Few people have had as many natural endowments or achievements to feel proud of as Edwin Hubble, the astronomer for whom the Hubble Space Telescope was named. Hubble was a gifted athlete.
As writer Bill Bryson recounts, "At a single high school track meet in 1906, he won the pole vault, shot put, discus, hammer throw, standing high jump, and running high jump, and was on the winning mile-relay team—that is seven first places in one meet—and came in third in the broad jump. In the same year, he set a state record for the high jump in Illinois. On top of his athletic gifts, Hubble was extremely good-looking. One person described him as "handsome almost to a fault." Another called him an "Adonis". If that weren't enough, Hubble was intellectually gifted. He studied physics and astronomy at the elite University of Chicago, and he was selected to be one of the first Rhodes scholars at Oxford. When Hubble began his career as an astronomer at Mount Wilson Observatory in California in 1919, only one galaxy was known: the Milky Way. But Hubble showed in a landmark paper in 1924 that the universe contained many galaxies. Then Hubble proved that the universe was expanding, an idea no physicist or astronomer had conceived of before. Either one of these achievements would have guaranteed Hubble a place in history.
Yet for Hubble all of this was not enough. Hubble claimed he spent most of his late 20's and early 30's as a prestigious lawyer in Kentucky. Actually, he spent those years as a high school teacher in Indiana. Hubble boasted that in World War I he had bravely led "frightened men to safety across the battlefields of France. The truth was, he arrived in France only one month before the Armistice and probably never heard one shot fired. Hubble told people how he had daringly rescued drowning swimmers. But that story never happened. Hubble bragged about how he had taken on an exhibition bout with a world-class boxer and surprised the champion with an amazing knockdown punch. That, also, was too good to be true. What is it in human nature that makes us willing to lie to enhance our image? –Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything (New York: Broadway Books, 2003)