I'm certainly no history buff, and not well read even for my age, but I know that Benjamin Franklin had to have been one of the greatest geniuses ever. Probably what draws me to him isn't the sheer power of his mind, but how prolific he was.
Me being American probably enhances my perception of him a bit, but the man was still nice wit his.
(Off the top of my head)He made huge contributions to electricity, formed the first modern American library, and established the current US postal system. He was a prolific writer and a Founding Father. First American ambassador. Invented the lightning rod. A noted p*ssy getter. Just an ultra-productive dude that could further develop any concept presented before him.
isn't nash the inspiration for A Beautiful Mind? I actually thought he was famous for being crazy
I think he was, yes, but I didn't like that movie at all, to be honest. He is famous because he created came up with some incredibly influential concepts, such as Nash equilibria, bargaining theory, or countless others in many fields of mathematics and economics. I believe he might have been one of the most brilliant and creative minds to ever graze the earth. He not only discovered things, but he also proved them in an artistic and elegant manner.
i'm not particularly inclined to support many of his ideas, but Rousseau is a writer i really enjoy reading. his Discourse on Science and the Arts is short, powerful, and very controversial. platonic dialogues get really convoluted particularly with a bad (or really really strictly literal) translator, but they can be the most exciting things you've ever read and are a great way to broach philosophical ideas. Spinoza was a guy i was immediately attracted to, though i've mostly only read second hand works about his ideas; i've heard his actual writing can be very tedious to get through with a use of seemingly colloquial language that doesn't mean anything close to what you think it does.
for the more contemporary, William James f*cking rocks and pragmatism remains the philosophical doctrine i currently relate to most. he was also the founder of modern psychology which should count for a whole hell of a lot. Hannah Arendt is more of a historical philosopher, somebody who tries to understand the cycles and the progress of history. she's not the easiest read but she's very opinionated and usually gets her shit right. i mostly love her for her most profound and tediously belaboured point in her writing; the whole history of philosophy is bullshit because it all tries to reduce man to a singular composition; the reality is that man, if anything, is different from his fellows. that had a major impact on my thinking. also without much to say about him because i've only recently started checking him out, Thomas Nagel warrants a mention. "What is it like to be a bat? for anybody interested in his most famous paper.
there's a guy named Will Durant who is mostly a historian, but he's got an unmatched grasp on the history of philosophy, which he decorates with really robust portrayals of the famous folks in question, so that you feel a little closer to who they really were as opposed to merely what they did. but in addition, he's just a really easy to digest writer with a flare for cloaking his historical drama in the most understated wit. i highly recommend The Story of Philosophy to anybody who wants a solid overview of its history; and i make that recommendation having had the book originally recommended to me by a fellow poster on ish. pay it forward and all that.
in terms of popular scientists, Carl Sagan will probably always be my favourite orator, followed closely by Neil Degrasse Tyson. Lawrence Krauss, Brian Green, and Michio Kaku are all worth a mention. all those guys come primarily from physics or astronomy, so it's a bit redundant, but that's a field through which i went through a major intellectual phase.
one of the best writers on biology is the late Stephen Jay Gould. the guy easily puts Dawkins to shame as a writer and as a proliferator of ideas, while incorporating not a trace of the dogmatism that always leaves me with a bad, almost d*ckish, taste in my mouth after watching a Dawkins video. he was fascinated by the mundane taxonomy of all sciences, by the history of his field, by the egos that invade every branch of scientific study, and a whole host of other topics. i highly recommend finding a few articles by him, they'll take you 20 minutes to read on average, can be found in plentiful portions all over the net, and will give you a glimpse into his style of writing and mode of thought.
also as a boring answer, i've got a major soft spot (alongside my hard-on) for the chomps, who is still the best i've seen at cutting through the bullshit and getting to the issue. his writing doesn't leave me bedazzled but i love his speeches and debates. always straight to the facts for Noam. lol