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As a mathematician, sometimes I meet across very embarrassing questions which were posted by who does not learn of mathematics, for example, my wife and so on. She or he always posted such questions: Well, you are majored in mathematics, do you know Gauss? Where did he come from? In which country? What did he study in mathematics? etc. Although I maybe answer the mathematical question on my major, I cannot answer such questions, and I always feel very ashamed.

Here is my question: Which mathematics celebrities that you think other mathematicians should know, and why.

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closed as off topic by lhf, J. M., Sam, Asaf Karagila, Michael Greinecker Aug 14 '12 at 9:33

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If you become familiar with all the names listed here, you should be fine. – inactive... for now Aug 11 '12 at 12:15
You'd find plenty of such lists on the net. – Karolis Juodelė Aug 11 '12 at 12:17
'Ask her to wait a moment - I am almost done.' Apparently said while working, and being informed that his wife was dying ( – lab bhattacharjee Aug 11 '12 at 12:17
I do not think that knowing biographical details about Gauss is in any way related to being a mathematician. (Of course, knowing details about Gauss's mathematical work is different.) This question seems off-topic to me but I'll let others decide. – Qiaochu Yuan Aug 11 '12 at 15:03
@deoxygerbe, it seems a bit reckless to leave out Godel, Russell, von Neumann, Wiles, or Perelman in favor of the inventor of analytic combinatorics. – Kevin Carlson Aug 12 '12 at 7:29
up vote 6 down vote accepted

You could start with this very pleasant (too romantic for some...) book from Bell :
"Men of mathematics" (see at the bottom for downloadable formats...).

A 'short' list of the Greatest Mathematicians. By principle such a list can't satisfy everybody (Wiles is a 'contender' only...).

Of course some recent mathematicians should be known too. You may reduce the length by retaining only the Field medalists.

UPDATE: The Bell link contains only the second half of the book. An interesting collection of (often cheap) books about mathematicians is available at Amazon (including the complete Bell...).

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Thanks for your response and useful links. – Paul Aug 11 '12 at 12:55
@Paul: you are welcome! – Raymond Manzoni Aug 11 '12 at 12:59
'A 'short' list of the Greatest Mathematicians': interesting list, but indeed highly debatable, in particular if one considers the ranking, too. Ramanujan is not missing, he is on rank 20. Wiles is among the 'still other contenders'. – user20266 Aug 11 '12 at 13:40
Thanks @Thomas I had noticed the poor 'contender' place of Wiles but missed Ramanujan in my search (the 'rigorist' Cauchy should have appreciated! ;-)), I'll correct that. Anyway such a list can't, by principle, satisfy everyone... – Raymond Manzoni Aug 11 '12 at 14:07
I thought that the objection to Bell was more along the lines of "riddled with outright falsehoods." – Kevin Carlson Aug 12 '12 at 7:25

For myself, the most famous (and most badass) mathematician is Evariste Galois. Funded galoistheory and then died in the age of 21.

Also, very important are Gauss, Euler, Leibniz.

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I have read many descriptions of Galois' personality but the slightly anachronistic badass is a first. I shiver to think what your opinion of Archimedes might be ( please, don't tell me). – Georges Elencwajg Aug 11 '12 at 12:49
@GeorgesElencwajg: Why was he a anachronistic badass? For example. – Paul Aug 11 '12 at 12:53
@GeorgesElencwajg would you consider it legitimate to say Poincare did topology, or would you insist on analysis situ? – Michael Greinecker Aug 11 '12 at 13:21
There are as many lists of names as mathematicians out there, but there are some that anyone who's graduated has to know, if not for something else but for hearing their names over and over in lemmas, theorems and etc.: Cauchy, Fermat, Weierstrass, Dirichlet, Riemann, Poincare, Bernoulli, D'Alembert, Leibnitz, Newton, Lagrange, Legendre, Gauss, Galois, Abel and some others as well. – DonAntonio Aug 11 '12 at 13:28
Dear @Michael: I'm very happy to realize that we do have the same sense of humour after all! – Georges Elencwajg Aug 11 '12 at 14:38

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