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There are mathematicians whose creativity, insight and taste have the power of driving anyone into a world of beautiful ideas, which can inspire the desire, even the need for doing mathematics, or can make one to confront some kind of problems, dedicate his life to a branch of math, or choose an specific research topic.

I think that this kind of force must not be underestimated; on the contrary, we have the duty to take advantage of it in order to improve the mathematical education of those who may come after us, using the work of those gifted mathematicians (and even their own words) to inspire them as they inspired ourselves.

So, I'm interested on knowing who (the mathematician), when (in which moment of your career), where (which specific work) and why this person had an impact on your way of looking at math. Like this, we will have an statistic about which mathematicians are more akin to appeal to our students at any moment of their development. Please, keep one mathematician for post, so that votes are really representative.

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closed as off topic by quid, Yemon Choi, Andres Caicedo, Ryan Budney, S. Carnahan Sep 5 '11 at 14:08

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It's always your advisor(s) that influence you the most, aren't they? –  Zsbán Ambrus Jul 5 '10 at 22:00
@Zsbán: I'm not so sure about that! I have the feeling that many mathematicians are most influenced by some others, or some works, or some open problems, or even some teachers BEFORE getting to have an advisor at all! –  Jose Brox Jul 5 '10 at 23:12
Interesting question. I noticed that all the stronger mathematicians I know (or know of) have other mathematicians that they look up to (sometimes long gone mathematicians who only communicate with us through their writings). So that the most influential may also be the most influenced (insert "shoulders of giants" Newton quote here). You would expect some self-made geniuses out there, people who feel they owe their success mostly to themselves, but I have yet to come across one. –  Thierry Zell Aug 14 '10 at 1:12
This is a nice list, but perhaps it is long enough. I vote to close. –  quid Sep 2 '11 at 18:17
I agree with quid, and am voting likewise –  Yemon Choi Sep 2 '11 at 20:44

62 Answers 62

Louis Comtet, through his book "Analyse Combinatoire vol 1 and 2", now republished in english translation with additions and corrections as "Advanced Combinatorics".

When ? My first year in Paris University while I was attending boring courses in Analysis and Linear Algebra that were very inferior to what I have been exposed in high school the year before.

These two little pocket books were relatively easy and cheap to find and gave a wealth of packed information and links to the existing litterature on combinatorics. Combinatorial Mathematics were not in fashion in France in the 1970s, neither in the 1980s. Among many things I liked were the fancy notations, the diagrams, the density of results, the careful index, the intersection with so many other mathematical theories such as set theory, differential equations, topology, group theory. And it was also my first contact with a slightly formalized graph theory, Eulerian numbers, integer partitions, multiple summation, etc.

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For me its Aryanhatta who estimated the value of pi and proved that it is irrational way back in 400 B.C.

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Proved? Do you have a reference for that? –  Faisal Jul 6 '10 at 12:04
Proved? Not at all. He just gave an approximate value (circle of diameter 20000 has circumference 62832, which corresponds to 3.1416) and said "in this way, [the value] can be approached", and the last word has been speculated on and exaggerated to "proved". (Also, 500 AD, not 400 BC.) –  shreevatsa Jul 7 '10 at 19:46

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