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Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem [Hardcover]

Simon Singh , John Lynch
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (311 customer reviews)


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Book Description

November 1997 0802713319 978-0802713315 1st
Written by an award-winning filmmaker, Fermat's Enigma tells the story of the epic quest to solve the greatest mathematical problem of all time: Fermat's Last Theorem--a problem that looked simple, yet would baffle the finest mathematical minds for more than three and a half centuries. 30 illustrations.


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 for 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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 315 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; 1st edition (November 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802713319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802713315
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 5.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (311 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #563,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
70 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic trip through mathematics and history 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
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
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Think of the book as a great mystery� 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book
The book starts with a history of Fermat's last theorem and the various failed attempts of the proof. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Thomas
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read!
Awesome book, story and background into the history of mathematics. A must read for nerds and nerds at heart!
Published 12 days ago by SailingPaws
4.0 out of 5 stars smooth and nice reading
Definitely among the best books I found on the topic. Reading pace is well balanced, and the anecdotes on tour maths' myths are cleverly distributed in order to keep it enjoyable... Read more
Published 16 days ago by davide
5.0 out of 5 stars Love it!
Quick and easy!
Great book too!
What else can I say to fill up my required words!
Have a great day!
Published 1 month ago by bonbon
5.0 out of 5 stars Bad at math. Loved the book! Beautiful story!
My first Singh book was "Big Bang" which was also excellent. He is phenomenal at weaving a massive story over a period spanning multiple millennium in a few hundred pages. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Milky Way
4.0 out of 5 stars Several Hundred Years in the Making
Well written and full of interesting people, stories and math . . . It falls a little short on describing Wiles' proof but I am not certain that I could follow the math anyway!
Published 5 months ago by Edwin L. Farmer III
5.0 out of 5 stars Love Mathematics
This gives a detailed of the history of mathematics and the difficulties in solving a theorem like Fermat's enigma. All Math students in college should read it.
Published 6 months ago by David J. Horton
5.0 out of 5 stars History with a punchline.
Mr Singh has a smooth easy style which made the otherwise difficult mathematical concepts easy to comprehend. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Doug Rankin
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping Mathematical Page-Turner
I could not put this book down! In clear, lively, captivating prose the author recounts the story of Fermat’s Last Theorem and its elusive mathematical proof. Read more
Published 7 months ago by G. Poirier
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful and Arresting history of mathematics and the epic journey...
This book takes you on a riveting journey of solving Mathematics' most famous and extremely difficult of riddles, Fermat's Last Theorem. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Rohan Sawant
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