Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem

Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem

Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem

Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem

Synopsis

Fermat's Last Theorem became the Holy Grail of mathematics. Whole and colorful lives were devoted, and even sacrificed, to finding a proof. Leonhard Euler, the greatest mathematician of the eighteenth century, had to admit defeat. Sophie Germain took on the identity of a man to do research in a field forbidden to females, and made the most significant breakthrough of the nineteenth century. The dashing Evariste Galois scribbled down the results of his research deep into the night before venturing out to die in a duel in 1832. Yutaka Taniyama, whose insights would ultimately lead to the solution, tragically killed himself in 1958. On the other hand, Paul Wolfskehl, a famous German industrialist, claimed Fermat had saved him from suicide, and established a rich prize for the first person to prove the theorem. And then came Princeton professor Andrew Wiles, who had dreamed of proving Fermat's Last Theorem ever since he first read of it as a boy of ten in his local library. In 1993, some 356 years after Fermat's challenge, and after seven years of working in isolation and secrecy - "a kind of private and very personal battle I was engaged in" - Wiles stunned the world by announcing a proof, though his own journey would be far from over. Fermat's Enigma is the story of the epic quest to solve the greatest math problem of all time. A human drama of high dreams, intellectual brilliance, and extraordinary determination, it will bring the history and culture of mathematics into exciting focus for all who read it.

Excerpt

I finally met Andrew Wiles across a room, not crowded, but large enough to hold the entire mathematics department at Princeton. On that particular afternoon, there were not so very many people around, but enough for me to be uncertain as to which one was Wiles. After a few moments I introduced myself to the shy-looking Wiles, who had been listening to the conversation around him and sipping tea.

It was the end of an extraordinary week. I had met some of the finest mathematicians alive, and begun to gain an insight into their world. But despite every attempt to pin down Andrew Wiles, to speak to him, and to convince him to take part in a BBC Horizon documentary film on his achievement, this was our first meeting. This was the man who had recently announced that he had found the holy grail of mathematics; the man who claimed he had proved Fermat's Last Theorem. As we spoke, Wiles had a distracted and withdrawn air about him, and although he was polite and friendly, it was clear that he wished me as far away from him as possible. He explained very simply that he could not possibly focus on anything but his work, which was at a critical stage, but perhaps later, when the current pressures had been resolved, he would be pleased to take part. I knew, and he knew I knew, that he was facing the collapse of his life's ambition, and that the holy grail he had held was now being revealed as no more than a rather beautiful, valuable, but straight-

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