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Fermats Enigma [Hardcover]

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

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Book Description

Oct. 15 1997
'I have a truly marvellous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.' It was with these words, written in the 1630s, that Pierre de Fermat intrigued and infuriated the mathematics community. For over 350 years, proving Fermat's Last Theorem was the most notorious unsolved mathematical problem, a puzzle whose basics most children could grasp but whose solution eluded the greatest minds in the world. In 1993, after years of secret toil, Englishman Andrew Wiles announced to an astounded audience that he had cracked Fermat's Last Theorem. He had no idea of the nightmare that lay ahead. In 'Fermat's Last Theorem' Simon Singh has crafted a remarkable tale of intellectual endeavour spanning three centuries, and a moving testament to the obsession, sacrifice and extraordinary determination of Andrew Wiles: one man against all the odds.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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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 an alternate 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 an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Mathematical Saga June 11 2002
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enter the world of the mathematician. April 1 2000
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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5.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping Mathematical Page-Turner Dec 4 2013
By G. Poirier TOP 50 REVIEWER
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. The period covered is essentially from the days of Fermat until the theorem's proof by Andrew Wiles in the mid 1990s. Along the way, the reader is treated to the various valiant efforts by brilliant mathematicians through the centuries towards establishing such a solid proof - all in vain before Dr. Wiles. The ups and downs in the history of this seemingly intangible proof are particularly well illustrated.

Throughout the book, the reader is exposed to various mathematical objects that mostly form part of number theory, as well as mathematical techniques that have been developed over time. Because the mathematics is so masterfully described, this book should be accessible to a wide audience.

This amazing book should appeal especially to mathematics/science enthusiasts but any interested general reader could follow it quite easily and enjoy it tremendously.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Enigma still Not Understood May 28 2002
I read Singh's FERMAT'S ENIGMA after reading Singh's CODE BOOK. Unfortunately, the latter is by far the better book. Although the CODE BOOK manages to cover both the personal and the quantitative side of the recent revolutions in cryptography, FERMAT'S ENIGMA does not attempt to break into the actual mathematical proofs at all. The result feels like one of those NBC human interest stories that take up airtime from the Olympic Games. The essence is in the math, but we hear instead about the innovators' daily lives.
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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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Most recent customer reviews
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
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
"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... Read more
Published on March 24 2002 by M. A. Treu
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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