bound to whatever books were available in their section of the world.

Smartphones themselves already put an astonishing amount of information into the hands of the everyday person. But mobile apps change the world of information even further by organizing the mountains of information, making them accessible and digestible. Apps like Duolingo teach new languages, streaming services connect us to online classrooms, and teachers create new apps to augment instruction.

Gig Economy

Employment has followed a similar model throughout time: you choose a career and remain in that profession for the majority of your life. We see this with the apprentice and the squire of yesteryear and the office worker of the 20th century. Work provides a sense of stability for workers and employers, but for some it contributes to a sense of monotony.

In recent years, we've seen a rise in the "gig economy." This model emphasizes independent workers hired for short-term employment. Rideshare services like Uber began this model, and apps like Doordash continued it. Even streaming apps like Spotify and YouTube allow creators to make a living based on their own ideas and not based on their employers' wants.

Mobile apps are now part of our society's landscape, for better or worse. Recognizing their impact will allow us to decide what kind of impact they will have in the future.