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Fermat's Last Theorem: The Story of a Riddle That Confounded the World's… (1997)

by Simon Singh

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,264532,114 (4.09)58
Fermat's Last Theorem became the Holy Grail of mathematics. Whole and colorful lives were devoted, and even sacrificed, to finding a proof. Leonhard Euler, the greatest mathematician of the eighteenth century, had to admit defeat. Sophie Germain took on the identity of a man to do research in a field forbidden to females, and made the most significant breakthrough of the nineteenth century. The dashing Evariste Galois scribbled down the results of his research deep into the night before venturing out to die in a duel in 1832. Yutaka Taniyama, whose insights would ultimately lead to the solution, tragically killed himself in 1958. On the other hand, Paul Wolfskehl, a famous German industrialist, claimed Fermat had saved him from suicide, and established a rich prize for the first person to prove the theorem. And then came Princeton professor Andrew Wiles, who had dreamed of proving Fermat's Last Theorem 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 - "a kind of private and very personal battle I was engaged in"--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. 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.… (more)
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» See also 58 mentions

English (43)  Danish (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (2)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  Yiddish (1)  Hungarian (1)  Swedish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
Great book. It takes you on a journey from Pythagoras and Ancient Greece to modern mathematics, exploring the various events and people that contributed to the field. Some knowledge of mathematics will help understand the book better and appreciate it more. ( )
  teoman753 | Apr 6, 2021 |
Maravilloso relato sobre el teorema de Fermat, su planteamiento y los sucesivos intentos de demostración que se han sucedido por parte de los más grandes matemáticos, hasta llegar a Andrew Wiles. El libro está muy bien escrito y a pesar de que intenta incluso meterse en las curvas semielípticas nunca pierde la inteligibilidad. Muy recomendable. ( )
  Remocpi | Apr 22, 2020 |
I must say this was one of the easiest-to-read books about mathematics I have encountered. It told a story that stayed interesting from beginning to end, and it didn't get bogged down in calculus or even more rarefied areas of mathematics. And I especially appreciated how the proofs for various propositions were included in a series of appendices instead of interrupting the text. ( )
  Jennifer708 | Mar 21, 2020 |
I must say this was one of the easiest-to-read books about mathematics I have encountered. It told a story that stayed interesting from beginning to end, and it didn't get bogged down in calculus or even more rarefied areas of mathematics. And I especially appreciated how the proofs for various propositions were included in a series of appendices instead of interrupting the text. ( )
  Jennifer708 | Mar 21, 2020 |
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.
( )
  enitharmon | Jan 14, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Simon Singhprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lynch, JohnForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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In memory of Pakhar Singh
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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.

Earlier notice and response:
'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.
response: In these cases the first edition in the country of the author's origin takes precedent.
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Fermat's Last Theorem became the Holy Grail of mathematics. Whole and colorful lives were devoted, and even sacrificed, to finding a proof. Leonhard Euler, the greatest mathematician of the eighteenth century, had to admit defeat. Sophie Germain took on the identity of a man to do research in a field forbidden to females, and made the most significant breakthrough of the nineteenth century. The dashing Evariste Galois scribbled down the results of his research deep into the night before venturing out to die in a duel in 1832. Yutaka Taniyama, whose insights would ultimately lead to the solution, tragically killed himself in 1958. On the other hand, Paul Wolfskehl, a famous German industrialist, claimed Fermat had saved him from suicide, and established a rich prize for the first person to prove the theorem. And then came Princeton professor Andrew Wiles, who had dreamed of proving Fermat's Last Theorem 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 - "a kind of private and very personal battle I was engaged in"--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. 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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