Published by Fourth Estate on 2002-01
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The story of the solving of a puzzle that has confounded mathematicians since the 17th century. The solution of Fermat's Last Theorem is the most important mathematical development of the 20th century. In 1963, a schoolboy browsing in his local library stumbled across the world's greatest mathematical problem: Fermat's Last Theorem, a puzzle that every child can understand but which has baffled mathematicians for over 300 years. Aged just ten, Andrew Wiles dreamed that he would crack it. Wiles's lifelong obsession with a seemingly simple challenge set by a long-dead Frenchman is an emotional tale of sacrifice and extraordinary determination. In the end, Wiles was forced to work in secrecy and isolation for seven years, harnessing all the power of modern maths to achieve his childhood dream. Many before him had tried and failed, including a 18-century philanderer who was killed in a duel. An 18-century Frenchwoman made a major breakthrough in solving the riddle, but she had to attend maths lectures at the Ecole Polytechnique disguised as a man since women were forbidden entry to the school.
Simon Singh makes the story of the 300 year search for the solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem sound like Indiana Jones is searching for a great mathematical, lost treasure. Detailing the history of famous mathematicians such as Pythagoras, Eular and Fermat himself and how their work contributed to the creation of the riddle and the Andrew Wiles’ eventual solution, Singh paints a gripping picture.
This excellent history of the solution doesn’t go overboard on complicated maths but the appendix is full of theorems and proofs if you want to extend your knowledge, it’s a fantastic read.