Amartya Sen is a Nobel Laureate in Economics and has an amazing biography. His story speak not only of personal rise and achievement, but the focus and work so that others may as well. His bio is here.
I have had the good fortune two have met and listened to two Nobel Prize winners. One was Ilya Prigogine who came up with some very fundamental concepts of irreversibility and the flow of time, the other is Amartya Sen who has done profound work in the measurement and causes of poverty, a personal passion of mine.
Prigogine was fascinating to listen to in lecture and due to my role as Chief Analyst the Starlab Deep Future research lab in Brussels, I was able to participate in a small group setting with him and a few mathematicians. It was intimidating and awe inspiring all at once. The thing I most appreciated about the experience was the pace. Prigogine took time to answer, consider and respond. There was no rush, whether it was due to age, intelligence or just plain wisdom, I don't know but it was a treat to have met him as a scientist and a person however briefly.
Amartya Sen was very similar in his lecture, measured and humble and dazzlingly bright. My wife and I didn't get to spend quiet time with him, but we did sit in the front row of a packed 300 person lecture hall. I am a big fan of sitting in the front row or the back row of life. You either get it all head on, or hang out in the back so you can focus on other things, like the door. None of this trapped in the middle.
Sen has done some profoundly important work in the economics poverty, one of his most important findings was that there has never been a widespread famine in a functioning multi-party democracy. Simple fact, but he gathered the data and proved it. His brief writing on the 100 million missing women in Asia was powerful stuff about the fact of female infanticide. He has contributed to many fields. If you get a chance pick up one of his books if only to understand poverty a little more. People have lots of ideas about the causes of the World's poor, unfortunately few of them are studied or considered opinions.
In person Sen is quiet and dresses like an old professor which makes sense. The shoes are worn, the jacket slack and everything is a bit shabby. The surprising thing about Sen is his sense of humour. His sense of humour and mind are pin sharp. His humour is a mixture of quiet English self deprecation and lightning wit with perfect timing. He seems to be a deeply thoughtful person who has lived through a lot including the division of his own country. He reminded me of a part England that I miss a lot, having spent 5 years in London and visited Cambridge and Oxford quite a few times. It is tough to explain, but if you have lived in London, Oxford or Cambridge you might appreciate the tone and point of view of life that is unique to the UK.
I think one of my new hobbies is going to be stalking Nobel Laureate lectures. 2 so far, the chance to see a few more seems pretty enticing, not just for the pure brilliance of the individuals, but to meet people who have given so much to all of us, whether we know it or not.