Long before Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, there was a billionaire playboy who set the standard - a genius with a passion for flying and designing planes, a womaniser who bedded the sexiest women in Hollywood, and a man who was eccentric enough to be declared mentally ill by today’s standards. Howard Hughes was many things... but he certainly wasn’t boring!

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The fiery, furious relationship between the medieval era’s most famous power couple led to glory and terrible failure. The empire they presided over was the greatest empire in the West since the time of Charlemagne. He was 9 years younger than her, but she matched his energy. When they weren’t making love and producing one of many children, they were plotting against each other or fighting like cat and dog. She took no prisoners, but he made her one for 15 years. The world, it seems, wasn’t big enough for Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

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Vice Admiral Viscount Horatio Nelson was the greatest British sailor of all time, possibly the greatest sailor in all the world’s history. His adventures, tactical genius and courage inspired Britain to become the naval superpower that it was in the 1700s and 1800s, and helped bring about the fall of Napoleon and a change in the balance of power throughout the world. Though he had only one eye and one arm, he seems to have brought enough energy and ambition for two lifetimes, and history looks fondly on his contribution.

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In 1742 a Russian aristocrat and military engineer, fluent in Turkish and French, rose to prominence in the Imperial court of Peter the Great. He had all the trappings of nobility, and was held in such high regard that the Tsar adopted him. This great figure of Russian history's name is Gannibal - charming, intelligent and a man of extraordinary achievement. Oh, and also a black African.

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If there were a prize for genocide, one man would have unbeatable odds at claiming it. He began life as a bright young revolutionary with enormous enthusiasm for change and fairness - but he devolved into a fat, dirty, old tyrant who filled everyone with fear and loathing. He was at China’s helm when up to 55 million people died in just four devastating years. He was known as Chairman Mao, and he changed China forever.

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Long before Mario Puzo wrote 'The Godfather', and before Brando and Pacino brought the book’s characters to life on the big screen, the real Godfather - Lucky Luciano - ruled over the world of organised crime. Gambling, prostitution, guns and shallow graves were his stock-in-trade. He was public enemy number one... and he remains the original gangster.

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Unlike most great people from history, you can actually still look into the faces of some of the Pharaohs. At the Egyptian Museum of Civilisation, 22 mummies occupy a sanctified space, and represent over 3,000 years of recorded history. One of the most memorable is Tuthmosis III - while he was alive, his eyes looked out over the apex of Ancient Egyptian culture and power... and under his rule, they built the greatest temples, expanded the territory, and established a pantheon of gods.

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Chivalry, jousting, coat-armour, knights on horseback and the great glory of the Middle Ages are mostly made up. The real Middle Ages were a dirty, bloody, brutal and uncivilised time. Women were mere possessions, land was wealth, might made right, and peasants ate rocks and soil to stay alive. Only the high-born could live a life anything like Sir Walter Scott imagined in his novels. But once upon a time, there was a great knight - a man called William Marshall. He outlived four kings, fought countless battles, and was the very epitome of the medieval warrior.

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Within living memory of Alexander the Great, a vast, powerful and extraordinary empire rose up in Northern India - forged by the strength, intelligence, and philosophy of one man. In one lifetime, he went from warlord to monk, from outcast to emperor... and his ideas brought a new religion, Buddhism, to full bloom in faraway places. Ashoka the Great is still commemorated on the flag of India, and his empire left a mark on all of Southern Asia.

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The creaking ship rose and fell in massive swells, the waves as high as 10 men stacked on top of each other. Blistering Antarctic winds seemed determined to prevent anyone from rounding the cursed Cape Horn. It had been months since any of the crew had seen their families, eaten anything fresh, or tasted anything but sea water every time they opened their mouths... and yet they were exploring places that had never been mapped before, encountering people and animals that no European had ever seen. At the helm was Captain Cook - more legend than man, undaunted by rain, wind, sun and sea.

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