TIME's People Who Mattered 2009

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Neda Agha-Soltan

We'll never know the man who stood in front of those tanks in Tiananmen Square, but we do know Neda Agha-Soltan: we've looked into her eyes. For one gut-wrenching moment, as she lay dying from the bullet in her heart on that Tehran side street last June, Neda stared directly into the cell phone that was about to immortalize her. Within hours, millions of people around the world had been beseeched by those fading eyes, making an intimate connection with the 27-year-old music student and the cause for which she was killed by the thugs of an embattled regime. Before Neda's murder, the street protests against Iran's stolen election had been a revolution without a face, doomed to be crushed by brute authority and eventually forgotten. But Neda's dying gaze drew the eyes of the world. We can neither look away nor forget.

— Bobby Ghosh

Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck weeps a lot and laughs really loudly and talks too much — about how the country is going in the wrong direction, about how regular Americans would have rebuilt the Twin Towers just as they looked before, about how he used to drink too much. If he were your neighbor, you might smile and wave every morning but not invite him to dinner too often because it would just be too much work. If Rush Limbaugh sounds arrogant and angry, Beck sounds like he might crack up. And yet his brand of conservatism, which blends ideological anger with a misty-eyed, almost fragile nostalgia, hit home this year with millions of conservatives worried that President Obama and the Democratic Congress were steering a great country aground and shackling its potential. Some 8 million people listen to Beck's radio program, and this year his Fox News Channel show became required viewing for the right. Predictably, he drew white-hot hatred from liberals and even some fellow libertarians: the creators of South Park spoofed him in a hilarious November episode in which the fat Cartman played Beck. This time, Beck didn't weep. Instead, he laughed along and then noted, accurately, that the show had also taken on Jesus Christ.

— John Cloud

Lloyd Blankfein

The head of the world's most profitable bank is oddly pedestrian. Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs' chief executive, is a movie buff and a bad dresser. He loves gambling in Vegas. He grew up poor and used to be an overweight two-packs-a-day smoker. So when his firm's rapid return to megaprofits this year ignited claims that Goldman Sachs had engineered the financial crisis so it could profit from it, Blankfein seemed the perfect man to explain why his firm — and indeed all of Wall Street — was not a band of élitist capitalist vampires but instead a virtuous bunch. But even everyman Blankfein, who launched his image offensive this summer with an interview in TIME, has not been able to turn back the wall of populist anger against his firm and Wall Street in general. His claim that he and his colleagues were "doing God's work" was openly mocked. Washington is still contemplating ways to rein in finance-industry risk-taking, pay and profits. Expect more outrage soon as Goldman hands out huge year-end bonuses, which could average more than $700,000 per employee, just as Main Street's unemployment checks run out.

— Stephen Gandel