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Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem
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Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  12,151 ratings  ·  485 reviews
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, howe...more
Paperback, 315 pages
Published September 8th 1998 by Anchor (first published 1997)
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David
Oct 07, 2014 David rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to David by: Krishna
Shelves: history, mathematics
Simon Singh has the ability to present a story about a mathematics problem, and tell it like a detective story. He makes the subject exciting, even though the outcome is well known. Singh intersperses history with discussions about the mathematics, and makes it quite understandable.

Singh starts with the roots of the famous Fermat's Last Theorem, by recounting the stories and mathematics of Pythagoras, Euclid, and Euler. Other, less well-known mathematicians are also given credit, for example So...more
Bruce
Apr 03, 2009 Bruce rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone from high schoolers on up
What a fun book this was (thanks, Trevor, for the recommendation)! There are many reasons I think I like (good) nonfiction -- a sense of direct relevance, gravitas, frequent insights into the workings of the universe (and people), but mostly for knowledge narcs -- high levels of information density served up into an intriguing package by someone else who has undertaken the heavy lifting (research, organization, thinking). So, here in Singh's work I get a solid lay understanding not only of the p...more
Riku Sayuj
Dec 03, 2011 Riku Sayuj rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Riku by: Japesh Jayadevan
Simon converts what could have been a dry chronicle of proofs into an ode full of excitement, inspiration and intrigue worthy of a gothic love affair. Full review to follow.
Cassandra Kay Silva
This is the kind of book that we non mathematical minds can easily digest and love. It gives you an epic scope of the number of minds that it takes to build new ideas. I doubt if Fermat had actually solved this theorem correctly, but this is impossible to prove. Fermat's theorem however was not impossible to prove! It was solved! Thanks to the efforts of many men (and women!) over many lifetimes and one final man who had the determination and persistence to finish the unthinkable. This book has...more
Milica Chotra
Nov 04, 2012 Milica Chotra rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Milica by: Mladen
Vodeći nas kroz istoriju matematike i teorije brojeva, Singh pripoveda uzbudljivu priču o problemu koji je mučio matematičare od 17. veka, pa sve do oktobra 1994. godine, kada je Andrew Wiles konačno kompletirao svoj dokaz pretpostavke koju je formulisao Pierre de Fermat 1637. godine.

Ovaj "princ svih amatera", koji je radio izolovan od matematičke zajednice, uživao je u rešavanju problema, ali nije se trudio da ponudi potpunija objašnjenja, često izazivajući kolege da ih dokažu i pokažu da su do...more
Jimmy
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 man...more
Campbell Mcaulay
If you buy the latest Jilly Cooper instead of this you WILL go to hell!


This one languished on my bookshelf for the best part of a year as I was too scared to pick it up & start it. What held me back is what will probably put a lot of other potential readers off trying it - the boring old "I'm no good at maths" argument. Although my maths education is probably little above average (a good O Level and a terrible A Level, after which I rallied somewhat to obtain a reasonable HNC maths module) i...more
Trevor
This book is as interesting as a detective story while being about quite advanced mathematics - as such it is quite a book showing the remarkable skill of its writer to explain complex ideas in ways that are always readable and enjoyable.

A mathematician finds a simple proof to what seems like a deceptively simple problem of mathematics - that pythagoras's theorem only works if the terms are squared, and not if they are any other power up to infinity. Sounds dull. Except that the mathematician jo...more
Manny
I guess the author does a reasonable job. But when I reached the end, I still didn't feel I understood at all how the proof worked. Probably that's just because it's so bloody hard. I got a lot more though out of Prime Obsession, Derbyshire's book on the Riemann Hypothesis, where the author opens up the box and shows you some of the actual math...
Erythrina
"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), becau...more
Pawan
http://iandbooks.wordpress.com

In a way this book “Fermat’s Last Theorem” is a fantasy come true. To be able to read about complex Mathematics in a story book style is something that was possible only in this book by Simon Singh. Before I picked up this book I had no idea about Fermat’s last theorem or its significance. I just read the summary on the back page and felt like picking up the book and once I started reading it, there was no stopping it, though I did skipped over complex mathematical...more
Femmy
Math was one of my favorite subjects in school. I loved learning algebra and I enjoyed calculus in high school and college. I also take pleasure in doing logic puzzles now and then. But I can't imagine myself doing it for a living, filling my brain with numbers day in and day out.

So it's fascinating for me to read about people throughout history who did do this, who devoted their lives in search of mathematical truths. The author explains clearly why figuring out absolute mathematical proof is i...more
Constance
Absolutely fantastic.

The descriptions of all the maths and discoveries in this book are nothing short of joyful, and I felt so excited to be reading all of it. The book explains and shows why math is so amazing, how it is a divine language that describes something (i.e., number properties and their relationships) that exists outside of the physical world, how mathematicians are then often more in search of a truth in the real sense of the word than in search of a practical application or an expl...more
Lyle Regenwetter
Fermat's Enigma is the first nonfiction book I have read in a while, and it exceeded my initially non-optimistic expectations in several ways. This book discusses Fermat's Last Theorem, one of the most famous mathematical problems ever known to man. x^2+y^2=z^2 is a very familiar problem, appears frequently in mathematics, including in the Pythagorean Theorem for the relationship of Side Lengths of Right triangles. x^3+y^3=z^3 is a very similar problem, except for the fact that there are no real...more
Nidhi Gupta
What an incredibly inspiring book!! My husband gifted this book to me in 2008, with a note "We'll let our dreams guide us forever". Though his note kept beckoning me to read the book, the book's rather heavy title kept me away from picking it up (even though my favorite subject in high-school was Math). Now that I've read the book, I realize how misguided my apprehension was.

Simon Singh weaves such a wonderful tale of intrigue, passion, gossip, heartbreak, and persistence that surrounded the pr...more
Holly
Jan 18, 2014 Holly added it
Shelves: 2012-reads
Reading this book I caught a glimpse of the rarefied atmosphere of mathematicians and their processes of discovery. I don't do mathematics and haven't studied anything beyond the bare minimum required for a Bachelor's degree, but I find something wonderful about the pursuits of people like Andrew Wiles and the number theorists who spend years of their lives working on a set of problems. Wiles's obsessive mindset and solitary quest reminded of Ron Carlson's short story "Towel Season" and I wonder...more
Sol  Gonzalez
Lectura en 2012

Este año tomé nuevamente el libro del Enigma de Fermat, símplemente porque me gustó bastante

Las matemáticas fueron una de esas cosas con las que siempre tuve un romance eterno. Leyendo nuevamente pude recordar esos episodios en clases en que el maestro en turno llegó un día y anotó este mismo teorema en la pizarra. Nos dejó toda la clase tratando de solucionarlo y obviamente al final nos informó que el mismo no estaba resuelto (o al menos eso recuerdo, porque en ese año ya debería...more
Raghu
This book is about the history of mathematicians trying to find a proof for Fermat's theorem, formulated 350 years ago. Pierre de Fermat, the great French mathematician, postulates that

x^n + y^n = z^n

has no non-zero integer solutions for x, y and z when n > 2. Fermat also wrote that he has discovered a truly remarkable proof which his notebook margin was too small to contain.
That set the mathematical community to find the 'elegant' proof that Fermat talked about. After almost 150 years, th...more
Vivi Vocat
The book is a quick read. There is just enough information in it for a layman to know sufficiently about the Fermat's Last Theorem and its proof to be able to boast at a coffee table discussion with friends. And that's all.

While a good portion of the story covers a wide span in history, much of the story is a limited biography of Andrew Wiles, the mathematician responsible for the poof of Fermat's Last Theorem. However, as with any retelling of historical events, Singh offers a subjective view t...more
Susan Wood
This is a fun read: a slice of mathematics history from Pythagoras to current day. Pierre de Fermat held 'amateur' status as a mathematician but is credited with advancing number theory among other things. As an amateur he rarely, if ever, submitted proofs of his work. Many of his contributions became known after his death when his son gathered his papers and published them. Among these works was a scribble made in the margin of a book in which he asserted that there is no integer solution for t...more
Nick
A genuinely thrilling book about mathematics. I was actually holding my breath at the climax of the book. Singh makes the complicated and esoteric mathematics comprehensible (by and large) even for the dullest of laymen eg me. Gives a clear idea of why people can spend their lives fascinated by maths.
Susan
Simon Singh puts together a fascinating account of the 350 years of trials and tribulations of the mathematicians focused on proving or disproving Fermat's famous theorem. You don't need to be a math geek to understand what is going on, but if you remember any of your high school mathematics, particularly with respect to Pythagoras' Theorem, you might find it a little more gripping. If you don't, the appendices will bring you up to speed quickly; in fact, I recommend reading them before diving i...more
Anna
Mar 29, 2008 Anna rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all who're interested in maths but not necessarily experts at it
Finished. I have to admit I got completely lost in the last fourth of the book, where he discussed the modular somethings (equations, perhaps). It still is s really great book though.

**re-reading**

After 'White Dog', I strongly felt the need for something neat. Re-reading this is like plunging into a cool ocean.


______original review: ______
After I had finished his Code Book, I picked this one up. I always loved maths in school...trying to find a patterns, solving the problems etc but I major in p...more
Lamont Lucas
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sesh
A joyous adventure starting from when Fermat posited his conjecture (no whole number solutions in x,y,z for n > 2 for x^n + y^n = z^n) to its status as a theorem with proof by Andrew Wiles in the late 90s, and all the attempts to prove it in between. What I liked most about it is the historical development of number theory (in the context of proving the conjecture) with all the hits and misses, and the story of the mathematicians who strove mightily to close the case. Sadly, the major breakth...more
Liz Buchanan
Really (I can't believe I'm writing this) a fun book about mathematics and the history of math. Even though I didn't understand anything having to do with modular equations, it was written well enough that I could get the gist of what was going on. Cool, cool, stuff. Blew my mind a bit, which is always a good thing.
Plamen Stoev
This is an excellent book about one of the most difficult problems in the history of Mathematics - prove that no three positive integers x, y and z can satisfy the equation xⁿ + yⁿ = zⁿ for a given positive integer n greater than two (I have discovered a very elegant proof myself, but there is not enough space in here :)). The book goes all the way back to Pythagoras and the ancient Greek mathematicians and arrives in the 90's of the twentieth century. A great journey in time, describing the gre...more
Francisco
Perfect numbers. Complete numbers. Irrational numbers. Friendly numbers. Imaginary numbers. Negative numbers.Method of infinite descent. Who knew math could describe the ways of the heart so well? I think that what I liked the most about this book is that I was actually able to understand a good sixty percent of it. With the other forty percent, I proceeded on faith. Come to think of it, those percentages hold true for the rest of my life. There are times when your best bet is to find a good mat...more
Brian
Be careful with this one. This is the one that will get you interested in mathematics, but it's sneaky. All the numbers are stuffed into appendices -- you don't have to touch the stinky stuff. Each chapter is a mini biography, starting in ancient Greece and ending now-ish. If you think rock stars have crazy lives, then check out the men and women in here. Not for the faint of heart: one has meat stripped from bone with sharpened clam shells and another lies bleeding to death in a field after sle...more
Griseo Mitran
Está curioso, trata una buena parte de la historia de las matemáticas desde la antigua Grecia hasta nuestros tiempos. Parece que las típicas batallitas que cuentan los profesores de matemáticas de instituto/universidad las han sacado todos de este libro, aunque algunas algo más censuradas, por ejemplo ninguno de mis profesores me contó que Galois realmente fue encarcelado porque gritó que asesinaría al rey alzando un puñal ensangrentado en un bar, además de por ser un activo republicano contra e...more
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10894
Simon Lehna Singh, MBE (born 1 January 1964) is a British author who has specialised in writing about mathematical and scientific topics in an accessible manner. He is the maiden winner of the Lilavati Award.

His written works include Fermat's Last Theorem (in the United States titled Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem), The Code Book (about cryptogra...more
More about Simon Singh...
The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets The science of secrecy: The secret history of codes and codebreaking

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