xn + yn = zn, where n represents 3, 4, 5, ...no solution
"I have discovered a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain."
With these words, the seventeenth-century French mathematician Pierre de Fermat threw down the gauntlet to future generations. What came to be known as Fermat's Last Theorem looked simple; proving it, however, became the Holy Grail of mathematics, baffling its finest minds for more than 350 years. In Fermat's Enigma--based on the author's award-winning documentary film, which aired on PBS's "Nova"--Simon Singh tells the astonishingly entertaining story of the pursuit of that grail, and the lives that were devoted to, sacrificed for, and saved by it. Here is a mesmerizing tale of heartbreak and mastery that will forever change your feelings about mathematics.
The 17th-century French amateur mathematician and all-around Renaissance man Pierre de Fermat posed what seems to be a simple mathematical theorem: you cannot find three numbers such that xn + yn = zn, where n is greater than 2. Fermat scribbled in the margin of a book that he had found a "truly marvelous" proof, but he seemingly never bothered to write it out. Mathematicians sought this mathematical Holy Grail for over 300 years, many doubtful that it even existed, some killing themselves after failed pursuits, until English-born Princeton professor Andrew Wiles finally proved what came to be known as "Fermat's Last Theorem" in 1994, and became an overnight celebrity. (This book was a recent U.K. bestseller under that title.) Much like a mathematician constructing a proof, Singh, a BBC science journalist with a Ph.D in particle physics, clearly explains various characteristics of numbers and then pulls them together to show how Wiles derived his complex solution. The history of mathematics comes alive even for those who dread balancing their checkbooks, and anyone interested in the creative process will appreciate Singh's insights into how a mathematician tackles such a monumental problem. Wiles may have proven Fermat's theorem, but an enigma remains: did Fermat really have a proof using the much less elaborate knowledge of his day, and was it correct? "The Riddler" continues to taunt mathematicians. Illustrations. Trans., electronic, performance rights: Christopher Little. FYI: Singh's documentary about Fermat's Last Theorm will appear on NOVA (PBS) on Oct. 21st.