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Fermat's Last Theorem [Paperback]

Simon Singh
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (191 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Jun 2002

‘I have a truly marvellous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.’

It was with these words, written in the 1630s, that Pierre de Fermat intrigued and infuriated the mathematics community. For over 350 years, proving Fermat’s Last Theorem was the most notorious unsolved mathematical problem, a puzzle whose basics most children could grasp but whose solution eluded the greatest minds in the world. In 1993, after years of secret toil, Englishman Andrew Wiles announced to an astounded audience that he had cracked Fermat’s Last Theorem. He had no idea of the nightmare that lay ahead.

In ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’ Simon Singh has crafted a remarkable tale of intellectual endeavour spanning three centuries, and a moving testament to the obsession, sacrifice and extraordinary determination of Andrew Wiles: one man against all the odds.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; New Ed edition (5 Jun 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841157910
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841157917
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (191 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Singh is a science journalist and TV producer. Having completed his PhD at Cambridge he worked from 1991 to 1997 at the BBC producing Tomorrow's World and co-directing the BAFTA award-winning documentary Fermat's Last Theorem for the Horizon series. He is the author of Fermat's Last Theorem, which was a no 1 bestseller in Britain and translated into 22 languages. In 1999, he wrote The Code Book which was also an international bestseller and the basis for the Channel 4 series The Science of Secrecy.

Product Description

Amazon Review

When Cambridge mathematician Andrew Wiles announced a solution for 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 laboured in solitude for seven years--to establish that he had solved the 350-year-old problem. Simon Singh's book is a lively, comprehensible explanation of Wiles's work and of the colourful history that has build up around Fermat's last theorem over the years. The book contains some problems that offer a taste for the maths, but it also includes limericks to give a feeling for the quirkier side of mathematicians. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


‘If you enjoyed Dava Sobel’s “Longitude” you will enjoy this.’ Evening Standard

‘This is probably the best popular account of a scientific topic I have ever read.’ Irish Times

‘Reads like the chronicle of an obsessive love affair. It has the classic ingredients that Hollywood would recognise.’ Daily Mail

‘To read it is to realise that there is a world of beauty and intellectual challenge that is denied to 99.9 per cent of us who are not high-level mathematicians.’ The Times

‘This tale has all the elements of a most exciting story: an impenetrable riddle; the ambition and frustration of generations of hopefuls; and the genius who worked for years in secrecy to realise his childhood dream.’ Express

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
94 of 95 people found the following review helpful
In or around 1637, Pierre de Fermat wrote in the margin of a maths book notes describing what became known as Fermatean Triples. He claimed to have found an equation that was hard to solve. "I have a truly marvellous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain". That one sentence was to tease mathematicians for centuries. The proposition, known as Fermat's Last Theorem, is simple to describe such that even a child can understand it: that there was no solution to the equation "a**n + b**n = c**n" (where '**' is 'to the power of', a, b, and c are whole numbers greater than 1, and 'n' is greater than 2).
Written like a detective story where the answer is known, this book is easy to follow, and leads readers through a maze of ideas, concepts and subtleties that would be a disaster in the hands of a lesser writer. This is absorbing narrative, leading up to the lecture where Andrew Wiles presented his proof of the non-solution of the equation. However, the proof presented on 23rd June 1993 was the beginning of a nightmare for Wiles, as a serious logic error was subsequently discovered that took an all-consuming 15 months to rescue.
The story of how a very gifted mathematician devoted himself for seven secretive years to a question that others had given up on is only half the tale that Singh tells. It is a journey through some of the history of mathematics, with the solution to the amateur mathematician Fermat's problem being an accidental occurrence. Along the way there are very good insights into the differences between mathematical proofs and scientific proofs; the former must be indisputable, whereas scientific proofs are only ever probabilistically true, and do change as knowledge increases.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fermat's last theorem is 'unputdownable' 19 Nov 2004
My only reservation about this superb book is that it forces the reader to read it too quickly and therefore does not represent value for money in terms of time! The problem had fascinated maths enthusiasts for a few centuries but Singh begins his tale way back in the 6th century B.C. It may seem inconcievable that a 2500 year long story can be told in 300 or so pages but Singh manages it brilliantly.
In 1637 Pierre de Fermat, a French 'amateur' mathematician stated that there were no solutions to a pythagorean type expression using powers above the value of two. Tantalisingly he wrote in the margin that he had a 'marvellous demonstration' which the margin was too narrow to contain. This was to torment mathematicians for over three hundred years. Did Fermat have a proof? Could he possibly have had a proof? What was the proof?
Andrew wiles was a young boy when he encountered Fermat's riddle and decided there and then that he would be the one who would solve it. Singh takes us on this journey and we become embroiled in the riddle ourselves. The appendices demonstrate mathematical techniques so eloquently and succinctly that the reader suddenly thinks that he, the reader, must have immense, hitherto undiscovered mathematical talent. Not so. The talent is that of Simon Singh, a talent that kept me totally enthralled for several hours, untol the book was finished. I felt disappointed that it did not go on longer, but the story was told and the ending was sensational. Not to worry, I have just ordered 'The code book' and 'The big bang' both by Simon Singh, I know I will not be disappointed.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant from beginning to end 3 Sep 2005
By J. Ling
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
OK, I'll admit it, as a mathematician I've been acquainted with - and fascinated by - Fermat's last theorem for decades. I bought this book for holiday reading, and was not disappointed. The book goes into the history of mathematics, including Pierre de Fermat's intriguing background, and shows how Andrew Wiles drew on centuries of knowledge and discoveries in order - finally - to nail a proof for Fermat's Last Theorem. The whole "story" is remarkably pacey but wonderfully clear.
I admit I did already know some of the details given in this book, but the history and the description of the characters in the world of mathematics added an extra dimension (no pun intended!) and made it all the more fascinating. Names like Euler, Dirichlet, Cauchy, LaGrange ... before I read the book they had merely been names of equations, polynomials, boundary conditions and the like, but the author gave us some fascinating details of their lives, what type of people they were (I've gone off Cauchy now, and I so loved his polynomials) and even the interactions that went on among some of these famous names.
And I loved the description of Wiles's "Eureka" moment when he realises he's finally got the proof ... it must have been like solving the world's most difficult crossword clue!
I don't know whether to go straight back and read the whole thing again, or lend it to a friend and share the experience.
On reflection, my friends can buy their own copy.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mathematical gym course 16 Oct 2002
This is a superb book. It has moved my understanding of the way maths works on by light years. It is both an engaging history of the characters and schools that have shaped mathematics, and a real insight into what, exactly, it is that maths does. I borrowed this from the library, but am fed up with paying overdue fines, so am buying my own copy. It is a book both to read right through and to dip into, and I know I shall continue going back to sections again and again. This book has engaged a mathematical curiousity in my brain that I scarcely knew I had - in addition, it is a stunningly good read. Buy it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable for a non-fiction book
It was very interesting to read. I was expecting it to be dry but it was not.
Published 17 days ago by Rohit (NZ)
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy Reading
Unsolved for 358 years a mathematical problem that looks simple on the surface, many mathematician tried and failed to prove it, then it was eventually cracked by an English... Read more
Published 1 month ago by B Nic Tesla
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book
Once again a fantastic book by one of the best popular science authors.
It is so well written and explained at a high level that you seem to feel like you understand... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Dan
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting
This was a fascinating read and I found it very engaging. Written in a way that I found easy to understand.
Published 4 months ago by K. Rayment
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear exposition of how the problem was solved
The author does a great job of imparting his understanding of how Fermat's last theorem was eventually solved. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Tom Rose
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite Simply, the best book I've ever read.
I really mean that. Not just the best maths book, but the best book.

I have always loved maths, and Fermat's Last Theorem has always been of particular interest. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Stephen Cavadino
5.0 out of 5 stars A first-rate book about a last theorem...
Subtitled "The story of a riddle that confounded the world's greatest minds for 358 years", the story actually starts centuries before the time of Pierre de Fermat (1601-1665) with... Read more
Published 7 months ago by David Sentance
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story about the proof for Fermat's Last Theorem
Good story.
Good overview of the (complicated math).
Gives a good historical background of the mathematicians behind the development of the methods used throughout the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Alex Langfred
4.0 out of 5 stars Feeding young minds
One of four books recommended for our 12 year old daughter and serving well to keep her happy. Not only keeping her happy with Maths but these are the books she chooses to read for... Read more
Published 7 months ago by K. J. Stone
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a book about passion
It's always amazing to learn stories hiding behind solutions of great problems. Pocket size - advantage for bus and park readers.
Published 8 months ago by jk
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