The Surprising Passions of 11 Brilliant People


You already knew everyone on this list was brilliant and accomplished in his or her chosen field. What you might not have known is that they were also truly devoted to their less publicized passions.

1) Teddy Roosevelt was a man with a lot of hobbies, including obvious ones like hunting, trust busting, and carrying metaphorical sticks. But he was also a passionate boxer and had a brown belt in judo. He once turned heads at a state luncheon by playfully chucking a Swiss diplomat with a judo toss.

2) Napoleon had no rival when it came to battlefield brilliance, so it’s a little surprising that he wasn’t great at his favorite hobby: chess. Although the general supposedly carried a board with him on his military campaigns, he never had much time to practice and was generally regarded as a middling player.

3) Emily Dickinson made more than just amazing poetry – she was also a celebrated baker! Despite being famously shy, Dickinson was sure enough of her bread to enter it in a local competition, in which she won second prize. Of course, since she was Emily Dickinson, poetry was always at play, even in the kitchen – many of her drafts are written on the backs of recipes or ingredient wrappers.

4) Amelia Earhart was passionate about a hobby that’s not usually associated with daredevils: stamp collecting. Earhart frequently carried pieces of mail on her landmark flights. As these pieces became highly collectible, Earhart got in on the fun, acquiring examples of mail she’d flown and showing them at stamp-collecting conventions.

5) Mozart fell ill with smallpox when he was 11 years old, an illness that required several weeks of rest for recovery. The young composer used the down time of his convalescence to pick up a new hobby: card tricks. A local chaplain visited the sick boy and taught him a slew of card tricks that the composer later used to delight his friends.

6) Thomas Edison had a surprisingly impractical passion: concrete. The great inventor so adored concrete that he created a system of molds that would enable builders to simply pour a whole, complete house from concrete. He even had patents for concrete furniture to fill his concrete houses! As you might have noticed, the idea never took off.

7) Thomas Jefferson is so celebrated as a statesman, writer, architect, librarian, and oenophile that it’s easy to miss the fact that he was a celebrated violinist. Jefferson took lessons for most of his life, starting as a young boy, and although accounts of his skill level differ, Jefferson was able to use his musical abilities to woo his wife.

8) Marie Curie stayed pretty busy in the lab – being one of history’s greatest chemists and physicists takes some time – but she also spent a lot of time on her bike. Throughout her life, Curie’s favorite way to unwind was hopping on her bike for long trips that let her explore the outdoors.

9) Abraham Lincoln would have been a surprisingly huge fan of Internet memes. Mary Todd Lincoln was once asked if her husband had any hobbies. Her simple reply: “Cats.”

10) Edith Wharton is remembered for award-winning novels like The Age of Innocence, but her first published book was actually a guide to interior decorating. Throughout her life, the author was a passionate and accomplished interior decorator and garden designer. Wharton even designed her own country home and gardens, “The Mount,” in Lenox, Mass.

11) John Quincy Adams was among our quirkier presidents – he enjoyed skinny dipping in the Potomac and kept a pet alligator in the White House. But he was also an avid collector of ancient coins.