I read Simon Singh’s Fermat’s Last Theorem in 2007. It was recommended to me by a dear friend as a cure to boredom. I was reluctant about reading it in the beginning. My shyness with mathematics was the main reason. I nonetheless got it from the library and once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down till the time I reached the last page. And when I finished it, I was expecting more. I was sad to see it end.
Fermat’s Last Theorem is a story about many stories. First and foremost, it is a story about a mathematical problem that ensued from the ancient Pythagorean theorem. Fermat’s Last theorem is basically a generalized version of the Pythagoras theorem. It suggests that whole numbered solutions for the higher order Pythagorean equation do not exist. The theorem was proposed by a French mathematician Pierre De Fermat who lived between 1601 and 1665.
It has stories about many mathematicians starting from Pythagoras himself and finishing at Andrew Wiles. The latter spent a significant portion of his life is trying to come up with a proof for the enigmatic theorem. He eventually succeeded. The way in which Andrew and a myriad of his predecessors approached to solve the mystery is absolutely epic and is the subject of this book.
Stories of many mathematicians are told not only from the point of view of their works’ relevance to the Fermat’s theorem, but also about their personal lives. It is very interesting and motivating to read the stories of some of the mathematicians who grew out of humble circumstances and became some of the most renowned people of all times. Some of the notable people among these are Laplace, Fourier, Galois, Yutaka Taniyama and Goro Shimua, to name but a few.
The book also has lucid and eloquent explanations of various mathematical concepts and how they evolved over time. For instance, the book explains the generalization ability and importance of a mathematical theorem and its proof. Other topics such as group theory and elliptic curves are also introduced in a layperson friendly way.
Reading this book was one of the best experiences of my life. It kindled an interest about reading and knowing more about various disciplines of science and mathematics. After reading this I went on to read other works of Simon Singh, whose thrilling storytelling style vitalizes any narrative he wishes to tell. Any person who would read Fermat’s Last Theorem would fall in love with number theory, at least for a while.
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