On Norman Borlaug

Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist from the University of Minnesota, has died at 95, and Penn Jillette — yes, the entertainer — had it right this morning on Twitter:


The greatest human in history. He is credited with saving 1 BILLION lives and he’ll keep saving more and more.

That’s saying quite a bit but how do you argue with it?

It’s not hyperbole. He is, in fact, credited with saving over a billion lives as President George Bush pointed out when he presented Borlaug with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. “No person has done more to rid the world of hunger,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Borlaug is the father of the Green Revolution, which started with his work to create disease-resistant, high-yield wheat. The chances are pretty good that whatever you ate today had something to do with Norman Borlaug.

And these last words in a high-profile setting should be something everyone can agree on:


“We need better and more technology, for hunger and poverty and misery are very fertile soils into which to plant all kinds of ‘isms,’ including terrorism,” he said.

Leon Hesser worked with Borlaug and also wrote his biography. All Things Considered host Tom Crann talked with him in 2007.

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As Mr. Hesser pointed out, not everyone agreed with Borlaug’s approach of genetically altering food. That brings us back to Jillette’s own biography of Borlaug in this TV episode. Caution: There’s an occasional obscenity in this clip – and it ends with the F bomb. But you’ll get an excellent idea of Borlaug’s fight:

And here’s a milder telling of the Borlaug story from a documentary on his life and work:

  • BJ

    Not one comment. I remember the photo with Bush.

    the quote you found is really great:

    “We need better and more technology, for hunger and poverty and misery are very fertile soils into which to plant all kinds of ‘isms,’ including terrorism,” he said.

  • Jim!!!

    Great story, I did not know about Norman.

    Thanks for posting!