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Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem
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Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  854 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Simple, elegant, and utterly impossible to prove, Fermat's last theorem captured the imaginations of mathematicians for more than three centuries. For some, it became a wonderful passion. For others it was an obsession that led to deceit, intrigue, or insanity. In a volume filled with the clues, red herrings, and suspense of a mystery novel, Amir D. Aczel reveals the previ ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published October 12th 2007 by Basic Books (first published 1996)
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Erin
Aczel does a thorough job of describing the problems behind Fermat's Last Theorem including the history of mathematical discoveries that lead to the final solution of the proof in 1993. His history is entertaining and completely readable to the layperson, often including simple examples to illustrate principles and the details hardly ever border on tedious. I also enjoyed Aczel's use of brief anecdotes to add depth to the characters featured in what would otherwise be a mathematical name parade. ...more
Linda I
Interesting read. While Fermat's Last Theorem was a mathematical conundrum for hundreds of years, the author presents the quest to proof the theorem in a concise and engaging manner. I particularly enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at each mathematicians personality and motivations.
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in August 1998.

This book is a popular history of Fermat's Last Theorem, from its original conjecture by Fermat to its solution by Andrew Wiles. As a history, it works quite well, with occasional infelicities (mainly to do with forced, false sounding connections between unrelated parts of the narrative, such as linking mathematicians because they were both interested in some fairly large division of mathematics). From a mathematical point of view, I felt it wa
...more
Robert
Jun 29, 2008 Robert rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those interested in the history but not much detail
A typical general reader math book on the low math content side. Admittedly this particular topic (a proof that runs about 200 pages of terse writing and mathematical symbols) is hard to describe briefly, and this is a very brief book, or with much detail accessible to people who have not acquired the equivalent of a decent graduate level understanding of mathematics. About half of the book is a light survey of very familiar (to the point in some cases of being boiler plate for books likes this) ...more
Kelly
This slim book gives an overview of the entire history of Fermat's Last Theorem*, from the multiple-centuries lead-up, to Fermat's jotting it down in the margin of a book (and indicating he had a "marvelous" proof of it (never found)) in 1637, to the very numerous brilliant mathematicians who tried to prove it over the centuries, to the final accepted proof in 1994. Progress was made a little bit at a time and entire branches of mathematics were created from efforts to prove it. It's a messy his ...more
Megan
This book tried really, really hard to make something long and drawn out and fairly boring seem like the most exciting thing of all time. It is pretty exciting that someone finally solved Fermat's enigma. What isn't that exciting is the way in which it happened. Developing this proof took months of work on the part of the person credited, on top of the years of research and work of numerous people before that. The math in this book is very difficult, and not explained in any great detail, becaus ...more
dejah_thoris
A tiny little book that covers all the developments leading up to the solving of Fermat's Last Theorem. (The public presentation of the solution is pretty cool too.) Not too heavy on the mathematical concepts until the twentieth century, allowing you to focus more on the history, though Aczel does a good job explaining complicated theories and manipulations. (Don't get stuck if you can't follow the occasional paragraphs on new theories and manipulations after non-Euclidian geometry is introduced ...more
Nicholas
It's not essential to have an in depth knowledge of mathmatics to enjoy this, but to give it a five star rating it's pretty much essential.However,the book is mercifully short enough and contains enough potted biographies and related history to remain readble by normal people,as well as those who understand why the omission of the Euler System (without which there is no Class Number Formula) inhibits the Galois representations of elliptic curves against the modular forms thus not establishing t ...more
Sean
Around 1637, the French mathematician, Pierre de Fermat, scribbled a note in one of his books, indicating that he'd managed to solve a famous problem of mathematics, but that the margin was not large enough for him to write his proof.

Ever since Fermat mentioned that he'd solved the problem, mathematicians all over the world attempted to find a solution, knowing that it must be solvable. It wasn't until 1995 that an American mathematician, with the help of some incredibly advanced number theory w
...more
Laurent
The history of all the mathematics concepts that were involved in the proof of the Fermat's last theorem, is presented in this book. These concepts and the mathematicians who discovered them or defined them are introduced and their story is really interesting. Yes sometimes the concepts are way above our heads but it doesn't matter, the point is to understand how the solution of this theorem was finally found after 300 years.

L'histoire de tous les concepts mathematiques qui sont lies a la demons
...more
Muhammad
I needed to read a book for school that wasn't on a list and I remember seeing this on a table at the library. It wasn't checked out and nobody was around so I picked it up. When I got to reading it, it was well put together. Since I wasn't looking for a proof for Fermat's Theorem, I was just interested in reading. Aczel's narration is easy to follow. I like his style of writing. The only time I wouldn't recommend this book is when you're looking for straight proof book and not a story like narr ...more
David02139
Short history of the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, all the underlying mathematical topics that
were needed to prove this. Algebraic Geometry, other areas.
Colin
Fermat's Last Theorem runs into the same problem quite a few mathematical narratives I've come across run into - Aczel is tasked with explaining extraordinarily abstract and complex mathematical concepts in ordinary terms.

He does a better-than-average job of making the narrative thread interesting (a better job than Prime Obsession did with the Riemann Hypothesis, for instance) but in 136 pages one shouldn't expect to come away from a book with a greater mathematical understanding of the soluti
...more
melydia
Earlier this year I read a book by the same title by Simon Singh, and unfortunately it is the superior read. Both are about the steps leading to Andrew Wile's 1993 solution to Fermat's Last Theorem, from ancient Greece on. At less than 140 pages, this tiny volume does not do the story justice. I have a decent math background, but I found myself getting lost in places, and the intrigue simply didn't grab me like it did in Singh's book. If you're in a hurry and just want a bare bones account of th ...more
Tolga
This is an awesome book telling the history of a particular branch of mathematics. It starts from Bronze age in the fertile crescent, moves on to Diophantus, Phytagoreans, Gauss, Galois, Fermat, and all the way to Andrew Wiles, with so many in between who contributed in one way or another to the representation and proof of Fermat's last theorem.

You don't need to be fluent in mathematics to enjoy this book. But, you must have a basic understanding of algebra and, more importantly, you must have a
...more
Michaela
Wonderful! Made me see math in a whole new light- now I appreciate the history behind math, this theorem, and all the mathematicians- both named and unnamed that have changed this world. Math seems so complex, and this book really highlighted it, yet at the same time makes even a hater of math see how beautiful it can be. Covering history from Babylonians, the wedge-shaped writing called cuneiform, as well Greeks, Pythagoras, secret societies, Archimedes, as well as theorems, diagrams, postulate ...more
Jean-marc Krikorian
I very much enjoyed the historical references in this book, especially those stories about the various mathematicians through the ages. Those stories have piqued my interest in learning more about their biographies. The book could have been structured better to show the connections that led to the solving of Fermat's Last Theorem. Also, it's been a while since college so my understanding of some of the mathematical principles presented in the book were a little hard to understand. A more layman ...more
Joseph Wetterling
While the pace of the story was odd -- both Fermat and Wiles get less of the book than you might expect -- the tale of the solution is enjoyable. There is a lesson for non-mathematicians here in not underestimating your contributions. The solution was the work of many hands, most of which were never even directly working on it.

The math is occasionally described by analogy or diagram, but too often a non-mathematician will simply have to nod and smile and take the author's word for it.
Tiffany
Math geekiness -- yum! This was a nice history of what's been dubbed "Fermat's Last Theorem" (that x^n + y^n = z^n ONLY works for squares) and the 1996 proof of it, as well as some history of math and different branches of math studies.

A really nice history, and a quick read, too. Some of the math went over my head, but it was explained in such a way that I was at least able to understand the gist of the math, and why it was important to the proving of the Theorem.
Ariadna73
Este libro cuenta la historia de un matemático que se dio a la tarea de resolver un enigma de hace siglos con las herramientas que existen ahora. Utilizó computadores, teoremas modernos y otro tipo de estrategias para conseguir demostrar el teorema que por cientos de años ha tenido a científicos de todo el mundo rascándose la cabeza. El libro es divertido y entretenido; tiene suspenso, drama y acción y todo alrededor de una fórmula matemática.
Cahlen Humphreys
Outstanding read. Not only do you get the history of Fermat and virtually every mathematician/theorem/conjecture that was used in the general proof, but a pretty long history of the Pythagoreanism. Which in itself is just as, if not more so, interesting than Fermat's Last Theorem. Small in size, huge in content. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone with even a general interest in mathematics.
Rakesh Dimri
Nice read. It is story about how mathematicians took ~300 years to solve Fermat's last theorem.Its easy to understand. Author has done beautiful work of making it a story rather then just being the chronological list of mathematician and their work. I feel the book is little bit low in mathematical content. More of maths would have made it interesting for readers with a decent mathematics background.
Rory
More like a brief history of mathematics that at times reads kind of like a hastily-written high schooler's paper pieced together from encyclopedia entries, e.g. the number of times it is said that some historical figure "went on to do other great mathematics." Still, interesting and readable enough that I wish books like it had been assigned in my math classes to put everything into context.
AC
A great exposition on the history of Fermat and the mathematics of his time. This is the first Aczel book I ever read and (along with Pendulum) is one of my favorites in his collection. It is a rich combination of Fermat's biography and the state of mathematics leading up to Fermat's last theorem and the struggles to prove/disprove it that lasted for over 3 centuries.
Rohit
Page turner, almost a thriller. Fascinating introduction to the field of mathematics and how genuises spend their lives proving theorems. I read it in two sittings. Inspiring though the mathematics is sometimes too vague and confusing. But the author presents the main ideas well and I now know at least what Fermat's last theorem was all about!
Manderson
Interesting read. I'm not mathematically inclined, but enjoyed gaining a bird's eye view of abstract mathematical ideas and a tiny slice of its history. I think Aczel does a fairly good job of treading the boundary between articulating theory just enough to convey its premise, while maintaining the layperson's interest by keeping it general.
Wayne G
This was given to me by a retired IBM executive who served on the budget committee in Wappingers, which I considered a great compliment because he presented it saying he thought I was one of the few public school educators who might find the book entertaining... He was partially right... I found it marginally engrossing and somewhat dense...
Ben
I was expecting a book about such a domain specific topic to be written for mathematicians. This book was not. If you want a very brief overview of the mathematics leading up to Wiles proof and slightly incorrect phrasings of mathematical ideas do not enrage your inner pedant, this book might interest you. Overall, meh.
Jacob
I didn't finish this one. It had lots of interesting history of mathematics and all of the pieces needed to solve Fermat's theorem, but once it got into the really obscure, theoretical math I lost my focus. What's the square root of negative one? Madness.
Dave Lyons
Could you love a book about the search for a mathematical proof? I wouldn't have thought so, but I did. Engaging and often funny journey through the last few centuries of mathematics and the antics, politics and characters involved.
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