Unidentified Persons

attemptYesterday I posted a portrait gallery honoring 60 of my personal heroes; readers were quick to identify 47, with remarkably few mistakes, all of which were quickly corrected. As of this writing, thirteen remain. Among these thirteen are the greatest mathematician of the 17th century (assuming we classify Newton as a physicist) and the three greatest mathematicians of the 20th; one of these is quite probably the greatest mathematician of all time. (All in my educated-but-not-fully-educated opinion, of course.) Musical, literary and cinematic greatness are also well represented here.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will try to tell you a little bit more about some of these 60 people. Meanwhile, here are the thirteen mystery men/women. I’ve retained the numbering from yesterday’s post. Who can you identify?

3 6 17 34 36
39 45 46 47 49
50 52 58
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26 Responses to “Unidentified Persons”


  1. 1 1 Joe Z

    06 Pierre de Fermat
    46 Alex Grothendieck

  2. 2 2 optimist

    17 is John Stuart Mill

  3. 3 3 Jacky

    36 John von Neumann

  4. 4 4 Paul Summer

    34 is Godel, I assume your pick for greatest mathematician of all time.

  5. 5 5 Snorri Godhi

    Actually, #36 has been tentatively identified as von Neumann by me, and #34 as Godel [which I think unlikely, as I understand that he was a very tidy person].

    #6 is Fermat, of course. With the hint that everybody here is a mathematician or an artist, my wild guess is that #3 is John Napier [I do not look up wikipedia as that would spoil the fun]. Presumably, #39 is a cinematic great, and #58 two musical greats. #50 is a European movie director by the look of him.

    Speaking of artists, one of the advantages of writing under a pseudonym is that I can say what I think, and what I think is that the guy at #2 is overrated: the Sagas of Icelanders offer a better insight into human nature than his work does. But I was happy to see the Marx Brothers. As for music, I could not leave out Vivaldi and Beethoven. JS Bach is a special case: he is not so much a composer as a Prophet. In the last 50 years or so, the 2 musicians that I cannot leave out are Basil Poledouris [for the soundtrack of Conan the Barbarian] and the ancient-music group Sequentia [for reconstructing Viking Icelandic music].

    I have a gallery like yours, though not on the web. What I miss here are people who changed the world for the better [possibly as an unintended consequence] without being political leaders. My list would include Jesus and St. Paul [for the disappearance of slavery in Europe and the separation of Church and State], Pope Gregorius VII [for the separation of Church and State -- though that was not his intention], Henry the Navigator [for globalization], the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade [for obvious reasons], and Semmelweis and Pasteur [for germ theory].

    Also, we need a few old-fashioned physical heroes. I could mention several Viking Icelanders, but they have no portraits, so let’s just mention Elfego Baca, Jim Corbett [who killed 12 man-eaters], and Yoni Netanyahu.

  6. 6 6 Peter

    I’ll take a stab at a few
    17 Cayley
    34 Weil
    58 Conway?

    But how can you have the three greatest mathemeticians of the 20th century without Kolmogorov?

  7. 7 7 Force Tube Avenue

    39 is Chuck Jones
    49 is Stephen Sondheim

  8. 8 8 Scott

    I’m guessing Walter Raleigh for #3.

  9. 9 9 Olivier

    Could #58 be Terry Pratchett ?

  10. 10 10 Bezukhov

    I think that #39 is Charles Nelson Reilly (which is hilarious to me).

  11. 11 11 David

    Francis Drake is #3!

  12. 12 12 jambarama

    I’m a bit late to the party, but here it goes:

    3- John Donne
    6- Pierre de Fermat
    17- Arthur Cayley
    34- ?
    36- Johnny Mercer (only got this one because I looked him up after you posted about his music)
    39- ?
    45- ?
    46- Alexander Grothendeck
    47- Sergio Leone
    49- Stephen Sondheim
    50- John Gardner
    52- Daniel Quillen
    58- ?

    Is it cheating to use my wife to identify the theater/musician types? :)

  13. 13 13 krik

    I’m pretty sure #39 is Chuck Jones of Bugs Bunny fame

  14. 14 14 Dan Grayson

    45 = Jean-Pierre Serre

  15. 15 15 Steve

    I think 34 is Serge Lang, the great algebraic geometer.

  16. 16 16 Stephen

    Number 6 is Fermat, as previous posters have already noted. But Fermat was a lawyer, not a mathematician — at least, not in the modern sense. Everybody here probably already knows that, but I mention it because I think nowadays Fermat would more likely be considered a “crank” than a mathematician. Yet obviously he had a tremendous impact on the world, so he shows that there can be great value in encouraging even amateurs to engage in recreational mathematics and in not being too snobbish about the work of “cranks.”

  17. 17 17 Joe Z

    Force Tube Avenue,

    Excellent pick on 39, Chuck Jones indeed! I thought it might be Neil Simon, but wasn’t absolutely sure.

  18. 18 18 Zvi

    34 — Paul Erdos.

  19. 19 19 Neverfox

    John Donne
    Fermat
    Arthur Cayley
    Andre Weil
    Johnny Mercer
    Chuck Jones
    Jean-Pierre Serre
    Alexander Grothendieck
    Sergio Leone
    Stephen Sondheim
    John Gardner
    Daniel Quillen
    58 – ? ARG!

  20. 20 20 Dave

    50 is definately Quentin Crisp no? Englishman in New York and all that?

  21. 21 21 Neverfox

    Got it! 58 = Lou and Peter Berryman.

  22. 22 22 Joe Z

    Neverfox, spot on!

  23. 23 23 Ken Mueller

    #34 looks a lot like Arthur Miller

  24. 24 24 Xan

    I would guess it’s Von Neumman, not Godel, who’s being called possibly the greatest mathematician of all time.

  25. 25 25 BAL

    50 has Robert Mundell’s eyes and (one time)hair.

    58 should be Les Paul (Who better with a guitar?)
    and Mary Ford.

    17 favors a young JSMill.

  26. 26 26 Kevin

    I originally thought #45 was Martin Feldstein. I had never heard of Jean-Pierre Serre, so I looked him up. Wow! Serious doppelgängers! So…which is it? (I’m still leaning toward Marty.)

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