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Loading... ## Fermat's Last Theorem (original 1997; edition 1997)## by Simon Singh
## Work detailsFermat's Last Theorem: The Story of a Riddle That Confounded the World's Greatest Minds for 358 Years by Simon Singh (1997)
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Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book. No current Talk conversations about this book. Fascinating and compelling tour through some of the history of mathematics and some of the significant developments from the eighteenth century to the publication at the last gasp of the twentieth of something very remarkable indeed: an advanced mathematical proof that captured the public imagination and made a hero of a shy and rather gawky man with a predilection for bad sweaters. What Andrew Wiles set out in his 1997 paper was not, it turns out, a direct proof of Fermat's Last Theorem but a proof of the Modularity Theorem, a much more abstruse idea with little obvious connection to Fermat's algebraic conundrum, which somebody else had earlier shown to imply Fermat's theorem if true. Such is the interconnectedness of modern mathematics. Such, too, is the interdependency of developments on the work of many individuals. It's long been a contention of mine that great breakthroughs are never the work of individual geniuses working on their own, but the culmination of a process where many minds gradually build up the conditions that make the breakthrough possible. As Isaac Newton (whose role in this story is only a minor cameo) once remarked, "If I have seen further it was only by standing on the shoulders of giants". All credit to Wiles though for his single-minded persistence over many years, during which his work produced spinoffs that were significant developments in themselves and helped to fire the work of others in the mathematical community. Perhaps slightly less creditworthy (because it involved holding back work that would have helped others) but entirely understandable is the way Wiles kept information to himself because he didn't want anybody else building on his work and stealing that ultimate triumph. It's brave of Simon Singh to put forward a book about maths that is neither out of the reach of a general readership nor too simple to satisfy the more mathematically-minded, but he's done a reasonably good job. He's framed it in such a way as to build suspense, not an easy thing to do with this material and I suspect that the reality was much more mundane. I can live with that. It's in the nature of the subject matter, though, that it's going to be a frustrating experience for the curious. Singh mentions Modular Forms, not unreasonably as they turn out to hold the key to the mystery, and they sounded fascinating involving complex numbers as they do, but he doesn't go into much detail. So I turned to Wikipedia. BIG mistake! My head all but exploded. Hey ho, I was always much too impatient to make much of a mathematician. It's been many years since I read The Code Book by the same author, which I had really enjoyed. Ever since I read that, I had an interest in reading this book as well, but I never did, in part because there was no kindle version until recently. Now I'm glad I did. This one wasn't quite as good as I recall the other one being, but probably only because I was less close to the subject material. What remains true is that he does an excellent job of explaining difficult/technical material in a way that is understandable and doesn't lose (too) much in over-simplification. There were clearly some tangents just to tell other interesting stories in math history that didn't have much real bearing on the subject, but I liked that fact about the book. It also raised fun memories of doing the basic/famous proofs years ago when I learned a bit of basic number theory. Not only is it a how-to-prove-it story, it also tells a marginal story about logicians, mathematicians throughout three centuries, including Leonhard Euler, Sophie Germain, Betrand Russell, Augustin Louis Cauchy, etc. Science no reviews | add a review
References to this work on external resources. ## Wikipedia in English (10)
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. |
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What Andrew Wiles set out in his 1997 paper was not, it turns out, a direct proof of Fermat's Last Theorem but a proof of the Modularity Theorem, a much more abstruse idea with little obvious connection to Fermat's algebraic conundrum, which somebody else had earlier shown to imply Fermat's theorem if true. Such is the interconnectedness of modern mathematics. Such, too, is the interdependency of developments on the work of many individuals. It's long been a contention of mine that great breakthroughs are never the work of individual geniuses working on their own, but the culmination of a process where many minds gradually build up the conditions that make the breakthrough possible. As Isaac Newton (whose role in this story is only a minor cameo) once remarked, "If I have seen further it was only by standing on the shoulders of giants". All credit to Wiles though for his single-minded persistence over many years, during which his work produced spinoffs that were significant developments in themselves and helped to fire the work of others in the mathematical community. Perhaps slightly less creditworthy (because it involved holding back work that would have helped others) but entirely understandable is the way Wiles kept information to himself because he didn't want anybody else building on his work and stealing that ultimate triumph.

It's brave of Simon Singh to put forward a book about maths that is neither out of the reach of a general readership nor too simple to satisfy the more mathematically-minded, but he's done a reasonably good job. He's framed it in such a way as to build suspense, not an easy thing to do with this material and I suspect that the reality was much more mundane. I can live with that. It's in the nature of the subject matter, though, that it's going to be a frustrating experience for the curious. Singh mentions Modular Forms, not unreasonably as they turn out to hold the key to the mystery, and they sounded fascinating involving complex numbers as they do, but he doesn't go into much detail. So I turned to Wikipedia. BIG mistake! My head all but exploded. Hey ho, I was always much too impatient to make much of a mathematician.

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