To dwindle this list down to ten wasn’t easy, especially when child prodigies don’t appear often, and all deserve due credit. Prodigies possess highly advanced skills that appear early in life, talents that most people, after an entire lifetime of effort, rarely obtain. Of the top ten most interesting prodigies that make our list, each has received mention for a particular field. Six out of 10 tip the scale toward mathematics, while the other four are renowned for linguistics, art, philosophy and music.
10. Mathematics – Carl Friedrich Gauss (30 April 1777 – 23 February 1885)
At three years old, Carl Gauss from Germany was able to sum 100 numbers in a couple of seconds. He later made many major contributions to algebra, number theory and magnetism. Many magnets, in fact, have his name printed on them, which is now a unit used to measure magnetic fields. He is considered to be the greatest German mathematician of the 19th century. He made lasting marks in other fields as well, such as astronomy, geodesy and physics.
9. Art – Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973)
Most of us know who Pablo Picasso is: one of the most well-known painters of 20th-century, and one of the co-founders of cubism. Picasso’s talent as an artist was recognized at around the age he was 14, with pictures he painted of his family. First he painted a portrait of his sister called Lola and later of his aunt entitled Portrait of Aunt Pepa; the latter prompted Juan Eduardo Cirlot (renowned critic and poet) to remak, “without a doubt (this) is one of the greatest in the whole history of Spanish painting”. Pablo Picasso’s Le Picador was painted when he was only nine years old. For his world acclaim and early artistic achievements, Pablo paints our list at number nine.
8. Mathematics & Linguistics – Maria Gaetana Agnesi (16 May 1719 – 9 January 1799)
Although you probably have never heard of her, Maria was recognized early in Milan where she was born. At nine years old, she composed and delivered an hour-long speech to an academic gathering, on a woman’s right to be educated. By her 13th birthday she had learned Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German, Latin, French, and of course her native language, Italian. Later she became an Italian linguist, mathematician, and philosopher.
Maria Agnesi is credited with writing the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus. At the ripe old age of 80, she was appointed a professorship by the pope, referred to as the “walking polyglot.” A crater on Venus has been named in her honor and, for having accomplished so much at that time in history (especially as a woman), Maria certainly deserves her place on both another planet, but on our list at number eight.
7. Mathematics – John von Neumann (28 December 1903 – 8 February 1957)
Regarded as one of the greatest mathematicians of modern history, six-year-old John von Neumann could divide eight numbers in his head, and was also proficient in language and memorization. In fact, he was so proficient that he was able to memorize telephone directories on sight and, by age eight, had mastered calculus. He went on to pair up with the world’s top physicists to challenge the fields of quantum mechanics and human behavior as it relates to game theory. Hungarian-born and known as an American mathematician, he went on to contribute to many other fields such as set theory, functional analysis, continuous geometry, economics, computer science, numerical analysis, hydrodynamics, statistics, and many other mathematical fields.
6. Music/Composition – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791)
While Mozart’s father taught his seven-year-old daughter Mannerly music lessons, three-year-old Mozart looked on with fascination until his father began teaching him to play piano the following year. Mozart later went on to write over 600 compositions including symphonic, concert ante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music that still enchants the world today, many times over. For being one of the most enduring, popular classical composers to date and for such an amazing musical legacy, Wolfgang plays the notes to number six on our list.
5. Mathematics – Blaise Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662)
Born in France, by the age of 12, Blaise Pascal had secretly solved the first 23 theories written by Euclid (known as the “Father of Geometry”). His father educated him and, early on, he studied natural and applied sciences. Blaise made important contributions to the construction of mechanical calculators, the study of fluids, pressure, and vacuum, and in writing power discourse in the defense of the scientific method.
He came up with new areas of mathematics, and now shares his name with the SI unit of pressure, a programming language, and Pascal’s Law as it relates to hydrostatics, to Pascal’s Triangle, and Pascal’s Wager (the argument that you may as well believe in God because believing carries no risk and potentially plenty of reward). He later moved on using his intellectual prowess to become a philosopher, theologian and writer.
4. Linguistics – Jean-François Champollion (23 December 1790 – 4 March 1832)
Born in France, Jean-Francois Champollion began to show extraordinary linguistic talents at a very early age. At the age of 16 he read a paper before the Grenoble Academy about the Coptic language and, by age 20, could speak Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Amharic, Sanskrit, Avestan, Pahlavi, Arabic, Syriac, Chaldean, Persian, Ethiopic, Chinese, and of course, his native language, French. With the help of groundwork laid by certain predecessors, Jean Champollion later deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs and translated parts of the Rosetta Stone, proving that the written Egyptian language was similar to Coptic, and that the writing system was a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs.
3. Mathematics – Paul Erdos (26 March 1913 – 20 September 1996)
Three-year-old Paul Erdos, around the time when many children are fortunate to master the numbers 1-10, was able to calculate in his head how many seconds a person had been alive based on their age. Born in Hungary, by his early 20s, he had received a Ph.D. In mathematics and went on to publish over 1,000 articles (many into his 70s), more than any other mathematician had ever produced. He was known as an eccentric, living out of a suitcase and developing his own unique set of vocabulary while he was solving the most complicated math formulas in the world in areas of graph theory, number theory, classical analysis, set and probability theory.
2. Philosophy and Logic – Saul Aaron Kripke (13 November 1940)
Believed by many to be the world’s greatest living philosopher since Wittgenstein, six-year-old Saul had taught himself ancient Hebrew, and had read the complete work of Shakespeare. Before even graduating elementary school, he had mastered the works of Descartes, along with algebra, geometry and calculus. At 17 he wrote the first complete theorem in modal logic and had it published a year later.
While still in high school, the math department at Harvard sent Kripke a letter, hoping he’d apply for a job. He wrote back explaining that his mother wanted him to finish high school first and then go to college. Saul later chose Harvard and, by sophomore year, was teaching a graduate-level course in logic at nearby MIT. He graduated summa cum laude (with the highest distinction) in mathematics and went on to receive many distinguished awards, like the Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy in 2001, an award equivalent to the Nobel Prize.
1. Mathematics – Kim Ung-Yong (8 March 1962)
Known for having the highest IQ in all of recorded history, Kim Ung-Yong is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records with a startling 210 IQ! Kim became a guest student of physics at Hanyang University auditing courses from the age of four until he was seven years old. At eight years old, he was invited to the United States by NASA, where he finished his university studies. He debuted on Japanese TV in the late 1960s, solving complicated equations, speaking various languages, and then moving on to work for NASA and getting his Ph.D. – all before graduating high school. He lives in Korea and is a college professor now, receiving the highest merit of distinction on our top ten list of the most interesting prodigies who ever lived.