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94 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Setting the gold standard for those that followed.
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,...
Published on 6 Nov 2005 by Mr P R Morgan

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3.0 out of 5 stars good reading, little math
This book is well written and reads like a novel. That's the positive part. On the other hand it is full of irrelevant stories that have nothing to do with the topic. Also the author must think his readers are idiots. After all you must at least have some interest in mathematics if you want to read a book about Fermat's last theorem. It's not necessary to explain...
Published 21 months ago by E. Soetens


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94 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Setting the gold standard for those that followed., 6 Nov 2005
By 
Mr P R Morgan "Peter Morgan" (BATH, Bath and N E Somerset United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Fermat's Last Theorem (Paperback)
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.
There is no need for a great interest in or knowledge of mathematics to enjoy the story, which itself draws the reader onwards. I k now nothing of the similarities between modular equations and elliptical equations, tied up within what became known as the Taniyama – Shimura conjecture, yet can appreciate the means by which Wiles was able to prove Fermat's theorem by establishing the mathematical truth of the latter.
Simon Singh started by investigating the story of Andrew Wiles and Fermat for a British television program. This book that he subsequently produced set new levels for the history of science as a popular writing genre. At the end, Singh goes further, and raises questions as to whether the discovery was worth it. If Wiles had not been able to rescue his proof, it is suggested that the effort would not have been in vain, as there were significant advances in mathematic knowledge obtained in the trying. Singh also discusses other difficult areas, and muses on whether some of these will be unprovable, or insoluble. Fermat's Last Theorem, having frustrated the best mathematical brains for over 350 years, is now established, and is not one of the 'unknowable truths of mathematics'!

In concluding, it is fitting to use the words with which Andrew Wiles concluded his 1993 lecture: "I think I'll stop here".
Peter Morgan Bath, UK (morganp@supanet.com)
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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
This review is from: Fermat's Last Theorem (Paperback)
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 (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Fermat's Last Theorem (Paperback)
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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do you need to read this book? YES!, 18 Jan 2005
This review is from: Fermat's Last Theorem (Paperback)
I was introduced to this book by a friend a few years ago and was amazed by it. Firstly I should state that i have a degree in Mathematics and now teach the subject to 11 -18 year olds. Having said that, you DO NOT need to have a great understanding of Maths to understand this book. If you remember Pythagoras' Theorem (x squared = y squared + z squared, where x is the longest side of a right angled triangle and y and z are the other 2 sides) then you will be OK with the maths in this book. Even if you've never encounted Pythagoras' Theorem before Simon Singh is an absolute expert at making any of the Maths in this book seem easy. He would make a truly excellent teacher, if he was to step into a classroom.
Add to what i have just said the fact that this is a wonderful read about a special problem, how it (famously) came about and how people tried to solve it, and you have a 1st class book.
If i don't convince you to read it, have a look at the other review - have you ever seen so many 5 star reviews?
DB
p.s. Simon Singh has also written an excellent book about codes (The code book) which is nearly as good as Fermat's Last theorem, but also comes strongly recommended by me
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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
By 
Helen Frances (Somerset United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Fermat's Last Theorem (Paperback)
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A human drama unfolds ... in a mathematical world!, 7 May 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Fermat's Last Theorem (Paperback)
This is a remarkable and engrossing human story about the search for the proof to the age old Fermat's last theorem. A story which tells the tale of one man's unflinching determination and single minded devotion to the cause of this proof. The events which unfold and the riveting account of Andrew Wiles journey to glory are told in this gripping tale by Simon Singh. Singh's master storytelling abilities are very well exemplified and will be appreciated by one and all. Those not inclined mathematically will also gain insights and concepts of mathematics and also get a peek at the lives of the mathematicians who are featured in this book.
Andrew Wiles read about this theorem when he was barely ten year old in a library while flipping through one of E.T. Bell's book. The rest as we know is history because this particular moment became a turning point in young Wiles life. This would force him to take a career in mathematics and lead a rigorous life in mathematics. Later he would be shutting and isolating himself from the outside world so that he could devote his complete attention to the task at hand - to solve this 17th century conjecture devised by the great Pierre Fermat. History saw this theorem remaining unsolved for 350 years, which eluded mathematicians like Euler, Sophie Germain, Lame, Kummer, Cauchy et al. but who nevertheless had their own bit of contribution to the proof in particular and mathematics in general.
Andrew Wiles mathematical proof of the century was not without its share of pitfalls. After announcing the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem in June 1993 with much fanfare and publicity, Wiles didn't have the wildest idea about what was in store for him... something which will almost make him accept defeat...
Though Prof. Wiles succeeded in his endeavor, his proof was based on post-Fermat mathematical ideas like the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture, Galois group theory, Iwasawa theory and the Kolyvagin-Flach method. Fermat on the other hand had claimed that he possessed the proof for the theorem which obviously was based on mathematics of his time...
A great read. Recommended for one and all.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolute Proof - Absolutly Awesome!, 13 Aug 2003
This review is from: Fermat's Last Theorem (Paperback)
I did a maths degree for the last 4 years and have since started working in the City. Not being the greatest of readers I decided that to prevent my brain turning into grey mush during the 2 hours a day sat on the Tube I'd take up reading.
This is the first book I've read for pleasure for years and I have to say it was a complete pleasure. My journeys to work seemed to fly by as the story unfolded. This wasn't a story just about maths but a story about human endeavour and really demonstrated the beauty of maths that no other academic discipline could have.
A maths degree is certainly not needed to read this book since it appeals to all levels. Ingenious, but simple proofs, of age-old theorems like Pythagoras will have you wondering why maths has an unjust reputation for being a dull subject.
I was always slightly apprehensive about telling my peers of the subject I studied in University (people seem to stop inviting you so socials when they find out you're a Mathmo) but now, thanks to this book, I say "I'm a mathematician!" and feel really proud.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful insight in Mathematics !, 23 Dec 2004
By 
HOLVOET RAF (Heverlee Belgium) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Fermat's Last Theorem (Paperback)
This is a most delightful book about mathematics. I've never known an author who has made mathematics and number theory so accessible to all. The history of it is told in wonderful, almost thrilling way. Anecdotes and funny stories share the pages with scientific explanations.
Frankly, I never realised maths could be so exciting !
Anyone who's the least interested in science will enjoy this nugget to the full.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book reissued!, 11 April 2007
I was fascinated by the simple essence of the problem which has given rise to such an excellent book, that is, how following the natural scientific instinct for generalization, a single equation with an infinite number of solutions "surprisingly" turns into an infinite number of equations... with no solution at all! Maybe this "essential" motivation should fit better to those people with a certain degree of both mathematical background and vocation (or maybe I'm plain crazy), but I just dare say "maybe". However, if this was to be so, the fact that the starting point to this problem is the equation derived from the very well-known Pythagoras's theorem on right-angled triangles (x^2 + y^2 = z^2) may be a more popular attraction to embark on this wonderful account of scientific challenge, long-time failure, passionate dedication, premature celebration, panic attack, and... final triumph? Again, I just dare say "may be".

Simon Singh combines very skilfully intelligent motivation to interest the reader, clear exposition of all the mathematical concepts one needs to follow the story, precise historical development from antiquity to our days, intriguing narrative, inspiring pictures about science business personalities, as well as curious and funny anecdotes. This book is a remarkable contribution to bring mathematics to a wider public and to show how exciting maths can be. To sum up, a highly recommended reading!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Murder, Mystery, Suspense, 27 April 2007
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This review is from: Fermat's Last Theorem (Paperback)
This isn't a book about mathematics, it is a book about people, full of endeavour and failure, intrigue and murder, revolution and, ultimately success. It provides a history of mathematics and relates it to the times through which it was explored. It provides cameos of the important figures in this history, not just of their work.

Finally, it allows the reader to visualise, and almost to feel, the range of emotions that Wiles must have gone through.
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