Photographs and excerpts from Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World © Princeton University Press

Margaret Dusa McDuff

"When I was a teenager wondering what on earth I should do, I realized that mathematics was what I loved; it spoke to me somehow.... I didn't know any female mathematicians, but I didn't mind. I wanted to be different."

Audio: Margaret Dusa McDuff

Alain Connes

"[W]hen you get started, to really become a mathematician, the key step is to realize that at some point you have to stop reading books. You have to think on your own. You have to become your own authority."

Audio: Margaret Dusa McDuff

John Horton Conway

"What's the ontology of mathematical things?... There's no doubt that they do exist but you can't poke and prod them except by thinking about them. It's quite astonishing and I still don't understand it having been a mathematician all my life."

Audio: Margaret Dusa McDuff

David Mumford

"In applied math, you must always worry whether you are paying attention to the data or whether you are forcing reality into a mathematical straitjacket."

Audio: David Mumford

Joan S. Birman

"Why did I choose mathematics? I'm not sure that 'choose' is the right word; rather, mathematics chose me.... As soon as I realized that mathematics is filled with thought-provoking questions and gives you tools for their solutions, I was drawn to it."

Audio: David Mumford

Manjul Bhargava

"[F]or mathematicians, mathematics — like music, poetry, or painting — is a creative art. All these arts involve — and indeed require — a certain creative fire. They all strive to express truths that cannot be expressed in ordinary everyday language."

Audio: David Mumford

Adebisi Agboola

"[M]ost of the ideas that I have and the things that I try do not work, and I suspect that same is probably true of many other mathematicians. Of course, this just means that perseverance is a crucial part of the entire process, and that it is very important not to just give up too easily."

Audio: Adebisi Agboola

Friedrich E. Hirzebruch

"In March of 1945, I became a soldier and in April, a prisoner of war, surviving in the meadows along the Rhine, always under the open sky in rain and sunshine, scribbling mathematics on toilet paper, the only paper available."

Audio: Adebisi Agboola

Sir Michael Francis Atiyah

"For me, just as there is only one world, even if parts of it are more familiar than others, so there is only one mathematics. I dislike frontiers, political or intellectual, and I find that ignoring them is an essential catalyst for creative thought."

Audio: Sir Michael Francis Atiyah

Peter David Lax

"In painting there is a creative tension between depicting the shapes, colors, and textures of natural objects and making a beautiful pattern on a flat canvas. Similarly, in mathematics there is a creative tension between analyzing the laws of nature and making beautiful logical patterns."

Audio: Sir Michael Francis Atiyah

Marie-France Vigneras

"As mathematicians, we play and dream but we don't cheat. You can't cheat in mathematics. Truth is so important. To solve a problem with a proof is exciting and rewarding because it is true forever."

Audio: Sir Michael Francis Atiyah

Noam D. Elkies

"I've played with numbers and music for as long as I can remember.... [W]hile music shares some of the tools of basic arithmetic (as with rhythm or harmonics, not just basic fingerings) and the concerns of higher mathematics (such as pattern and economy of means), they serve different ends."

Audio: Sir Michael Francis Atiyah

Eriko Hironaka

"In retrospect, I realize that I have always had a passion for abstract thinking. I was brought up in a bilingual household and went to public schools in places as far apart as Massachusetts, Japan, and France. I learned to love the moments of understanding that can emerge out of the initial chaos and seeming contradictions of a different language and culture."

Audio: Eriko Hironaka

David Harold Blackwell

"I came across one of my old papers the other day and I could barely understand it. I thought, 'Wow this guy is good! How could he think of that?' The mind changes. When I look at what I've done, I'm impressed. I've been very lucky."

Audio: Eriko Hironaka

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