5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age

Despite what your graduation speaker might have told you, no one really expects miracles from anyone under 30. Arts, sports and computers are pretty much the only career paths where no one bats an eyelid if you become an expert at a young age.

Of course, this is just a bunch of bullshit. Young people can and constantly come up with plenty of awesome ideas, even when they operate in fields that are seemingly impossible to conquer until you've sprouted several gray hairs. Case in point:

Albert Einstein Had Most of His Big Ideas at 26

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If you don't know who Albert Einstein is, we're afraid we really can't help you. We mean, who doesn't know the famed 16-time bobsled champion and world-renowned professional wrestler?

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To say nothing of his three consecutive spelling bee titles.

But that's not what we're here to talk about today. Right now, we're more about Einstein's more boring endeavors -- namely, the theories of general and special relativity that cemented his reputation as one of the most brilliant minds in history. Now, because every single photo you've ever seen of Einstein looks like the above -- wild white hair, grey mustache, lines around his eyes -- you have to assume all of that work was the culmination of a long life spent doing math stuff. But he came up with all of that shit when he was just 26. That is, right around the time when many of us are realizing our hip-hop career probably isn't going to take off.

The year was 1905, and Albert had just completed his thesis at the University of Zurich, and found employment as a patent examiner, because, fuck you, a paycheck is a paycheck. Being a deeply inquisitive young man, he used his off hours to dabble on theories on physics and matter. You know, every 20-something needs a hobby. But where we lovingly draft fanfic erotica featuring Betty Rubble and Mogo the Living Planet, his after-work endeavors actually plopped out a total of four theories that would become the bulk of his -- and modern science's -- legacy.

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age
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He also invented a car door lock that still opens if someone lifts the handle; but, unfortunately, it was lost to the ages.

He started his streak in January and February, casually proving Newton wrong and saying that space and time are not absolute, thus coining the theory of special relativity. In March, Einstein came up with quantum theory, a.k.a. the one about light being all about tiny particles that would eventually become known as photons. Finally, between April and May, he published a couple of papers that proved the thus far impossible-to-verify existence of the atom.

At that point, most of us would have whipped out our sunglasses and ridden into the sunset. Einstein, on the other hand, just pushed on, adding more layers to his theories about light and, finally, creating a little formula regarding the equivalence of energy and matter that you might have heard about:

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As made famous by the Animaniacs.

For no-shit-related reasons, the year is now known in physics circles as Annus mirabilis, the Miracle Year. But really, the most impressive thing about it was that Einstein somehow managed to pull this all off at an age, when most of us still can't say with any certainty what we want to be when we grow up.

Rene Descartes Comes Up With The Scientific Method and Cogito Ergo Sum in One Night ... at Age 23

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age
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Rene Descartes was a mathematician, writer, and philosopher. He is known by many as the Father of Modern Philosophy, the creator of the scientific method, and the first man with the facial muscles to keep his eyebrow raised throughout the painting of his picture:

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age


Despite his status as a great thinker, Descartes' early life was actually about as far from your average philosopher's goings-on as possible: Not only was he tragically, irrevocably French, he had a degree in Law from the University of Poitiers in his pocket. To further add to his "not a philosopher" bracket, he joined the Army for a potential career in military engineering in Germany.

One night in November, 1619, at the age of 23, Rene locked himself in a wall stove to keep from the cold; because back in the 17th Century men were men, and if you wanted to stay warm you damn well sat in a stove. Apparently his reward for this particular stunt was Philosophical Insight +3, because while huddling there sweating, he not only had a vision about the unification of all science, but also a strange series of three dreams that we've already described in detail before.

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age
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Which may or may not have been the early stages of carbon monoxide poisoning.

When Rene emerged from his private hell-pit in the morning, he had basically formulated his whole schtick: the basics of analytical geometry, an inkling of what would later become the scientific method, and a new catchphrase -- "I think." Presumably after some serious hassling from his drill sergeant, he would soon refine this into a less easily mockable "I think, therefore I am" -- also known as the single most recognizable line in all of philosophy. Again, the man was 23, the age where the most profound quotes most of us can blurt are immediately followed by a lengthy "duuuuuude."

Alexander the Great Conquered Half the Known World in His Twenties

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age

Alexander the Great started collecting countries at an age many of us still collect comics, and had conquered every slice of the world his armies could reach before he turned 30.

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age

And, of course, what he's most remembered for: providing an awesome Die Hard quote.

Granted, Alexander had a little head start: His father, Philip II of Macedon, was already pretty conquer-happy, and he had already served as regent in his place at 16, armed with a bunch of knowledge straight off Aristotle. After his father was assassinated, Alexander quickly consolidated his power by executing his rivals and stomping out opposition in Greece. Once he was done, he decided it was time for something a bit more challenging, so he curb-stomped the Persian Empire.

Yes, you read that right: Alexander conquered the entire, unstoppable, 300-crushing Persian Empire in only four years. It wasn't the only empire he crushed, either: By the time he was 26, he was a King of Macedon, and Shah of Persia, and Lord of Asia, and the freaking Pharaoh of Egypt. And, had sickness not claimed him at only 32 years of age, he would have straight up attacked India and China, too. Although we may never know how well Alexander would have fared against their full might, it's good to keep in mind that the man had just fought and won 13 wars in a row.

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age
Erin Nekervis

While your kickball team struggles to break .500.

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age

George Armstrong Custer Was a General at 23

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age
Wikipedia/US Army

Here's a thing everyone remembers about General George Armstrong Custer: He got his ass handed to him at the battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. Here's a thing no one ever seems to notice: the guy was only 35 at the time.

Since modern day generals tend to be on the older side, and our minds tend to picture Civil War era leaders in the white-whiskered Colonel Sanders fashion, we tend to assume that esteemed military leaders of the olden times were at least in their 40s. However, by the time Custer realized the Indian force was slightly stronger than he was prepared to deal with, he had already been a general for nearly 13 years. Yes, this means the dude became a general when he was only 23 years old, which is a year earlier than even Napoleon Bonaparte himself could pull off.

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age
US Army

Even Custer's horse was older than him.

Not that he wasn't a stereotypical slacker, because he was -- he graduated last in his class at West Point, and lived his life there in a constant competition to see who could rack up most demerits while still somehow graduating. Whoever he was up against, Custer definitely won. His 726 demerits were just one shy from expulsion. To add insult to injury, Custer was also one of the biggest fops in military history. Contemporaries described him as "one of the funniest-looking beings you ever saw," and he often went into battle wearing fancy outfits and long, curly blond hair.

Still, sometimes the kid in lavish clothing on the battlefield turns out to be a superhero. Despite his youth, awful grades and habit to dress like the Civil War was a tea party, Custer managed to impress officers with the kind of courage that is often difficult to distinguish from sheer madness and/or stupidity. The man knew no fear on a battlefield, becoming a hero at Gettysburg and serving continuously throughout the war, from the First Battle of Bull Run up to Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age

"So, Bob, how does it feel to know that history will best remember you for getting your ass kicked? Ha ha!"

Custer ended the war as the youngest major general in the U.S. Army, and there's no telling what he could have become had, you know, a certain incident not ended his career.

Andrew Jackson Was A Badass (and/or Madman) from Birth On

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age

In many ways, Andrew Jackson was nothing but a Batman who thought costumes were for pussies and who ditched that Bruce Wayne crap at an early age so he could straight-up become vengeance. How early an age? Really, pick your number, because Old Hickory was a tougher man at birth than most of us can ever hope to become.


His placenta was made of callouses.

In fact, he had Batman already beat at birth. Instead of the whole "billionaire with murdered parents" jazz, Jackson was born into crushing poverty in the American wilderness and with his father already dead. He had no time for adolescence, what with the American Revolution breaking out and all, so he decided to skip that shit and started serving in the local militia as a courier. He became a POW at 13, an orphan at 14, and the sole survivor of his entire family by the war's end. As a consolation prize, he gained an archenemy: all of goddamn Britain. British soldiers had mistreated Jackson during his time as a war prisoner, and he blamed them for the deaths of his mother and two brothers.

With the war over and his family gone, a teenage Jackson decided the only thing left to do was to become even more of a grown-up and as quickly as possible. Despite having little schooling, he hit the books, becoming a lawyer at 20, a solicitor at 21, and then a freaking U.S. Senator at 30. Despite enjoying the distinction of being the youngest senator in Congress' then-history, Jackson resigned less than a year later to become a judge in the State Supreme Court of Tennessee at 31. And so it went.

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age

"I don't even know what the hell a 'Grand Moff' is, but I'll sure as shit take the post."

Oh, and remember that deep-seated hatred he had against the British? He nurtured it for a full 15 years until he unleashed it in full, terrifying force in the Battle of Orleans in 1814; thus, earning a reputation that would eventually catapult him in the White House in the process. Yes, Andrew Jackson patiently waited 15 years to beat his childhood archenemy up so badly, it made him President.

Still, presumably he held back a little, seeing as Britain still exists.

5 Geniuses Whose Careers Peaked at a Shockingly Young Age

If he killed them all, what would he have to hate then?

Jacopo asks that you read this exclusive, online-only chapter for his upcoming book THE GREAT ABRAHAM LINCOLN POCKET WATCH CONSPIRACY, which you can preorder today! Matthew has a twitter here and a blog here.

Related Reading: Sometimes, great geniuses turn out to just be great nutjobs- Pythagoras was convinced beans were evil. If you're interested in what separates the geniuses from the jerkwads, well- reading this might help. And hey, let's not praise Einstein's genius without pointing out what a gigantic pervert he was.

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