On 23 June 1993, a rapt audience gathered in the main auditorium of the Isaac Newton Institute in Cambridge, packed the corridors outside and peered through the window. Word had gone around that a British mathematician called Andrew Wiles was going to demonstrate a proof for the most famous problem in mathematics: Fermat’s Last Theorem. To stunned silence and then deafening applause, Wiles did just that. Though his work contained a flaw that would take a further two years to correct, he had finally solved a conundrum that had defeated mathematicians for over 350 years.
The story of Fermat’s Last Theorem begins with the elusive figure of Pierre de Fermat, who wrote in 1637 that he had discovered ‘a marvellous proof’ for the conjecture, based on Pythagoras, that xn + yn = zn has no whole number solutions where n is greater than two. By the 20th century all of Fermat’s theorems had been proven, except this one. A seemingly simple and unambiguous formula, it could be stated in terms that any student could understand. Yet, in an era when men had walked on the moon and the human genome had been spliced, the solution remained elusive. Fermat had apparently leapfrogged three centuries of mathematical discovery; understanding his ideas would have immense consequences for the entire discipline.
Acclaimed science writer Simon Singh brilliantly reconstructs one of the greatest intellectual struggles in history, writing with a clarity that will enable any reader to appreciate the difficulties of the problem and the beauty of the solution. He describes the successive figures who brought humanity closer to the answer: Evariste Galois, who developed the concept of group theory before being killed in a duel at the age of 20, Yutaka Taniyama and Goro Shimura, the Japanese mathematicians who made crucial advances on elliptic equations and modular forms in the 1950s, and Andrew Wiles himself, who first determined to crack Fermat’s theorem aged ten. What emerges is a deeply moving story of elation and despair, near misses and heroic achievement. Mathematician and author Ian Stewart has contributed a new introduction to a book he calls ‘one of the classics of modern science writing’.
Review by falanke on 21st Nov 2012
"A stunning production. Most editions of this book are small and use tiny print. This Folio version gives the text room to breathe and is pure reading pleasure. The illustrations are well-chosen, sharp..." [read more]
Review by fqgouvea on 24th Aug 2012
"This iis a very nice popular account of Fermat's Last Theorem and its proof. Anyone interested in mathematics would enjoy it. For me, it is also the first (and probably the only) time a few of my word..." [read more]