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Fermat's Enigma [Paperback]

Simon Singh
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (182 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 14 1998
"I have discovered a truly marvelous proof, which this margin is too narrow to contain."

With these tantalizing word, the seventeenth-century French mathematician Pierre de Fermat threw down the gauntlet to future generations. What came to be known as Fermat's Last Theorem looked simple, yet the finest mathematical minds would be baffled for more than three and half centuries. Fermat's Last Theorem became the Holy Grail of mathematics. Whole and colourful lives were devoted to, and even sacrificed, to finding a solution.

Then, came Princeton Professor Andrew Wiles, who had dreamed of proving Fermat ever since he first read of it as a boy of ten in his local library. In 1993, some 356 years after Fermat's challenge, and after seven years of working in isolation and secrecy, Wiles stunned the world by announcing a proof-though his own journey would be far from over. Fermat's Enigma is the story of the epic quest to solve the greatest math problem of all time. It is a human drama of high dreams, intellectual brilliance, and extraordinary determination.


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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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enter the world of the mathematician. April 1 2000
Format:Hardcover
Pierre de Fermat, a seventeenth century French mathematician, challenged his colleagues and perhaps future generations of mathematicians to prove the following formula: a^n + b^n = c^n will be false for n > 2. Fermat wrote in the margins of his notebook that he had proven the assertion, but he did not outline it.
Singh's book chronicles the development of mathematics from ancient Greece to the 1990s.
Singh begins with a discussion of Pythagoras and his famous theorem for calculating right triangles. It is the Pythagorean formula that is the basis for Fermat's equation.
Singh then discusses the many famous mathematicians that had attempted to reproduce Fermat's proof. Although they were able to prove the formula's validity for specific values of n, no one had succeeded in proving it for infinite values of n. Without this proof of universality, there had existed the possibility that some value will disprove Fermat's assertion.
Singh then focuses his attention on Andrew Wiles, the man who would succeed where others had failed. After studying the futile attempts of his predecessors, Wiles decides to employ twentieth century mathematics. With developments from other colleagues in other areas of mathematics, Wiles embarks on a personal and secretive mission to resolve this enduring problem and a contemporary mathematical challenge.
Fermat's Enigma is a nontechnical exploration of the mathematics and mathematicians from ancient Greece to the twentieth century. It requires knowledge of only high school mathematics.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Mathematical Saga June 11 2002
Format:Paperback
Singh and Lynch have successfully presented one of the most abstract subjects in a simple to understand language. For those who put down a Maths book by looking at the complex equations: Fear Not, this one does not go too deep into equations and relies more on plain English to convey the point. I think that Appendixes could have been a bit more descriptive. Overall it was a fun read. I highly recommend this one for Mathematics appetite of Not-So-Mathematical.
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Format:Paperback
This is a remarkable and engrossing human story about the search for the proof to the age old Fermat's last theorem. A story which tells the tale of one man's unflinching determination and single minded devotion to the cause of this proof. The events which unfold and the riveting account of Andrew Wiles journey to glory are told in this gripping tale by Simon Singh. Singh's master storytelling abilities are very well exemplified and will be appreciated by one and all. Those not inclined mathematically will also gain insights and concepts of mathematics and also get a peek at the lives of the mathematicians who are featured in this book.
Andrew Wiles read about this theorem when he was barely ten year old in a library while flipping through one of E.T. Bell's book. The rest as we know is history because this particular moment became a turning point in young Wiles life. This would force him to take a career in mathematics and lead a rigorous life in mathematics. Later he would be shutting and isolating himself from the outside world so that he could devote his complete attention to the task at hand - to solve this 17th century conjecture devised by the great Pierre Fermat. History saw this theorem remaining unsolved for 350 years, which eluded mathematicians like Euler, Sophie Germain, Lame, Kummer, Cauchy et al. but who nevertheless had their own bit of contribution to the proof in particular and mathematics in general.
Andrew Wiles mathematical proof of the century was not without its share of pitfalls. After announcing the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem in June 1993 with much fanfare and publicity, Wiles didn't have the wildest idea about what was in store for him... something which will almost make him accept defeat...
Though Prof.
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5.0 out of 5 stars MATHEMATICAL PROOFS ARE ABSOLUTE March 24 2002
Format:School & Library Binding
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"Mathematical theorems rely on a logical process and once proven are true until the end of time," says Simon Singh, on page 21 of this impressive exposition of scientific method and the history of mathematics.
The author points out, under the rubric "Absolute Proof," that there is a difference between the "hard science" of mathematics and the guesswork, maybe, and make-believe of the "pseudo-sciences" (sociology, anthropology, linguistics, psychology and others). Singh goes on to say that the proofs acceptable in these pseudo-sciences "rely on observation and perception, both of which are fallible and provide only approximations to the truth."
Simon Singh has a Ph.D. in particle physics from Cambridge University. He worked for the BBC where he co-produced and directed their documentary film Fermat's Last Theorem, which is at the heart of the PBS/BBC/NOVA production The Proof, outlining Princeton professor Andrew Wiles' solution to Fermat's 400 year old problem. (I tried to purchase Fermat's Last Theorem directly from the BBC, when I could not get it from Amazon.com, but BBC prices are too steep for a poor "Yank")
Fermat's Enigma is the story of Frenchman, Pierre de Fermat, who happens to be one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. It is the story of the world's 400-year-long effort to solve a problem he discussed, later to become the "Holy Grail of Mathematics." The dust jacket says it is a "human drama of high dreams, intellectual brilliance, and extraordinary determination, it will bring the history and culture of mathematics into exciting focus for all who read it.
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Most recent customer reviews
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 8 months ago by G. Poirier
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Beautiful Mind
This is the best book I had read about mathematics in last few years. It's beautiful.
Published on Jan. 10 2006 by Hong Gao
5.0 out of 5 stars Never Fails...
Simon Singh never fails. This is a great book like all of his others. You really can't go wrong.
Published on May 2 2004 by rat
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely absorbing and engaging!
Singh writes with great skill of suspense, with minimal of math equations to help readers navigate the path to solving the ultimate math riddle of all time by a lone... Read more
Published on June 20 2003 by -
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I have Read
Never thought I would use the words "Romance" "Suspense" "Thriller" and the History of Mathematics in the same sentence. Great book and worth reading. Read more
Published on Dec 19 2002 by A. Vasudevan
2.0 out of 5 stars An Enigma still Not Understood
I read Singh's FERMAT'S ENIGMA after reading Singh's CODE BOOK. Unfortunately, the latter is by far the better book. Read more
Published on May 28 2002 by Random Joys
5.0 out of 5 stars Mathematics at its finest
I know what you are thinking... a book about mathematics and its practitioners is probably as exciting as watching paint dry. But you would be wrong in this assumption. Read more
Published on May 25 2002 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A Safe Way for the Average Person to Return to Math
The reader cannot avoid admiring the determination of Andrew Wiles, who becomes the role model (and inspiration) for the nonmathematician. Read more
Published on April 25 2002 by Patrick Whalen
5.0 out of 5 stars A fabulous, must-read book
I can't think of enough reasons to recommend this wonderful book. Pierre Fermat proposed this deceptively simple problem back in the mid-1600s, yet it eluded the greatest... Read more
Published on Feb. 1 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to read, not study
Simon Singh has written an interesting story that unfolds in narrative style, about the solution of a timeless mathematical riddle. Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2002 by J. Mack
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