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Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem Paperback – September 8, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0385493628 ISBN-10: 0385493622 Edition: 1st Anchor Books ed

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 315 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st Anchor Books ed edition (September 8, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385493622
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385493628
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 4.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (311 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When Andrew Wiles of Princeton University announced a solution of Fermat's last theorem in 1993, it electrified the world of mathematics. After a flaw was discovered in the proof, Wiles had to work for another year--he had already labored in solitude for seven years--to establish that he had solved the 350-year-old problem. Simon Singh's book is a lively, comprehensible explanation of Wiles's work and of the star-, trauma-, and wacko-studded history of Fermat's last theorem. Fermat's Enigma contains some problems that offer a taste of the math, but it also includes limericks to give a feeling for the goofy side of mathematicians.

From School Library Journal

YAAThe riveting story of a mathematical problem that sprang from the study of the Pythagorean theorem developed in ancient Greece. The book follows mathematicians and scientists throughout history as they searched for new mathematical truths. In the 17th century, a French judicial assistant and amateur mathematician, Pierre De Fermat, produced many brilliant ideas in the field of number theory. The Greeks were aware of many whole number solutions to the Pythagorean theorem, where the sum of two perfect squares is a perfect square. Fermat stated that no whole number solutions exist if higher powers replace the squares in this equation. He left a message in the margin of a notebook that he had a proof, but that there was insufficient space there to write it down. His note was found posthumously, but the solution remained a mystery for 350 years. Finally, after working in isolation for eight years, Andrew Wiles, a young British mathematician at Princeton University, published a proof in 1995. Although this famous question has been resolved, many more remain unsolved, and new problems continually arise to challenge modern minds. This vivid account is fascinating reading for anyone interested in mathematics, its history, and the passionate quest for solutions to unsolved riddles. The book includes 19 black-and-white photos of mathematicians and occasional sketches of ancient mathematicians as well as diagrams of formulas. The illustrations help to humanize the subject and add to the readability.APenny Stevens, Centreville Regional Library, Centreville, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Simon Singh is an author, science journalist and TV producer. Having completed his PhD at Cambridge he worked from 1991 to 1997 at the BBC producing Tomorrow's World and co-directing the BAFTA award-winning documentary Fermat's Last Theorem for the Horizon series. In 1997, he published Fermat's Last Theorem, which was a best-seller in Britain and translated into 22 languages.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Awesome book, story and background into the history of mathematics.
SailingPaws
This book is highly recommended and is a must read for anyone interested in learning about a great mathematical theorem and its proof.
Shanmuganathan Raman
This book narrates the mathematician Andrew Wiles' effort to solve Fermat's Last Theorem.
Megha

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Welzel on November 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
After enjoying Singh's "The Code Book" I picked up a copy of Fermat's Enigma. The problem itself was somewhat interesting to me, but I hoped Singh presentation of the story would be as good as "The Code Book". I wasn't disappointed. The solution to the problem is wrapped in a compelling story that takes you through the history of mathematics, starting before Fermat's time. Along the way Singh takes time to point out both the highlights and tragedies of mathematics, while weaving in elements of Andrew Wiles' life.
While the math behind the final solution to be problem may be out of reach for most people, Singh successfully communicates the essence of the mathematics used. The book is not complex or saturated with equations and is accessible to just about anyone. For those more interested in the mathematics, Singh includes a complete set of appendices containing problems and proofs from each era of mathematics he discusses.
All in all, a great read. Highly recommended.
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52 of 53 people found the following review helpful By LackOfDiscipline on May 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
Wow! I just finished this one and was sad to see it end. The writing is so compelling that I had to stay up to finish it in one sitting. If you are not familiar with Fermat's Last Theorem and why it is such a "big deal", let me just tantalize you by saying that it is basically a "generalized" version of the Pythagorean theorem (the one involving right triangles, which you have surely seen if you have ever taken trigonometry in high school), although it asserts that higher forms of the Pythagorean-style equation are unsolvable.
Singh gives an exquisitely detailed history of the problem going all the way back to its ancient Greek roots (i.e. Pythagoras), proceeds through numerous failed attempts to solve Fermat's challenging theorem by the great mathematicians that succeeded him, and finally concludes with the (initially uncertain) triumph of Andrew Wiles, who posessed the genius to prove the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture (which implies the truth of FLT) and solidify a previously precarious bridge to vast new mathematical wonderlands.
If you enjoyed mathematics at some point in your life and think that interest may still be lingering within you, then you may want to get this one fast - your curiousity and admiration will be revived. One of the best mathematical popularizations around, and an historic scientific/intellectual achievement supremely documented.
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Allan D. Bennett on May 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
As an undergraduate math major in the late 1970's, I remember how my algebra professor used to chuckle that anyone who solved the Fermat conjecture would get an "A" in his course. (Some of us got A's anyway.) So I had to pick up a copy of this book when I saw it, and I couldn't put it down until I finished it.
Singh does a wonderful job of intertwining the history of Andrew Wiles' life-long fascination with the Fermat conjecture with the history of attempts to solve the problem through the centuries. The necessity for Euler to introduce complex variables into his solution for the case n = 3 gives the first indication that Fermat was probably toying with (ultimately) many generations of mathematicians who would never find a proof that could "fit neatly in the margin" of a page. While it takes a fairly broad background in mathematics to appreciate the book, one does not need to be a specialist in algebraic number theory to follow Singh's historical development of the progress toward final solution.
The description of Wiles' attempt to keep his work secret, and of the inadequacy of his first attempt at proof, reads like a first-rate cliffhanger. A splendid read.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on August 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For if you are to approach this book as a work that will lead you to an understanding of a theorem that took 350 years to solve, you might miss a great tale. As others have stated, High School Math will suffice, and for those who may be a bit rusty in Math in any event, the book is still very much worthwhile. The book mentions that some of the Math is understood by perhaps 5 people in the world. If high-level Math concepts were required to enjoy this book, the Author could just have made half a dozen copies.
A notation in a margin started 350 years of effort to solve, or rather prove a theorem that Pierre de Fermat described thusly "I have discovered a truly marvelous proof, which this margin is too narrow to contain". I recently read a comment by Stephen Jay Gould that Mr. Fermat may not have known the proof. His suggestion was that no amount of space allotted by any margin would allow for the proof. I certainly am not qualified to question either individual, but the space eventually used for the proof 356 years later by Professor Andrew Wiles of Princeton may answer the query for you.
Math is often put forth to show something that is universally true, a discipline that transcends language, Nations, and their Cultures. Math "is" and always will be, it allows for no opinion, it works or it does not. This book exposes the reader to a lifetime fascination for Professor Wiles, as well as the 7 years of near isolation it took to solve the mystery. If I understood the text, there were actually requirements needed for the proof that the mechanics for expressing those thoughts with Math did not exist, for Professor Wiles or anyone else.
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