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The World's Most Famous Math Problem: The Proof of Fermat's Last Theorem and Other Mathematical Mysteries Paperback – October 15, 1993

1.9 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“A delightful, informative, and accurate book about the probable proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. [This book is] highly recommended even to readers who think they hate math.” ―Martin Gardner

“Within a few minutes of the conclusion of his [Dr. Wiles's] final lecture, computer mail messages were winging around the world as mathematicians alerted each other to the startling and wholly unexpected result.” ―the New York Times

About the Author

Marilyn vos Savant's "Ask Marilyn" column is featured in Parade magazine every Sunday. She lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (October 15, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312106572
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312106577
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 1.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,590,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Like many of us, there are some elements of mathematics that Ms. Vos Savant doesn't understand. Unfortunately, instead of investigating these subjects or asking questions of experts, the author concludes that there must be something wrong with the mathematics. Although this book purports to be about Wiles's proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, it is really a description of all the things that are "wrong" in mathematics, including some comments on Wiles's work. This can make for some entertaining reading, like her argument against the imaginary number i, but it can also be quite annoying, like her incredibly disrespectful comment (under the heading "a possible fatal flaw [in Wiles's proof]") that Wiles ought to check and make sure that his "proof" doesn't also rule out solutions to the equation with exponent 2, since we know that there are solutions in this case. A big plus for this book is the evidence it provides for the relative unimportance of I.Q.
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Format: Paperback
So, there's this thing, it's called math. Actually, it's called mathematician's math. In this kind of math, everything has to proven rigorously, nothing is taken for granted - all this to avoid fallacies in logic and paradoxes. This is the right way to do mathematics, at least from the modern point of view.
Physicists, they also need to use math. However, they're only interested in math to describe Nature. So they may not do everything rigorously - perhaps they extend the results of a theorem to a place where the hypotheses do not strictly hold, or say something is "intuitively obvious". The brilliant physicists are normally right, and many physicists are also great mathematicians.
Chemists (primarily physical chemists) use math too, since they need a way to describe whatever they're working on accurately. But they don't care about proof at all. They'll just use whatever works, and ignore all the theory. This is okay, except that they don't get a complete understanding of the underlying mathematics, and as such, don't know much about math.
Now, philosophers, they use mathematics and logic to try to bring validity to their arguments. The majority of them fail miserably, and end up stumbling all over their words. This isn't to say that all philosophers don't know what they're talking about - a few do, the best example being Bertrand Russell, who was a great mathematician and philosopher. But most philosophers that use math don't use it in the correct spirit.
Now, I have discovered a new low in mathematics. I'll call it "Savant mathematics", in honor of the person who originated it.
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Format: Paperback
This book was written hastily to cash in on the publicity surrounding FLT. It qualifies as something of a scam, since the author not only has no expertise in the area, but the book itself has little to do with the actual proof. It consists mainly of simple explanations of basic mathematical methods and traditional math problems. The book's short length is padded by extensive quotes from other books. For a much better book on the same topic, I recommend "Fermat's Enigma" by Simon Singh.
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Format: Paperback
For the time and money you will invest in reading about Fermat's last theorem, you can do a whole lot better than this book. I recommend Simon Singh's _Fermat's Engima_ (Bantam, 1998), a non-technical book that gives the reader a good overview of how the problem was approached by other mathematicians, and how it was finally proved by Andrew Wiles. _Fermat's Enigma_ does not require anything beyond a high school-level math background. Another good work is Amir Aczel's _Fermat's Last Theorem_ (Delacorte, 1997). Aczel takes the reader slightly deeper into the theoretical realm, but it too is a non-technical account.
Contrary to the review below, Wiles' proof of Fermat's last theorem did NOT involve the use of computers. Second, Marilyn vos Savant's purported insight that Wiles' proof can not be the same as Fermat's proof is rather innocuous. Again, if this observation is what entices the reader to pick up a book on Fermat's last theorem, try one of the other two titles which I recommended; both provide explanations of why Wiles' proof and Fermat's proof (if he truly had one) are not identical. Third, if Wiles' proof is correct, then he did indeed "solve" Fermat's last theorem. One should not confuse the NAME given to a theorem with the particular APPROACH used to prove it. In this case, Wiles has proved Fermat's last theorem, even though he may not have reproduced Fermat's proof.
But my complaints with this book don't really have anything to do with the previous paragraph. Instead, Marilyn vos Savant's book has two significant shortcomings. First, the book spends very little time actually discussing _The World's Most Famous Math Problem_, contrary to what the title suggests. There is little meat on the bones, so to speak. Second, the story is not complete.
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Format: Paperback
Savant, I used to believe in you. I've been a big fan of you and read most of your articles. I know you've made mistakes before, but they've been insignificant to the amount of knowledge you've put forth.
I currently go to high school, and when I heard that you released a new book, I went ahead and got it. When I first read it, I was in disbelief; I thought maybe I wasn't smart enough to understand the logic, because it didn't make any sense to me. When I showed it to my high school math teacher, she said that you were wrong, but I didn't believe them. I went to my local college and asked the professors there, and they all said that you were wrong. I've searched and searched online and everyone says you're wrong.
I've tried to tell myself "this is just like the Monte Carlo goat-door problem; everyone said 1/2, but you said 1/3, and you were right." But if you're right, then why does math still work at all? You disprove it in your book! If it turns out that you were wrong on such a large magnitude, then I don't know what role models to believe in anymore.
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