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

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  18,730 Ratings  ·  780 Reviews
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 ex ...more
Published (first published 1997)
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David
Nov 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Luís C.
The story starts with Pierre de Fermat, one of the all-time great mathematicians, who claimed he could prove that the equation (an + bn = cn) has no whole number solutions when n is greater than 2. There are some near misses (e.g., 63 + 83 = 93 – 1), but no numbers that make the equation balance properly.




Andrew Wiles

Given that there are infinitely many possible numbers to check it was quite a claim, but Fermat was absolutely sure that no numbers fitted the equation because he had a logical water
...more
Barry Cunningham
Being a scientist of long standing and loving all aspects of science and maths, Fermat's Last Theorem in itself was a wonderful mystery, what I would give to see Fermat's note book with a note in the margin about cubic numbers as opposed to squares. A very trite remark, too lengthy to write in the margin so it is elsewhere, and no one has ever found it or managed to prove his statement, until - - - this book is a brilliant read, you would think it would be as dry as dust, but no! It is a superb ...more
Muhammad Shakhawat Hossain
“সমকোণী তরিভুজের অতিভুজের ওপর অঙকিত বরগকষেতরের কষেতরফল অপর দুই বাহুর ওপর অঙকিত বরগকষেতরদবয়ের কষেতরফলের সমষটির সমান”-বাংলা মধযম শিকষা বযবসথার ছাতর-ছাতরীরা বিজঞান, বযবসা, মানবিক ইতযাদি ‘শরেণীগত পারথকয’ভেদে সকলেই নবম শরেণীতে ‘পীথাগোরাসের উপপাদয’ নামে পরিচিত উপপাদয-২৩ পড়ে এসেছেন।


চিতরের সমকোণী তরিভুজের (অরথাৎ যে তরিভুজের একটি বাহু অপর বাহুর সাথে ৯০ ডিগরী কোণে অবসথিত) অতিভুজ c, লমব a এবং ভূমি b। পীথাগোরাসের উপপাদয অনুসারে a^2 + b^2 = c^2। a, b এবং c এর কিছু মান বসিয়ে সমীকরণের দু পাশ সমান করে ফেলা যায়,
...more
Riku Sayuj
Sep 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Bruce
Jun 18, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Cassandra Kay Silva
Jun 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mathematics
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
Manny
Mar 10, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
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...
Milica Chotra
Oct 03, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  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
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
Rakesh M
This book is a biography of the epic quest to solve the eluding Fermat's last theorem. It chronicles the life and works of not just Fermat, but most of the mathematicians having even a tiny bit to do with the conjecture/theorem.

Curious and strange revelations into the lives of many of the princes and princesses of mathematics are presented. It presents the case of lives, pursuits and the times that they lived in. The problems that they face (mathematical and others), how these affect the progre
...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
Trevor
Dec 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, maths, biography
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
Hariprasad
Aug 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simon Singh gives an excellent account of the quest for the solution to Fermat's puzzle. Starting off with ancient Greeks and arriving at the proof using modern mathematics, he explains the struggles of generations of mathematicians. The author never tries to overwhelm us with the mathematics, but tells us about the people who were involved in proving the theorem. Having said that, all the mathematics in the book can be understood with a background in high school mathematics.

This book is a grea
...more
Ryan
Sep 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From my reading journal:

May 31, 2009.
Yesterday I finished reading Fermat's Last Theorem. I plan to write a glowing book review but this space is too limited to contain it.

Arelis Uribe
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Había leído parte de este libro cuando estudiaba periodismo, gracias a Alejandra Carmona, una profe muy inquieta que daba el ramo de Antropología y que siempre llegaba con lecturas nuevas y actuales. Por ella descubrí no sólo a autores “académicos”, como Lévi-Strauss y Ángel Rama, sino a escritores que cruzan el periodismo con la etnografía y la literatura, como Martín Caparrós y Simon Singh, autor de El Último Teorema de Fermat. Es un libro hermoso, como hermosas son las matemáticas y como herm ...more
Roberto

Un teorema è per sempre

Un tale Fermat, che nel diciassettesimo secolo si dilettava di matematica ed era un po' buontempone, enunciò un teorema all'apparenza banale e lasciò scritto sul margine di una pagina di un libro:

“Dispongo di una meravigliosa dimostrazione di questo teorema, che non può essere contenuta nel margine stretto della pagina”

Il teorema era banale, come pure l'affermazione. Non poteva che scaturirne una dimostrazione banale.

Eppure...

La dimostrazione di quell'equazione banale fe
...more
Holly
Jan 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Shreyas Panhalkar
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
By a happy coincidence, I came across this book when I was reading about Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture: A Novel of Mathematical Obsession. It is an epic tale of how a deceptively simple-looking problem baffled the mathematicians for more than 350 years, became a holy grail of mathematics and how Wiles solved it by spending almost 7 years in total isolation.

P.S. : I have written a marvelous review about this book, which this margin is too narrow to contain.
Akanksha
Oct 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
Most interesting non-fiction book I have ever read.Simon Singh's style of weaving a scientific concept into a beautiful story leaves no occasion for the fictional characters and plots. The narration flows like acetone.
The book starts with the climax moment of a 358 year old struggle “Fermat's last theorem”. Singh's writing style paints the whole view (awestruck people, ecstatic protagonist, exuberant surroundings) in front of your eyes. Singh is successful in seizing reader's undivided attentio
...more
Gorana
Aug 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, 2011, math, science
"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
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Constance
Sep 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nico
Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
La verdad es que no recuerdo haber leído un libro de divulgación matemática tan bueno, (pero siendo riguroso, el otro libro de este tema que recuerdo es "El diablo de los números", y lo leí cuando tenía unos 12 años).
Creo que la gran gracia del libro es que no es simplemente la historia de Andrew Wiles y su ascético intento de resolver un teorema planteado hace más de 300, tampoco es solamente la historia del problema mismo: La conjetura de Fermat. Es también la historia de muchos hombres y muje
...more
Amaan Cheval
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was absolutely fabulous. Simon Singh does a great job of dramatizing the story of Fermat's Last Theorem, its history, and surrounding areas of Mathematics.

I love the fact that I actually learned a ton from this book too - things I should have learned in school - such as the actual methods of proofs used for several theorems we know and use often. The book also included the actual proofs in the appendix (for the simple ones) and at least bothered to name-drop technical terms (so I could
...more
Francisco
Dec 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jeanine
Mar 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tantalizing tale of how the holy grail of mathematics, Fermat's Last Theorem, was finally proved by Andrew Wiles in 1993, after it has confounded the world's best mathematicians for 358 years.
Grazia
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

"I matematici adorano costruire ponti"

Questa è la storia di una sfida, di una ossessione. È una storia di tenacia, di fatica, di sconforto. È la storia di una immensa soddisfazione.

Andrew Wiles, matematico britannico, raccogliendo il testimone di innumerevoli studiosi che l'hanno preceduto, decide di dedicarsi ad un'impresa che aveva visto sconfitti matematici per oltre 350 anni, ovvero provare a individuare una dimostrazione per l'ultimo teorema di Fermat.

Eh, sì. Provare. Non c'è alcuna garanzi
...more
Caique Marques
O Último Teorema de Fermat apresenta a mesma ideia de The Golden Ticket , de Lance Fortnow: tem um problema central a ser abordado e, no decorrer do livro, apresenta todos os temas relacionados para o entendimento do problema. Ao contrário do caso P vs. NP, que ainda intriga os matemáticos e cientistas da computação hoje em dia, o último teorema de Fermat intrigou os matemáticos por mais de 300 anos, até que, na década de 1990, Andrew Wiles resolveu o problema após mais de oito anos de pesquisa ...more
Brian Turner
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I bought this book after seeing the documentary that went with it.
It tells how one person (Andrew Wiles) worked to prove a theorem that had stumped mathemeticians for over 3 centuries after reading about it when he was in primary school.

Singh explains the ideas behind the eventual solution in a clear manner. A lot of the actual maths baffled me a bit, but they're not the main point of this book.

Rather, it shows the single minded obsession that someone can have as they try and solve something th
...more
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  • A History of π
  • The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number
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  • The Princeton Companion to Mathematics
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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...

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“God exists since mathematics is consistent, and the Devil exists since we cannot prove it.” 5 likes
“Pascal was even convinced that he could use his theories to justify a belief in God. He stated that ‘the excitement that a gambler feels when making a bet is equal to the amount he might win multiplied by the probability of winning it’. He then argued that the possible prize of eternal happiness has an infinite value and that the probability of entering heaven by leading a virtuous life, no matter how small, is certainly finite. Therefore, according to Pascal’s definition, religion was a game of infinite excitement and one worth playing, because multiplying an infinite prize by a finite probability results in infinity.” 2 likes
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