FERMAT'S ENIGMA by SIMON SINGH
CATEGORY: NON-FICTION, MATHEMATICAL HISTORY
I remember a friend of mine, Art Carroll, trying to describe the significance of Antoine Fermat (17th century French mathmetician, and wacky burner of priests at the stake). I appreciated, in a very abstract way, the effects of Fermat's last theorem on the mathematical theory community. Proving Fermat's theorem, which is an outgrowth of the Pythagorean theorem (remember a2 + b2 = c2?), has kept mathmeticians busy for years. As you may or may not know, Mathmetician Andrew Wiles of Princeton University delivered a proof in 1993, which was found to have a flaw in it that caused an additional solid year of work to fix.
This is only part of the story, though. The history of mathematical theory, starting with a fantastic chapter on the Pythagorean school in Greece and going on into the history of Fermat's accomplishments.
I bought Fermat's Enigma on the strength of Singh's earlier work CODE BOOK. I make a hobby of cypers and code-breaking, and of all the books I've read on the subject, I find Singh's CODE BOOK to be the most consistently approachable, easy to read, and erudite approach to the subject I've ever read. FERMAT is just as good, but in a different fashion-- it's a great introduction to the history of mathematics that anyone can read. I highly recommend this book.
Posted by mrnizz
at 12:40 AM EDT