(4) Mark Twain vs. (12) Jonas Salk

Tournament of Genius

(4) Mark Twain

Scores of writers have spent their whole lives trying to pen The Great American Novel. Twain may have done it several times. Adventures of Huck Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are still required reading, but Twain wasn't just a writer and humorist. He also created a number of inventions, including a set of detachable garment straps, and befriended Nikola Tesla. Perhaps fellow genius contemporary Thomas Edison put it best: "An average American loves his family. If he has any love left over for some other person, he generally selects Mark Twain."

(12) Jonas Salk

You know what's terrific? Not having polio! For that, we all owe Jonas Salk a big tip of our caps. From 1952 to 1953, a polio outbreak in the U.S. led to 93,000 new cases of the disease. In 1955, Salk's ingenious vaccine, which used an inactivated form of poliovirus to help build antibodies against the disease, hit the market. By 1957, the number of new cases of polio in the U.S. had dropped to 5,600. By 1994, polio was completely eradicated in the Americas.

The Breakdown

Dr. Salk gets a huge tip of the cap for curing polio and helping advance vaccine science. Twain, though, deserves some acclaim for giving us some decent novels to read in high school English classes. Without Huck Finn, we'd all be stuck reading A Separate Peace over and over again, a fate that might not be worse than polio, but it's close. How do you like your genius, scientific or literary? This should be a tight one.


[See the whole bracket here.]