The Unexpected Popularity of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek

Berkel, K. van
The Low Countries.
Jaargang 14.
Rekkem: Stichting Ons Erfdeel

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Opening paragraph (translated by Nancy Forest-Flier)

When the election for the greatest Dutch person of all time was held in 2004, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek came fourth - after Pim Fortuyn, William of Orange and Willem Drees, but before Erasmus, Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh. Van Leeuwenhoek's success was largely overlooked by the press; all the media attention went to the questionable methods that had put Fortuyn in first place. Yet it's surprising, to say the least, that of all the representatives of the world of culture and science it was Van Leeuwenhoek who managed to garner so many votes. If the question regarding the greatest Dutch person had been asked to practitioners of the natural sciences alone (to limit ourselves to that single category), then undoubtedly geniuses such as Huygens (now twelfth) and Lorentz (now number 49) would have scored much higher. But the fact that Van Leeuwenhoek is clearly a popular favourite demands an explanation. What does this say about Van Leeuwenhoek, and what does it say - perhaps - about the Netherlands today?