Member Rara Avis
Vague questions only lead to vague answers (not you Nocht, the TV people).
For example - Nan, Jesus may not have been alive during the last 1,000 years, but He was still almost certainly the most influential figure of that era for most of the world.
I think it's also fairly well accepted that many, many discoveries are inevitable. That's why we see so many things discovered simultaneiously, by two (or more) people that had no contact. The Theory of Evolution is one prime example. And while I certainly don't discredit Einstien's genius, had he not discovered Relativity at the turn of the century, someone would have. All the facts (and questions) were there and it was simply inevitable. Should someone in this category of "it was just time" be considered? Oh, and Columbus would almost certainly fall into this category.
Nocht, I think Newton was almost without question the most brilliant human being in history. His contributions to knowlege are legendary. And, yes, I would probably give him the thumbs up over Gutenberg (though we all know we needed them both), simply because of respect for his genius.
I'm not sure, though, whether I would include any scientists or inventors in my own list. Partly because I wouldn't know where to start (there are so many!), and partly because I think most discoveries are inevitable (most, but not all), but largely because I think society is more greatly influenced by politics, religion and philosophy.
Who would I pick? Certainly Jesus, if we agreed his influence continued well past the century of his birth. Probably Thomas Jefferson, whose political philosophies have recreated much of our world. And, yea, Elizabeth I, for much the same reason as Jefferson. But there are so many others...
Oh, and Gutenberg really wasn't all that big a deal. Most of our literature is on the computer now any way...