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

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  24,641 ratings  ·  1,111 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, ho
...more
Paperback, 315 pages
Published September 8th 1998 by Anchor (first published September 8th 1997)
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 ·  24,641 ratings  ·  1,111 reviews


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Start your review of Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem
David
Nov 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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Tara
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Before delving into the book itself, I thought I’d start things off by introducing the problem it’s concerned with, just in case you aren’t already familiar with it.

So, what exactly is Fermat’s Last Theorem?

Well, basically, this is it:

As you can see, the conjecture is quite easy to understand, and yet, believe it or not, it was so remarkably difficult to prove that it took over 350 years to accomplish! The fact that Fermat (teasingly?) scribbled this rather infuriating note in the margin only
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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
Manny
Mar 10, 2009 rated it liked it
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...
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.
Cassandra Kay Silva
Jun 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Bruce
Jun 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: everyone from high schoolers on up
Shelves: science
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
Annie
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: microhistories
Strap in, guys. I’m going to walk you through the history of how Fermat’s Last Theorum was proved, all in one little (okay, big) review. And I can do this because of this awesome, semi-accessible, frequently tangent-taking, but mostly, this deeply fascinating book.

----------STEP ONE: THE THEORUM----------

For the unenlightened, Fermat’s Last Theorum is this: you probably know the Pythagorean theorum, a² + b² = c², which explains that if you square the shorter two sides of a right-angled triangle
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Rise
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.

Shivam Chaturvedi
I never watched any documentaries before going to college (and this was about a century and a half ago.. I am getting old -_-. But yeah, 2009 to be precise). I was always interested in NatGeo and History Channel - but they never showed the real deal on television. The documentaries would be mostly half assed, and at worst, total crap. That's also how Indian television landscape can be broadly categorized too, give or take a few exceptions ofcourse. And so I grew up loving the sciences based on w ...more
Trevor
Dec 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: maths, science, 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
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Campbell Mcaulay
Oct 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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) it's
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Paul
May 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is by far the best popular science book I've read. It combines some high quality storytelling worthy of a good thriller with important scenes in the history of mathematics as well as simple explanations of certain mathematical ideas. It tells the story of one of the (apparently) simplest theorems ever but having one of the hardest possible proofs in mathematics, and how it eventually gets to be proven (around 350 years later!), with admirable simplicity. But most importantly, it shows peopl ...more
Jimmy
Apr 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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Rakesh M
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
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Veronica
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mathematics
Why do variables love mathematics?

(My head says rationally: Veronica, Goodreads is not a place for the corny wisecracks that you come up with during the day. My heart says differently.)
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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
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Maricarmen Estrada M
I have a special love for words. I think I always have. They’re fascinating. The words in this book were used for telling a story about numbers, which made me realize I also love numbers so much, I just didn’t know. Math had always been the “easy subject” at school for me, the one which did not require long hours of study, because it was so logical, the one you could check before turning in an exam and know you had the right answers precisely because it matched so perfectly. “Proof is what lies ...more
Vignesh Ramanathan
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very nice read detailing the incredible journey behind the solution of this theorem. My only gripe with this book is that the author tries to push a narrative a little too hard and tends to over-dramatize certain details. Nevertheless, a thoroughly enjoyable mathematical journey. Simon Singh has done well to make the book accessible and not overtly mathematical and confusing to read.
A M Saffat-ee Huq
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One mathematical theorem, that is so simple to understand, yet the proof of which eluded mathematicians for more than 3 centuries. The story starts with Andrew Wiles who brought an end to this endless wait. But the span of the story is far far larger. Love stories, tragedies, moments of brilliances, moments of inspiration, moments of chance all intertwined in a marvellous way to solve this enigma.
Did Fermat really have a foolproof proof? If he had it with the tools available at his time, then i
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Holly
Jan 24, 2012 rated it really liked 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
Francisco
Dec 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Anna Kaling
This was interesting and I was able to follow a lot of the maths, which is a testament to the author (certainly not to my mathematical prowess, which is nonexistent).

I did find it a little padded with biographies of dozens of mathematicians and details of their personal lives, but I appreciate the author wanted to make the book about more than hard numbers.
rebecca
Mar 08, 2018 rated it liked it
well, the main thing i took from this book is probably that maths is a field for privileged white men. you have to be rich enough to be able to live comfortably while devoting their life to solving a centuries-old problem simply because they think proving it would be "satisfying". you must also be white - or at least living in the west - so that you are actually recognized for your work, otherwise your work will be spotted by someone who lives in the west who will take credit for it. and you mus ...more
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
Shelves: math, 2011, audiobooks, 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
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Amith
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book finds a way to narrate the chain of events from the time of Pythagoras to the final proof of Fermat's last theorem by Andrew Wiles, entwining with it the key mathematical concepts presented in an accessible form and stories of the mathematicians who made those contributions. It conveys perfectly to a layman the sense of accomplishment that the mathematical community associates with cracking the proof for this theorem. In that sense, it has the effect of a self-help book even without tr ...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
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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
Patricia 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
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Simon Lehna Singh, MBE 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 cryptography and its history),
...more

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