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People Break Down The Most Overrated Historical Figures

Juliet First/Unsplash

One of the coolest things about reading history is realizing just how bananas all those real people were.

Kings, military leaders, pioneers of art, and explorers—there are countless examples of people who, if they’d been dreamed up in a book or a movie, would be too far-fetched to even believe.

And yet they were very real.

But with all those stories come the tendencies to over-hype, omit key details, or just buy into false narratives entirely.

Redditor ReallyRealMaoZedong apparently was in the mood for skepticism when he asked:

“Who is the most overrated person in history?”

One person called out the youth. 

“King Tut. He didn’t really do much, he was just a boy who unfortunately died young. We just happened to find his tomb and that made him famous lol.”

“The tomb itself, while amazing and much to learn from, is a result of his culture and the line he happened to be born into, not really anything HE chose to do.” — barbaramillicent

Another King was in the crosshairs too. 

“King Arthur. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.”

“Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.” — bozwold

This guy, while not a king, was still on the chopping block. 

“I don’t know about ‘most overrated’ but MaoZeDong was a brilliant guerrilla leader who transitioned into be very good at retaining power while being very bad at running a country.”

“I would not hang giant portraits of the guy all over my country.” — dieinafirenazi

One person went after someone so often idealized. 

“Gandhi.”

  • “He didn’t really win India freedom – WW 2 did.”
  • “His support of the Khilafat movement gave a big boost to Muslim separatism in India”
  • “His agreement to partition resulted in 1 million deaths”
  • “His idea of ‘self sufficient villages’ resulted in India continuing to remain poor and backward and failing to industrialise.”
  • “His promotion of Nehru over far more competent leaders in the Congress”

“I can go on…” — 00__starstruck__00

Even the folk heroes out there were worthy targets.

“Not in all history, but Chris McCandless was a f’king moron who does not deserve to be romanticised.”

“Against all advice, he strolled out into the Alaskan wilderness with no idea what he was doing, with no map, underprepared, undersupplied and with no research into seasonal dangers, smashed up some cabins, shot a moose despite not being able to preserve or store the meat…”

“…thought he could teach himself to identify edible wild mishrooms, didn’t look beyond the river crossing he initially used where he would have found a hand-operated cable car half a mile away and died – probably from eating strange seeds – in an abandoned bus on a known hunting trail.”

“He was not pioneering, or inspiring, or bold, or free, he was f’king stupid and somehow this inspires people!” — Mischief_Makers

Then came a surprising choice.

“Hitler. Hear me out!”

“National Socialism and Antisemitism was not something he invented and I am pretty sure that if it wasn’t for him somebody else like Goebbels or Hess would have become German dictator.”

“When people say, oh if only Hitler wasn’t born then WW2 or the Shoa would not have happened, that’s utter bullsh*t. I wish while teaching about the Holocaust, people would put it into context.”

“The climate of polarization in the 1920s in Germany is very similar to what is going on now in the USA. People were and are seeking out extremists with conspiracy theories to follow because they look for scapegoats.”

“The man on the top is just a symptom for a systemic problem which lies much deeper.” — marlenshka

One person added some truth to an all-too simple legacy. 

“Ben Bradlee. He was lionized for going after Nixon as editor of the Washington Post.”

“But he lied under oath during the trial of a Black man who was accused of murdering one of Kennedy’s mistresses, all because he was friends with JFK and wanted to cover up his indiscretions. An innocent Black man nearly went to the electric chair.”

“He only pursued the truth when the president was a Republican.” — The_Bee_Sneeze

Then some so-called shrewd navigating was called into question.

“Charles de Gaulle. MF was an officer of the army that lost half of France in 2 weeks to the Germans in WW2. Flees like a cockroach to the UK where somehow embodies the spirit of the resistance, somehow receives the title of General, even though his tasks were not dangerous nor fundamental.”

“When the allies take over France, he is not in any of the strategic discussions among generals of different armies, nonetheless he walks into Paris as their great liberator. Couple of years later gets elected president (because somehow he has managed to keep his popularity??).”

“While president, North African colonies declare war (and independence) from France. Many people die, and the french economy and territories takes a huge blow. Also he managed to dismantle the oldest European university of the world (Université de Paris)…”

“But nooooo! His name is on an airport, many avenues and countless plazas accross France.” — KarmaWhoreRepeating

Oh, and remember those summer reading books?

“Ayn Rand. Elitist prick, complete nutbag, husband abuser, most likely committed infidelity. Moreover, her ideas are terrible. So dumb.”

“She clearly thinks poor=dumb and useless, when she doesn’t realize how privileged education is what makes someone ‘productive’ in the way that she imagined.”

“She even says it in Atlas Shrugged, John gault and Francisco wouldn’t have become who they were if they hadn’t had that one philosophy teacher who became a short order cook because the world is so mediocre and undeserving of his genius.”

“And the saddest part is so many people after reading Atlas Shrugged are like ‘yeah, selfishness is the best, anyone who is poor is weak and stupid. My life is good and it’s impossible to have a good life unless you won it for yourself so I must be the best person ever and all you plebs can eat my sh**.’ “

“Randian economics is a conflict in terms.” — Begotten_Glint

One case illustrated the power of martyrdom. 

“John F. Kennedy.”

“Pill-popping, booty-slaying, trust-fund, back alley politician who conveniently only took an interest in civil rights in preparation for re-election.”

“He was handsome, charming, and his tragic death made him seem much better than he actually was.” — Way_2_Go_Donny

So there you have it.

Hope this list didn’t deflate any of your heroes.

But if it did, consider the value of being in the know.

Written by Eric Spring

Eric Spring lives in New York City. He has poor vision and cooks a good egg. Most of his money is spent on live music and produce. He usually wears plain, solid color sweatshirts without hoods because he assumes loud patterns make people expect something big. Typically, he'll bypass a handshake and go straight for the hug.