Wednesday, 12 August 1998

Amir D. Aczel: Fermat's Last Theorem (1996)

Fermat's Last Theorem coverEdition: Viking, 1997
Review number: 102

This book is a popular history of Fermat's Last Theorem, from its original conjecture by Fermat to its solution by Andrew Wiles. As a history, it works quite well, with occasional infelicities (mainly to do with forced, false sounding connections between unrelated parts of the narrative, such as linking mathematicians because they were both interested in some fairly large division of mathematics). From a mathematical point of view, I felt it was perhaps a little less successful. It managed to be over-simplified for the mathematically trained and at the same time potentially confusing for the non-mathematician. I suppose you can assume a minimal level of interest in mathematics to be held by anyone wishing to read a book on this subject, but I'm not sure the book always reached that level. The order used to detail the contributions - and contributors to the theories involved include just about every single really famous mathematician - is neither strictly chronological nor really by mathematical subject; the book could have done with perhaps some appendices to help orient the reader who wanted to use it as a reference.

These criticisms apart - and they are fairly severe - I enjoyed the book; I wanted to go on and read more on the subject.

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