Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review - Fermat's Last Theorem

Fermat's Last Theorem

This book takes you on a riveting journey of solving Mathematics' most famous and extremely difficult of riddles, Fermat's Last Theorem. The riddle, Fermat's Last Theorem, itself is very simple to understand but equally extremely difficult to prove that it took over 3 centuries (358 years to be precise) to be proved in 1993 by Sir Andrew Wiles.

Everybody...and I am sure everybody, who has been to high school knows or has heard of Pythagoras theorem or equation which states –

X (raised to the power of 2) + Y (raised to the power of 2) = Z (The Hypotenuse) (raised to the power of 2)

Fermat's Last Theorem is a sister equation of Pythagoras' equation. It states -

X (raised to the power of n) + Y (raised to the power of n) = Z(raised to the power of n) has no whole number solutions for n > 2

The 17th Century French mathematical genius by the name of Pierre de Fermat created this equation while studying the book Arithmetica. Fermat was also notorious for stating a problem and then intentionally not stating the solution! He would also go ahead and challenge his fellow mathematicians to find the proof. Not surprisingly, this used to frustrate his fellow mathematicians who loved to collaborate and build up on one another's methods...This habit of Fermat of hiding the proof of his theorems not only tortured his contemporaries but generations of future mathematicians.

So when Fermat scribbled his above theorem in margin of Arithmetica, he did not explain his proof of the equation. As expected, this mischievous mathematical genius also made a tantalizing note which infuriated and haunted current and future mathematicians. Fermat simply scribbled - “I have a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.”

...and with that was born a legendary mathematical monster - Fermat’s Last Theorem (‘Last’ because it was ‘The Last’ remaining theorem of Fermat’s that remained unproved) and the race to prove it, which took the next 358 years and 19th and 20th century mathematical techniques to prove it.

This book is not just about how the talented Andrew Wiles solved the world's most fabled mathematical problem but also a very absorbing journey of Mathematics' famous and infamous legends and their intriguing stories - some tragic, some pure genius and some shockingly astonishing. For example, Calculus was not developed by Issac Newton independently but by someone named Pierre de Fermat!

If you are a Maths, Science or a Engineering student or professional you will find this book absolutely delightful to read as the topics will naturally appeal to your technical self. Even if you are not inclined towards mathematics, at worse, you will find this book to be an enjoyable read! Simon Singh does a brilliant job of explaining the most arcane of mathematical concepts so much so that you will consider taking up mathematics! Go buy a copy. You won't regret it!

Fermat's Last Theorem

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