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Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the…

Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical… (original 1997; edition 1998)

by Simon Singh (Author), John Lynch (Foreword), Andy Bridge (Cover artist), Ashwini M. Jambotkar (Cover designer)

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3,204381,734 (4.1)37
Title:Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem
Authors:Simon Singh (Author)
Other authors:John Lynch (Foreword), Andy Bridge (Cover artist), Ashwini M. Jambotkar (Cover designer)
Info:New York : Anchor Books, 1998, c1997. 300p.
Collections:Your library, Physical books, Individual books
Tags:math, nonfiction, history, fermat, paperback, f:1990s, british author, two, ~qc, acquired 2011, read 2012, 12 in 12

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Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem by Simon Singh (1997)

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Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Fermat's Last Theorem begins with Pythagoras, goes through Fermat's positing of his theorem, the attempts by Euler and others to solve it, and culminates with Andrew Wiles's solution. It is generally entertaining and has the occasional equation, with a few more in the Appendix. But most of the relatively light analytical machinery in the book is devoted to ancillary problems or general illustrations, Singh does not even go beyond an extremely superficial description of the main feature of Fermat's proof in the case of n=4. Instead a lot of the space is filled with detours that are often found in these sorts of books, from the role of women in French mathematics in the 19th Century to the puzzle fad in the early 20th Century. In that way this book fell short of Singh's Big Bang which felt more focused and a little more thorough in trying to describe how scientists discovered what they did about the big bang. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
Very entertaining story about the 358-year quest to solve Fermat's Last Theorem. Even an interested layperson should have no difficulties with the maths in this book. Highly recommended. ( )
  Akubra | Nov 19, 2013 |
A fantastically entertaining and educational book about the quest to solve the oldest math problem: Fermat's Last Theorem. The intrigue, mystery, and drama surrounding the famous theorem without a proof (but that Fermat had said he had a proof for, just not enough space to write it in the margins) is exciting enough. All the math greats who have attempted to solve it but come up a little short, or a lot short.

But it's much more than that, since the final proof of Fermat's Theorem involves so many other math concepts. This book starts and ends with Fermat, but in the middle it is more like a grand tour of all the mathematical developments that make the proof even possible. It's interesting to read about all the different dead ends and other productive findings (that had tangentially made it a little more possible to solve Fermat, but whose main contribution was in some other area). Also, reading about Galois's amazing life always makes me giddy. I mean, I've read about him before, but his story is just so crazy--math genius turned revolutionary thrown in jail involved in affair ends in duel, scribbles out his last thoughts the night before he dies... amazing.

But don't expect to understand how the proof actually works by the end. The proof itself is over 100 pages, so there is no way a normal non-math genius can understand it. But you will get a general idea of the approach/trajectory/style of the final beast. Also, some of the math concepts leading up to it are quite easily comprehensible. I wouldn't recommend this book to a math whiz... it's more of a fun read for the layperson.

It would ultimately be more satisfying if the proof were a short elegant thing that didn't involve latest groundbreaking discoveries in math. But maybe the bright side is that we can still wonder about Fermat's original (alleged) proof that was never written down. It had to be different from Andrew Wile's proof; does it exist? Or was Fermat bluffing? Or did he make an error in his proof? ( )
  JimmyChanga | Sep 11, 2013 |
By tracing back the origin of Fermat's last theorem and going up to the moment of the final proof, the author tells the history of mathematics in a engaging way. Great read. ( )
  amarcobio | Aug 19, 2013 |
"My butter, garcon, is writ large in!"
a diner was heard to be chargin'.
"I HAD to write there,"
exclaimed waiter Pierre,
"I couldn't find room in the margarine."

Ever since I recently stumbled upon the documentary called 'The Proof' I've become extremely interested (almost obsessed) in Wiles's proof of Fermat's last Theorem and have been searching for a good book that would provide me with a real, mathematical explanation of it (mainly the connection between modular forms and elliptic curves), because the documentary was rather simple and basic. Unfortunately, so was this book and my quest continues.

Nonetheless, this book is very interesting and well written, and shows you how many things that appear to be simple and almost intuitive can be incredibly complex (that's what's so beautiful about math). In situations like this, people always tend to give all the praise to people like Andrew Wiles, without realizing on how much work and discoveries made by other people his work relies on. And even though Wiles deserves all the fame and recognition he can get for his persistence and determination, it's nice to see all the other great mathematicians who greatly contributed being mentioned. Like old saying goes: nanos gigantium humeris insidentes, and if anything, by showing how complex the proof is, it leaves you wondering, did the Fermat really have the solution?

If you are only slightly interested in mathematics and were just curious about this certain topic and ideas on which the proof was based on, or are looking for a good place to start, I would definitively recommend this book. But to be fair, you can get all of that by watching previously mentioned documentary and it would cost you much less time. On the other hand, if you want something more complex and mathematical, you won't get it here. ( )
  UnChatNoir | Apr 25, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Simon Singhprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lynch, JohnForewordmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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It was the most important mathematics lecture of the century.
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"Fermat's Last Theorem" and "Fermet's Enigma", by Simon Singh, are the same work.

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'Fermat's Last Theorem' is the correct canonical title as listed on the official site of the author. 'Fermat's Enigma' is the altered title of the American edition.
response: I don't think you can call the title "canonical" if there the work is commonly available for sale under two different titles in English, and the history of changes to the field "Canonical title" supports this contention. For the purpose of disambiguation, perhaps we should just leave it at "Fermat's Last Theorem" and "Fermet's Enigma", by Simon Singh, are the same work.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385493622, Paperback)

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 of the math, but it also includes limericks to give a feeling for the goofy side of mathematicians.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:34 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

xn + yn = zn, where n represents 3, 4, 5, ...no solution "I have discovered a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain." With these words, 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; proving it, however, became the Holy Grail of mathematics, baffling its finest minds for more than 350 years. In Fermat's Enigma--based on the author's award-winning documentary film, which aired on PBS's "Nova"--Simon Singh tells the astonishingly entertaining story of the pursuit of that grail, and the lives that were devoted to, sacrificed for, and saved by it. Here is a mesmerizing tale of heartbreak and mastery that will forever change your feelings about mathematics.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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